Constitutional sheriffs event brings few sheriffs
Group was met with energy and an award from congressman but few in uniform
While Western North Carolina sheriffs didn’t turn out for an event hosted by the controversial Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Officers Association, at least the host sheriff, Cherokee County’s Dustin Smith, as well as the region’s congressional representative, offered their unwavering support.
The event included speeches from both Richard Mack, the group’s leader, and Dar Leaf, a Michigan sheriff who has proven a staunch ally. At one point, Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) showed his adherence to their beliefs when a field representative called Mack’s group “trailblazers” and presented Mack with a citation.
As reported by The Smoky Mountain News before the event, CSPOA is a law enforcement association that operates on the tenet that the sheriff is the highest authority in any county and has the right, even the duty, to reject any perceived intrusion by federal entities. This has recently manifested in the group’s strong election denial and belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories; at the event, several speakers and attendees swore noncompliance with any future mask or vaccine mandates and expressed total distrust of all public health organizations.
CSPOA traces its ideological roots to the anti-government Posse Comitatus movement of several decades ago, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — the phrase “Posse Comitatus” would be said several times at the event in Murphy.
In 1994, Mack gained instant popularity among far-right activists when he initiated a suit that would ultimately lead the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a provision in the Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993, named after President Ronald Reagan’s Press Secretary James Brady, who was severely wounded in an attempt on Reagan’s life in 1981.
The provision required sheriffs like Mack to conduct background checks on firearms purchasers until the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) could be implemented, and Mack stood his ground when federal authorities sought to enforce it in his Arizona county.
Present for last weekend’s event were 90 people scattered across 20 or so tables inside the fellowship hall of Murphy’s First Baptist Church. Along with four sheriffs — all but one were from out of state — there were 17 members of law enforcement, including six from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office. Also present were members of local conservative groups, including Citizens for a Better America, which had a hand in planning the event; Restoration 1776 Movement; Cherokee Jural Assembly; and Convention of States.
Along with a sign-in table and another featuring a huge spread of breakfast and lunch options, there was a table that had a large donation jar, as well as some of Mack’s books and freeze-dried survival food for sale.
Among the excited attendees was Max Norton, host of a local talk radio show on WCNP who had interviewed Mack a couple of times before the event. Norton strongly supported Mack’s message and tied it into current events.
“Joe Biden is walking on the Constitution every day that we are alive, and it’s ridiculous,” he said. “A sitting president should not be abusing the Constitution.”
While Norton said he had issues with plenty of politicians on both sides of the aisle, he is a staunch supporter of one man — the one who found his way into the Oval Office by launching a nonstop barrage of criticism at the so-called establishment.
“Trump was our salvation,” Norton said.
People came from seven other states to attend the event. Among them were Amy Selmak and Kevin Margo, who came all the way from the Pittsburgh area. Although not law enforcement officers, they said they were compelled the make the journey to Western North Carolina to hear Mack and Leaf speak because they believe so strongly in their message.
“I think it’s just important to be informed and to know what’s going on around you, because I was one of those people who kind of just stayed in the background and just kind of watched. But now I’m starting to become more involved,” Selmak said.
Before Mack and Leaf spoke, Cherokee County Sheriff Dustin Smith offered some words. Notably, as he defended the sheriff’s role as “chief law enforcement officer” in any county and talked about the importance of adhering to the Constitution, he is currently embroiled in a whole world of legal trouble, after his deputies, in December of last year, set into a motion a series of events that ultimately led to an unarmed man, hands raised high in the air, getting shot in his own doorway. Later, he issued a statement saying he was not on scene, but that has since been proven false.
Cherokee County Sheriff Dustin Smith
When introducing the speakers, Smith thanked everyone for coming to the event and noted that he knew it wasn’t necessarily easy for law enforcement to show up to such things due to the public perception around the fringe movement. He also seemed to air grievances against other elected officials in his own county.
“This is something that’s needed in today’s times, and we need to make sure we stand together,” Smith said. “We weren’t elected by the commissioners, and we aren’t controlled by the commissioners.”
Although Smith said at the event that he would speak on the record with SMN the following Monday, he failed to return multiple phone calls.
Leaf spoke before his good friend Mack. Leaf is the sheriff of Barry County, Michigan, and has been embroiled in his own controversy. In 2020, Leaf refused to enforce Michigan Gov. Gretchen Widmer’s stay-at-home orders. That same year, when 13 men were arrested for a plot to kidnap Widmer and stage a sham trial, he averred that the whole thing may have been a lawful attempt at citizen’s arrest. During his speech, he said he believed the feds entrapped them by infiltrating their militia and that there was prosecutorial misconduct since their text messages were leaked to the press.
Leaf specifically aired grievances regarding COVID mandates and perceived election interference he alleges prevented former President Donald Trump from winning reelection in 2020. He said that since taking public stands on all these things, he and his family have faced a torrent of threats.
“I’m not kidding,” he said. “I’d get probably three calls a minute with death threats, and if a woman answered the phone, they’d say the dirtiest nastiest things they could.”
Mack began his by speaking in detail about his Supreme Court victory, citing the majority opinion written by the late justice Antonin Scalia. He specifically highlighted the moments that Scalia argued that the authority of the sheriff in a county supersedes federal authority. Basically, it all revolved around who has jurisdiction at the county level.
