Dear Attorney General Keith Ellison:
I wanted to follow up regarding the letter I sent your office on September 28. I’ve had a chance to review a reply by CSPOA founder Richard Mack and wanted to refute some of the dodges and mistruths in Mr. Mack’s letter.
Mr. Mack’s reply ignores the core of my letter meant to raise concerns about CSPOA’s attempts to recruit law enforcement in Minnesota. Contrary to its name, 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.
CSPOA is more than just Richard Mack. However, as the founder and continuing board member, Mr. Mack bears some responsibility for not only himself but also for the actions of the rest of the CSPOA staff, including CSPOA CEO Sam Bushman. Though a long-time CSPOA employee, Mr. Bushman was promoted to CEO when Mr. Mack took a $ 20,000-a-month position with the COVID Denial/anti-vaccine group America’s Frontline Doctors. In April, Mr. Mack was accused of stealing $350,000 in donor money from the group.
Mr. Mack begins his reply by claiming that CSPOA was “100% based and founded upon my successful lawsuit against the Clinton Adm. back in 1997. (Mack vs US). It had nothing to do with Posse Comitatus!”
He undoubtedly leveraged the notoriety that came from attaching his name to an NRA-backed lawsuit against the Brady Bill to launch CSPOA—but that was 15 years before. It’s worth remembering that since the 1990s, Mack has used that notoriety to become a star in the militia movement.
If CSPOA were solely dedicated to discussing Mack’s 1997 case over interim provisions relating to handgun background checks, IREHR would not have the same level of concern. Instead, from the beginning, Mack and CSPOA have used his case as a jumping-off point to promote Posse Comitatus ideas.
Since the founding of CSPOA in 2012, the group has focused on merging the ideas that undergirded the pro-slavery and pro-segregationist stances with the white supremacist Posse Comitatus-inspired beliefs in the powers of the county sheriff.
At training sessions with law enforcement and public meetings, Mack and CSPOA preach the long-discredited doctrine of nullification/interposition.
The nullification theory holds that states (or, in this case, sheriffs) can unilaterally decide that laws are “unconstitutional” and, therefore, will not be enforced in that area.
Though it’s nowhere in the Constitution and has been repeatedly ruled unconstitutional, Mr. Mack and CSPOA have attempted to extend the doctrine of nullification from states down to county sheriffs. In his book, The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope, Mack wrote,
“There is a man who can stop the abuse, end the tyranny, and restore the Constitution, once again, as the supreme law of the land. Yes it is you SHERIFF!…Finally, and most conclusively, the High Sheriff of this country needn’t ask anyone else, not the Supreme Court, not the barber down on Main Street, nor even the Federal Government, how or if he keeps his oath of office…[T]he county sheriff has no obligation to go along with those who subvert the Constitution.”
So-called “Constitutional sheriffs” have used the argument to refuse to enforce things like COVID restrictions and gun safety measures. Before them, pro-slavery politician John C. Calhoun used nullification to defend chattel slavery before the Civil War. Arch segregationists also used nullification to try and thwart enforcement of the landmark Civil Rights ruling Brown v Board of Education (1954).
Nullification by states was repudiated by James Madison and rejected by the US Supreme Court multiple times. The Supreme Court rejected the theory in 1809 and again declared nullification unconstitutional in Cooper v. Aaron (1958) when Southern States sought to nullify Brown v. Board of Education.
Not only do Mr. Mack and CSPOA teach law enforcement officers that they can unconstitutionally ignore laws they don’t like and deny equal protection under the law, but they are building a network of sheriffs to intervene or “interpose” and block the enforcement of a law duly legislated in accordance with the procedures outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
As Mr. Mack declared at an election denial conference in July 2022, “We have sheriffs who will interpose.” Already, there have been CSPOA-aligned sheriffs intervening in the vote-counting process and threatening to “interpose”—physically stand against—other federal, state, and local law enforcement officers. Such actions are dangerous and undermine democracy and laws passed through democratic processes.
Mr. Mack claimed CSPOA’s work had “nothing to do with Posse Comitatus.” Yet, two paragraphs later, Mack wrote, “I have made mention of Posses.” Mr. Mack cannot deny the role that Posse ideas have played in his organization. In fact, it relies heavily on the white supremacist fantasies of the Posse for notions of the “power of the county” and the alleged authority of the sheriff.
The Posse Comitatus, the name being Latin for “Power of the County,” was a violent far-right movement that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s and whose ideas undergirded the militia and common law courts movements of the 1990s. The Posse sought to overturn federal authority by pressing the idea that the county sheriff was the “highest law of the land.” This core Posse idea is expressed in CSPOA’s statement, “The vertical separation of powers in the Constitution makes it clear that the power of the sheriff even supersedes the powers of the President.” The Posse Comitatus ideas may be repackaged under the “Constitutional Sheriff” badge, but it’s still the same old divisive unconstitutional garbage.
On the alleged “falsehoods” Mr. Mack claims in his letter, I’d be happy to address each of them.
