Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association

Where Was The Anti-Government Right In Ferguson?

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri, this month presented a dilemma for the anti-government Right. The activists and elected officials who spent the spring fawning over lawless Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s stand against what they saw as an overbearing federal government changed their tune or just went silent when a police force armed with military weapons cracked down on mostly peaceful protesters in Ferguson.

On Tuesday, Gawker’s Adam Weinstein examined the “inherent contradiction” in the membership of St. Louis police officer Dan Page — who was suspended after he shoved a CNN reporter and the video of a violent rant he made came to light — in Oath Keepers, a group whose entire founding purpose is a fear of violent government overreach against unarmed citizens.

…For all their delusions, the Oath Keepers seem tailor-made to counter the surreal overarmed police state that may have played a role in Michael Brown's death by cop in Ferguson, and that has ebbed and flowed through the streets there ever since. The oath that Oath Keepers keep is to disobey a set of orders they believe may be given by government authorities . Hence they swear, in part:

  • We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.
  • We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.
  • We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.

As Weinstein notes, the Missouri chapter of the Oath Keepers has sent a “letter of warning” to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in opposition to police tactics against the protesters. But the Oath Keepers’ opposition seems to be based less on principle than on strategy — in a separate blog post, the national group objects to the police failure to stop looting while it took aim at peaceful protesters. The blog post also notes that Oath Keepers on the scene in Ferguson were “talking consensus for the benefit of the police and the people equally.” This role of self-appointed mediator is in sharp contrast to the group’s show of force at the Bundy ranch.

Ferguson has exposed some common ground between the anti-government Right and mainstream civil liberties groups — for instance, both the extreme right-wing Gun Owners of America and the American Civil Liberties Union have signed on to a plan to end the program that sends discount military equipment to local police departments.

Gun Owners of America’s executive director Larry Pratt, however, has been uncharacteristically quiet about Ferguson, linking on Twitter to the Missouri Oath Keepers’ letter to Nixon, but also to an article claiming that Michael Brown wasn’t unarmed because he was “young and strong.” GOA sent out an email arguing that violence in Ferguson was just another reason why people should be allowed to own AR-15s.

Sheriff Richard Mack, the founder of a group that believes that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the land, has also been strangely silent on Ferguson, despite having spent time rallying against the federal government at the Bundy ranch with armed militia groups that he compared to Rosa Parks.

And then there’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Bundy ally who, as the situation in Ferguson escalated, crowed about the combat supplies that he had amassed for his own department.

Yes, the relative silence of the anti-government Right on Ferguson is inconsistent, but so is their view of the Ferguson protests: In the view of many right-wing activists, the protesters in Ferguson weren’t standing up to the government, they were themselves tools of the government.

There is a school of thought among right-wing commentators that the protests in Ferguson were orchestrated — or at the very least encouraged — by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration in order to stir up racial resentments and increase Democratic chances in the 2014 midterm elections.

This paranoid scenario is in line with Pratt’s fear, expressed last year, that President Obama is on the verge of starting a race war against white people.

The Ferguson protests exposed a key fault line in the anti-government "Patriot" movement: they are against government overreach, but their definition of what counts as government never seems to be quite clear. 

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne Hobnobs With Radical Nullificationists

Stephen Lemons at the Phoenix New Times has come across an intriguing Facebook invitation for an event tomorrow in Scottsdale, featuring nullificationist sheriff Richard Mack, anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy’s son Ammon….and Arizona’s current attorney general, Tom Horne.

Horne’s staff has confirmed to the New Times that the attorney general will be attending the “Liberty on Tap” event, so we can move on to questioning why Arizona’s top law enforcement officer will be attending an event that appears to promote the radical belief that the county sheriff is the highest law enforcement officer in the nation and has the power to ignore federal laws that he thinks are unconstitutional and to arrest federal law enforcement officers.

The invitation for the event notes that Horne will “talk on the concept of the Constitutional County Project.” This project seems to be a small effort to get nullificationists to take over one county in each state to run a system that ignores federal and state laws that they deem to be unconstitutional. The project is honing in on Navajo County, Arizona, which they hope to turn into “a self-sustainable county dedicated to advancing the proper role of Constitutional government, free market principles, and the defense of ‘life, liberty, and property.’”

In a radio interview in June, Mack discussed the Constitutional County Project, whose leaders he said he had met with, saying, "we have got to be able to sacrifice and move to where we can be united and take over a county politically."

Mack was a prominent presence at the Bundy ranch during the militia standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in April and is a regular at anti-government events. He leads the Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Officers Association, which promotes the idea of the sheriffs as the supreme law enforcement officers.

Cliven Bundy repeatedly said he didn’t recognize the authority of the federal government over the federally subsidized public land on which he grazed his cattle and urged the sheriff to arrest federal law enforcement officers.

Larry Pratt Presents 'Nullifier of the Year' Award to Sheriff Who Warned of Gun Control 'Bloodbath'

Gun Owners of America director Larry Pratt is a big fan of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group of Tenther county sheriffs who have declared that they answer directly to the Constitution (or their interpretation of it), rather than to the federal government. Unsurprisingly, the organization and the movement it represents have grown substantially during the presidency of Barack Obama.

Pratt often praises the Constitutional Sheriffs in his speeches, and was a guest of honor at their annual convention last week, where he presented the “High Noon Award” to the Milwaukee County Sheriff who took out an ad urging people to arm themselves rather than calling 911. Pratt also presented the “Nullifier of the Year” award to Sheriff Denny Peyman of Jackson County, Kentucky, who has announced that he will not enforce federal gun laws in his county, warning that there would be a “bloodbath in our community when they come in to take guns.”

Pratt himself summed up the gist of the Constitutional Sheriffs movement when he told WND:

There is a misconception in our time that the court somehow is the arbiter of what is constitutional; that’s not true! Every official that raises their right hand and says they’re going to adhere to the constitution, seek to protect it to the best of their ability, ‘so help me God’ – that’s something that they’re all obligated to do.

The nullification movement is growing in popularity in conservative state legislatures – for instance, Kansas has passed a law declaring that "Any act, law, treaty, order, rule or regulation of the government of the United States which violates the second amendment to the constitution of the United States is null, void and unenforceable in the state of Kansas."

The nullification concept dates back to South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun, who argued that if the federal government did not allow a southern states to “nullify” an 1828 tariff act, they would be within their rights to secede from the Union. Historian Cody Carlson explains, “The unspoken fear, of course, was that if the federal government could levy a tariff to profoundly alter the economy of the South, was the institution of slavery safe from federal interference? Could not the North, in the guise of instituting new economic policies, virtually prohibit slavery?”

David Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center, via Steve Benen, explains why nullification has long been discredited:

Nullification was a 19th century theory, identified most closely with South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, based on the notion that the states created the Constitution and retained the power to determine whether the federal government complied with limitations on its power. This theory has been universally rejected throughout the course of American history by the courts as inconsistent with the Constitution. As the Constitution's preamble makes clear, 'We the People,' not the states, 'ordain[ed] and establish[ed] th[e] Constitution.'

The Constitution's Supremacy Clause provides that federal law is the 'supreme Law of the Land,' and Article III of the Constitution gives to the federal judiciary the power to decide "all cases arising under the Constitution.' States, thus, cannot simply declare that the acts of the federal government are null and void. But, despite the rock-solid arguments against nullification, state governments continue to press the idea that they have the power to treat certain federal laws as null and void. These arguments, while not new, have no basis in the Constitution."

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