On Thursday, shockwaves rippled throughout the U.S. after 13 men were arrested for conspiring to kidnap or kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, along with additional plots to blow up a bridge near her home to delay law enforcement response and other plots to kill police officers in the hope that Black Lives Matter supporters would be blamed, thus sparking a new civil war.
As additional details come to light, the picture of what these men were plotting has become even more frightening. Kidnapping plot aside, perhaps the most disturbing element is just how cozy they are with law enforcement—including Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf.
When Fox 17 reporter Aaron Parseghian caught up with Leaf to get his thoughts on the men facing charges, specifically whether he regrets appearing on stage with these men at a May 16 rally in opposition to the lockdown orders issued by Gov. Whitmer—orders Leaf said he would not enforce—Leaf gave a downright chilling response. Not only did Leaf say he had no regrets, he said these men were within their rights to conduct a citizen’s arrest of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Really, he did. Take a listen to the video after the jump to get a better understanding of why he thinks these men had that power.
Leaf belongs to a far-right fringe group who call themselves the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officer Association (CSPOA). If that sounds familiar, it’s because some of the whackiest and cruelest sheriffs in the news over recent years all belong to this organization, including the Trump-loving disgraced former Milwaukee sheriff, David Clarke. In short, they (wrongly) believe the Constitution gives them the ultimate authority in their county and that they can enforce—or not enforce—whatever laws they want. They also frequently espouse anti-government views. Like many of today’s far-right groups, their ideas are founded in white supremacy. From NBC News:
The constitutional sheriff movement, according to the teachings of Mack and his supporters, is rooted in the historical definition of sheriffs as the most powerful law-enforcement officers within their counties. The idea harkens to medieval England, when Anglo-Saxon kings tasked sheriffs with enforcing their edicts. English colonists brought the tradition to the Americas, and began electing their own sheriffs in the mid-1600s, entrusting them with overseeing the judicial process, carrying out legal decisions, and keeping the peace. Under the latter authority, they could organize citizen brigades to catch outlaws or defend against attackers, an arrangement known as “posse comitatus.”
In the 1970s, a minister in the white supremacist Christian Identity movement, William Potter Gale, wrote a series of articles that would come to be known as the handbook of the Posse Comitatus movement. Gale described sheriffs as the only “legal” law enforcement officers in the country and urged citizens to form their own militias to resist encroachments on their rights if sheriffs did not. The constitutional abuses he cited included the federal income tax system, gun control, federal education, and civil rights laws. He advised citizens to form their own “common law” courts to try officials who violated the constitution, and prescribed archaic punishments, such as hangings.
The extremist organization named Leaf “Sheriff of the Year” in 2019. Leaf addressed the CSPOA in 2019 at a “Lawmen for Liberty” conference, and expressed some downright bone-chilling thoughts on Democrats.
He said that the Social Democrats, Democratic socialists, Progressives, etc., are ”just people who can’t spell Communism.”
Sheriff Leaf spoke of the historical duties, rights and powers of the Sheriff. and shared this US Supreme Court case on the power of the Sheriff:
The Sheriff represents the sovereignty of the State and he has no superiors in his county and in the execution of his law enforcement duties the Sheriff represents the state and a “county commission has no direct control over how the sheriff fulfills his law enforcement duty”. McMillian v Monroe County, 520 US 781, 791, 792-94; 117 S Ct 1734 (1997).
Leaf’s outlook is not confined to Michigan. In 2016, Ammon Bundy and his armed militant crew illegally occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge; one of the reasons they chose that location was its proximity to Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer, who they believed would side with them if they needed to take refuge in his county; indeed, Palmer called the men “patriots.” Federal officials were so concerned that he was working with the Bundys that they concealed their plans to put up a roadblock to apprehend them as they traveled to meet with Palmer. It was at that roadblock where Bundy follower LeVoy Finicum reportedly tried to draw his weapon on federal agents and was gunned down.
The connections go even deeper than that. The primary reason the Bundys occupied Malheur was to bring attention to the case of Dwight and Steven Hammond, who’d been sentenced to five years in prison for arson after a 22-year fight with the federal government over land management and grazing fees.
The Hammonds became the faces of a far-right fringe movement that is intertwined with the Constitutional Sheriffs movement. Donald Trump has been courting these extremists since at least 2016. Three of his most controversial pardons are related to this movement. In August 2017, Trump pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, also a member of the CSPOA. In July 2018, Trump pardoned Dwight and Steven Hammond. Make no mistake about it, these pardons were to shore up support from the most far-right law enforcement and militia types in the country.
At the end of the day, once we rid this government of Trump, we need to make a nationwide effort to purge each and every one of these extremist sheriffs with their grandiose ideas based in white supremacy. Everyone in this country deserves unbiased policing and law enforcement who follow the law, not make their own law.
After all, if they feel empowered to arrest a sitting governor because they disagree with her statewide orders in a deadly pandemic, what’s to stop them or their “militia” friends from knocking on your door next?
In the meantime, show you’ve got Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s back by clicking here to make a small donation to the Daily Kos-endorsed Michigan legislative candidates who might just flip the legislature blue in November.