Today, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR) sent the following letter to all 102 Illinois Sheriffs’ Departments asking them to refrain from participating in the upcoming event by the far-right Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). In the coming days, we will update you on their responses and publish new disturbing details on the local organizers of this event.
We are reaching out to your department concerning the efforts of the so-called Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) to use concern over gun rights in Illinois to infiltrate local law enforcement organizations.
In particular, CSPOA has scheduled a March 4 rally and training in Springfield, Illinois. We are also concerned because, to date, CSPOA has received support from Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Bullard, and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association sent CSPOA’s material to sheriffs around the state.
There is nothing Constitutional about the CSPOA. Instead, the group is a far-right pro-paramilitary organization that promotes spurious ideas about policing derived from the racist, antisemitic, and violent Posse Comitatus movement.
The CSPOA was founded by former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack—a founding board member of the insurrectionist paramilitary group, the Oath Keepers. Six Oath Keepers leaders were recently convicted of seditious conspiracy for their part in the January 6th insurrection. According to the Department of Justice, the “manners and means” used by defendants convicted in two separate Oath Keepers trials included “using force against law enforcement officers while inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.”
While Mack told Reuters that he left the Oath Keepers’ board around 2016 because the group became too militant, he and other CSPOA leaders maintained a relationship with the insurrectionist group. In fact, on January 5, 2021, CSPOA CEO Sam Bushman had Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes on his radio program the day before the insurrection to encourage others to join his insurrectionary plans.
Mack has also made clear that he would support using private militias against government officials, writing, “People get all upset when they hear about militias, but what’s wrong with it? I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to call out my posse against the federal government if it gets out of hand.”
Before returning to efforts to infiltrate law enforcement, in 2021, Mack toured the country with an antisemitic conspiracy theorist spreading misinformation about COVID-19.
Richard Mack’s history in law enforcement is troubling. While Mack spends considerable time stressing his devotion to Constitutional rights, his record and that of other law officers affiliated with CSPOA has too often been wanting in this regard.
In 1985 while serving in the Provo, Utah, police department, Mack’s apparent misconduct landed a man on death row and in prison for nearly 30 years. As described in a 116-page federal court ruling, during the investigation into a high-profile murder case, Mack arranged to pay the rent, heat, and phone bills of two key witnesses and give them cash – totaling some $4,000 across several months. As a result, a Fourth District Court Judge overturned the conviction and death sentence of the man based on the misconduct of Mack, other officers, and the prosecutor.
One witness also “testified that Officer Mack threatened her and [her husband] with arrest, deportation, and loss of their son, and that this occurred three times.” In addition, witnesses testified that they were coached to lie about having received gifts and about the defendant planning to rape the murder victim. The judge wrote, “Officer Mack’s inconsistent statements—all aimed at painting the police and his own conduct in a more favorable light—seriously undermined his credibility.”
Other CSPOA-affiliated law officers have engaged in intimidation and illegal and potentially illegal practices. For example, Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County (AZ) Sheriff who received a 2012 CSPOA award, was convicted of criminal contempt in 2017 after refusing to end his department’s racial profiling practices. As of 2015, taxpayers had paid $8.2 million for the case.
Former Edwards County (TX) Sheriff Pam Elliot, a CSPOA member featured on the cover of Mack’s book, Are You a David?, and her department engaged in activity that intimidated political opponents and voters, including Edwards County deputies appearing at polling stations. Election attorney Buck Wood described the latter as “pure and simple intimidation…Only certain people can be in the boundaries of a polling station: voters and election officials.”
Earlier this year, Real County (TX) Sheriff Nathan Johnson, who attended a Texas CSPOA training, was put under criminal investigation for repeatedly seizing money from undocumented immigrants, even if they were not charged with a state crime – actions to which he admitted.
At a time when law enforcement and community relations are already strained, efforts of a far-right group to infiltrate law enforcement pose a grave and growing threat to both officers and department credibility.
Groups like CSPOA have no place in law enforcement. We urge you to speak out to make it clear that CSPOA has no place in American law enforcement. As this issue is time sensitive, we would appreciate a rapid response. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Executive Director, IREHR