The intimations we heard this week during the Jan. 6 committee hearing of far-right groups organizing into an antidemocratic paramilitary force that threatens Americans’ elections aren’t just hypothetical scenarios. This very week, far-right “Patriot” extremists doing the bidding of Donald Trump could be found organizing a very real attempt to impose his Big Lie on the electorate.
The Patriots in question are led by Richard Mack and his Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), the far-right group that specifically targets county law enforcement officers for recruitment. Mack, working with Trumpist fanatics like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, has been organizing a scheme in which “constitutional sheriffs” embark on “investigations” of voting machinery and “election fraud” to prove that the 2020 election was stolen—and this week, he organized a national conference of them in Nevada to try to make the scheme into a reality.
Dubbing the gathering a “Call to Action,” Mack rescheduled the CSPOA’s annual September conference to this week in Las Vegas, as Chuck Tanner at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR) reports, primarily to coincide with the far-right-friendly “Freedom Fest” gathering being held the same week in the same city. Mack is a scheduled speaker at Freedom Fest, alongside Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Yang, James O’Keefe, and Del Bigtree.
At his press conference on Tuesday, Mack called on sheriffs around the country to open investigations into voting machines, following the example of Michigan Sheriff Dar Leaf. As the sheriff of rural Barry County, Leaf seized a Dominion voting machine as part of an “investigation” of vote fraud and had it dismantled, sparking a state investigation of his actions. He then filed a lawsuit objecting to the probe.
Mack’s press conference made clear that his entire campaign—“to encourage citizens and Sheriffs across the US to open an investigation” into supposed 2020 election fraud—is predicated almost entirely on the “evidence” presented in Dinesh D’Souza’s fraudulent pseudo-documentary, 2000 Mules.
Last week, Mack appeared on The Lindell Report, the fanatically Trumpist propaganda program overseen by Lindell, who played a key role in organizing the “Stop the Steal” rallies on Jan. 6 and who has been leading the conspiracist parade supporting Trump’s lies about the 2020 election afterward. He also faces a major defamation lawsuit from Dominion Systems, the chief direct victim of his smear campaign defending Trump.
Mack outlined his campaign for Lindell:
Well, we’re bringing in sheriffs from all over the country … What we have claimed all along is that the sheriffs can stop all the unconstitutional CDC and Biden mandates, they can stop all the abuse of the IRS, of the FDA, of the USDA, all these other bureaucracies that think they are a power unto themselves, that have no oversight from Congress, that the ultimate power is in the sheriff in every county, and he’s the one, as my book says, the county sheriffs are America’s last hope. And if we’re going to restore liberty in America, it’s going to be county by county, one good sheriff at a time, working with his citizens to reestablish our Constitution as the supreme law of the land. County by county.
Washington, D.C., is not the solution. They’ve been allowing all these abuses for years. And I will shout out to [former Trump Attorney General] William Barr. Mr. Barr, you came out and you told the American people that Donald Trump was wrong, that there was no evidence of voter fraud in 2020. Well, there was in 2018, and there was in 2016, and there was in 2022, right now. But the thing of it is, whether he was or not, can you show me, sir, the investigation you conducted to prove to the American people that there was no voter fraud, or if there was, as all you crooks say, there wasn’t enough to change the election. Show me the documentation and the investigation.
We now have sheriffs doing what you should have done, because you lied to the American people, because you never conducted an investigation.
Lindell’s cohost, Brannon Howse, asked Mack: “Can you point us to where sheriffs are starting to give subpoenas or search warrants or arrest people, because you have some sheriffs doing that. Can you point to them?”
Mack immediately pointed to Yuma County, Arizona, which he claimed is proceeding into an investigation of vote fraud directly inspired by 2000 Mules and that corroborates the film’s evidence.
There’s a problem with this, however. The Yuma sheriff in fact is investigating vote fraud in his county, but it has not a thing to do with D’Souza’s “mules” theory. The sheriff’s office said his investigation involved cases including impersonation fraud, false registrations, duplicate voting, and fraudulent use of absentee ballots.
“These ongoing investigations are not related to or inspired by any movie or celebrity figure, but rather facts and evidence regarding violation of Arizona statute,” Sheriff Leon Wilmot told reporters. “I am not familiar with, nor have I ever communicated with, any individuals who may now be claiming I am investigating on their behalf or because of any supposed inspiration from a documentary film.”
Mack’s insistence on following the D’Souza fraud as substantive evidence is almost comical. In the post for his press conference, he wrote: “If D'Souza's documentary is wrong, then we want that exposed. If it's correct, then we want proper investigations fully undertaken and the criminals responsible prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
But in fact D’Souza’s documentary has been repeatedly demonstrated to be utterly groundless garbage. It has been debunked by Reuters, the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, FactCheck.org, Politifact, and NPR, to name only a few of the outlets where its phony “facts” and false premises have been eviscerated.
Inspired by Leaf’s actions in Michigan, CSPOA two months ago called on sheriffs and police around the U.S. “to come together in pursuit of the truth regarding the 2020 election.” Its press release read:
Considering the persistent allegations of election fraud since even before the 2020 elections began, and as a response to the perpetual polarizing effect this has had on the American people, the CSPOA would like to put this issue to rest. Our constitutional republic and peaceful future as a free people absolutely depend on it.
In the opinion of the CSPOA, there is very compelling physical evidence presented by truethevote.org in the movie “2000 Mules” produced by Dinesh D'Souza. “Law Enforcement has to step in at this point,” asserts D'Souza, and we absolutely agree with him. Therefore, we are asking for all local law enforcement agencies to work together to pursue investigations to determine the veracity of the “2000 Mules” information.
The press release listed five other “constitutional sheriffs” who are joining in the “investigation”: Bob Songer, the Klickitat County, Washington, sheriff; Wilmot of Yuma County, Arizona; Calvin Hayden of Johnson County, Kansas; Chris Schmalling of Racine County, Wisconsin; and Cutter Clinton of Panola County, Texas.
Mack told Talking Points Memo’s Matt Shuham that he intended not only to back Leaf, but to spread the word among the 300 sheriffs—nearly all of them from rural counties—he claims are enrolled in the CSPOA.
“He would be within his rights to arrest them for interference and obstruction of justice,” he said of Leaf’s standoff with the state police.
Mack also expressed enthusiasm for one of the most aggressive plans presented by Trump’s allies after the last presidential election, seizing voting machines — a gambit Leaf had apparently attempted in Michigan.
“Absolutely, yeah they should,” Mack said. “Get them forensically tested and see if there was cheating. Of course!”
Wouldn’t law enforcement seizing voting machines around the country be alarming for a lot of people? Wouldn’t it look like some kind of coup?
“Why, because we’re trying to find the truth?” Mack shot back.
“If people think a legitimate investigation is a coup,” he added later, “then something’s wrong with their brain waves.”
The CSPOA’s slow but constant spread among law enforcement officials—particularly its groundless insistence that the U.S. Constitution somehow confers supreme legal powers on county-level law enforcement, a claim that originated with the extremist Posse Comitatus movement—has long raised serious concerns about the spread of extremism within the ranks of police, an issue that has become intense in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Yet, as The Washington Post reported last year, the CSPOA’s breadth and depth has expanded in recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when a number of “constitutional sheriffs” announced their unwillingness to enforce public health measures such as masking or vaccine mandates.
“The pandemic was a boon to right-wing extremists,” Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told the Post. “Many sheriffs got on that bandwagon as well. In 2020, that was a very successful year for Richard Mack.”
The way things are going, 2022 might be an even bigger year for Mack.