“The feds are not the highest authority in my county, just like I have no authority in Washington, D.C.,” Mack said.
He elaborated on his point by saying federal authorities had no right to arrest those who participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, attempted insurrection in their own homes.
“How many times that the FBI go into other jurisdictions other than Washington, D.C., and grab people and not go through the extradition process? Every single one … they just don’t have to follow the rules for some reason, and that is the problem.”
Mack also used other examples of injustice to paint all federal agencies with a broad brush of corruption, from the Trail of Tears to the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that established the “separate but equal” doctrine.
He also made an effort to debunk claims — like those noted in last week’s SMN story — that Mack and CSPOA had ties to white supremacist groups. He said he finds the notion that people think he’s racist to be “particularly offensive,” adding that his mother would never have raised him that way. Everyone was welcome in his childhood home, he said, including minorities on his basketball team.
“I brought the team home to play in my backyard … All of them were welcome. She brought them all lemonade. We had Hispanics, Blacks, Mormons, and my mom loved them. And for somebody to call me racist is as bad as me or you calling someone else the N-word. I don’t deserve it, I don’t like it, and it’s a big fat lie. But if you support the Constitution, next thing you know, you’re being labeled a racist.”
Throughout his speech, Mack, a compelling speaker, hit many of the beats the audience had hoped for — complaints about COVID mandates, election denial, fears of government overreach, scrutiny of perceived elitism in Washington, D.C. — and the crowd roared with applause each time.
As the excitement built, he pleaded for more support, both financially and from other sheriffs.
“This is gonna take some coming together … there’s dozens of [other sheriffs], but there’s not enough,” he said. “It’s not even close; we need 1,000. That would be one-third of the sheriffs, and there will be no stopping — I repeat — no stopping us.”
At the meeting, Lake Silver, a field representative for Rep. Edwards got in front of the crowd and said Edwards wanted to be present but couldn’t attend because he was in another state on other official business. While most folks initially weren’t quite sure why Silver was there other than to maybe speak with constituents, he presented Mack with a citation on behalf of his boss.
Richard Mack receives a citation from Lake Silver, a field representative from Rep. Chuck Edwards’ office. Kyle Perrotti photo
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed hearing from an amazing patriot and someone who’s fought for our rights for a long time. Unfortunately, the fight keeps going. I’m amazed by your presentation and everything you covered,” Silver said, citing Mack’s ability to hit many common talking points in conservative circles, from COVID mandates and IRS corruption all the way down to regulating gas stoves.
Silver read the citation to Mack and the crowd.
“The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, or CSPOA, have been trailblazers for law enforcement officers across the country,” he read. “It is the work of constitutional law enforcement officers like yourself and so many others that allow us all to sleep easier every night. We know that when those who seek to destroy our country rise, you act as a strong line of defense for the soul of our nation. I honor you as a defender of our constitutionally protected rights.”
Silver cited Mack’s landmark case.
“As a former FFL dealer, thank you for fighting for my rights and the rights of the Western North Carolina communities. Unfortunately, the liberties your fought for in 1997 are still under attack today by every day in Congress.”
After reading the citation, Silver presented Mack with a challenge coin.
“He does not give these out, honestly, to anyone but ... law enforcement officers, so it’s the highest honor and we really appreciate you,” Silver said.
Edwards declined a follow-up interview request.
A couple of days after the event in Murphy, Mack and Leaf spoke by phone with SMN. Mack said that although a congressman once turned up at one of his events and offered praise in front of the crowd, this was the first time he could recall receiving an actual written citation and something like a challenge coin.
“I found it gratifying that he knew the case and acknowledged its impact,” Mack said. “I was really proud of that.”
Mack and Leaf both said they were happy with the crowd’s enthusiasm. Leaf said that no matter where he goes — and he often joins Mack at such events — he feels like the crowd is ready for the message since he believes the same problem exists nationwide.
“Everybody’s fed up, period,” he said. “We’re having the same problems in Michigan that they’re having in Cherokee County, North Carolina.”
Leaf acknowledged that sheriffs who turn up at these events have often faced some heat within their communities, but he said the important part is for those sheriffs to explain to the public and their colleagues in law enforcement what’s at the heart of CSPOA’s message.
“I always tell them that the heat will be there until you tell them what you actually learned,” he said.
While Mack said he felt the energy was great, he was a bit disappointed more sheriffs weren’t present. Of the four sheriffs present, none were from the state’s western seven counties. While there were name badges for the Clay County Sheriff and his chief deputy, they remained on the sign-in table all day.
“There are a lot of sheriffs out there who have shown up to these, but we need more,” he said.
Mack admitted that some sheriffs who may agree with ideology won’t turn out for his events because they don’t want to be labeled as extremists in their own communities.
“I believe that if it’s negative association, it’s because of the press they’re trying to scare sheriffs away,” he said.
However, like during his speech when he talked about the importance of acting in the interest of morals and justice by citing Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, he again spoke of the civil rights hero’s determination.
“Martin Luther King didn’t shy away from controversy. He stood strong. He endured over 30 arrests,” Mack said. “I think we can stand for freedom a little bit and say, ‘I’m going to stand strong like Martin Luther King and our founding fathers.’”