Mr. Mack began his list with a non-sequitur attempt to change the subject. Instead of addressing any of the critical issues IREHR raised in our letter, he attacks the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). While we’re not “partners” with SPLC in any way, as Mr. Mack claims, we will not stand by and let Mr. Mack lie about another civil rights organization.
Mr. Mack’s sad attempts to smear the venerated civil rights institution as “domestic terrorists” fall flat when looking at the facts. The SPLC attorney arrested in Georgia was swept up during a protest while serving as a trained legal observer.
Combined with Mr. Mack’s laughable attack on IREHR as “a far-left extremist group which is anti-American and anti U S Constitution,” I’m surprised Mr. Mack didn’t attack the lengthy arrest record of long-time IREHR advisory board member, the late Rev. C.T. Vivian. He was, after all, arrested often, including during a 1961 Freedom Ride. All of us should wish for an arrest record as courageous as Rev. Vivian’s.
For someone who so often compares himself to Rosa Parks, Mr. Mack should be ashamed of such baseless attacks on Civil Rights groups. Of course, he should also be ashamed of what he wrote about the Civil Rights organization of which Rosa Parks was a lifetime member. In his book From My Cold Dead Fingers: Why America Needs Guns, Mack included the racist lie that “The Rev. Jesse Jackson types and the NAACP have done more to enslave Afro-Americans than all the southern plantation owners put together.” Shame on Mr. Mack.
On CSPOA and the Oath Keepers
Mack then wrote, “I was not a co-founder of Oath Keepers and Burghart knows it!” Mr. Mack is right. At IREHR, we’re well aware of Mack’s role with the Oath Keepers and how he stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the group long after he left the board.
As I wrote in my letter, “The CSPOA was founded by former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack—a founding board member of the insurrectionist paramilitary group, the Oath Keepers.” That fact is undeniable.
Mack then claimed, “I did sit on the B of D’s, but I resigned in 2016 when they went in a direction the CSPOA could not follow.”
Mack conveniently skipped this portion of my letter, “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.”
For more on the long-standing relationship between CSPOA and the Oath Keepers, see the IREHR report: “Shoulder to Shoulder: CSPOA and the Oath Keepers.”
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes has been a frequent guest on CSPOA CEO Sam Bushman’s “Liberty Roundtable” show. Between May 2018 and July 2021, Rhodes appeared as a guest on Bushman’s show 13 times, including two shows where Richard Mack was also a guest.
Then there’s the issue of Riverside County, California Sheriff Chad Bianco, who is not only a prominent CSPOA member, he’s also been a member of the Oath Keepers. Has Mr. Mack asked him to resign?
Even after the Oath Keepers insurrection, CSPOA CEO Sam Bushman continued supporting the group. In April 2021, three months after the January 6 insurrection, the Liberty Roundtable show website implored,
“Donate to Oath Keepers – WE NEED YOUR MOST GENEROUS SUPPORT TODAY! WE ARE IN A BATTLE FOR THE SURVIVAL OF THE REPUBLIC. Your contribution to Oath Keepers makes a real difference in the fight to defend the Constitution.”
More than a year after the insurrection, the Liberty Roundtable podcast announced that Bushman “Doubles Down In Defense Of Stewart Rhodes President and Founder of OathKeepers!”
If CSPOA was so concerned about the militancy of the Oath Keepers, why did they continue to provide a platform to the group? Moreover, I would ask Mr. Mack and Mr. Bushman to point to evidence of any Liberty Roundtable episodes where they admonished the Oath Keepers for their worrisome activities.
Then, regarding the January 6th insurrection, Mack claimed, without contemporaneous evidence, that “we had nothing to do with supporting it in any manner.”
However, the evidence shows that on the day before the insurrection, January 5, 2021, CSPOA CEO Sam Bushman had Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes on his radio program to encourage others to join his insurrectionary plans. In fact, Bushman continues to defend Rhodes on his program.
If Mr. Mack was genuinely concerned about the dangerous direction of the Oath Keepers, why didn’t he come forward and warn the public? And why hasn’t Mr. Mack taken action to prevent the CEO of the group he founded from giving a platform and fundraising support to the Oath Keepers? Why hasn’t Mr. Mack removed other Oath Keepers from his group?
On Posses and Militias
In Mr. Mack’s third point, he stated, “I have made mention of Posses, but I make it a point not to say ‘Militia.’” As previously discussed, Mr. Mack was a hero to the militia movement of the 1990s, so it’s unclear why he suddenly felt the need to make the point that he steers clear of the word. Could it be because the name was stained by acts of horrific violence like the Oklahoma City Bombing or other acts of militia-related terror?
Mr. Mack hasn’t always been so cautious about using the M-word. “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,” he once proclaimed. Previously, Mr. Mack called CSPOA “the army to set our nation free.”
Mack and other CSPOA leaders have used the terms “militia” and “posse” interchangeably as synonyms. CSPOA board member Michael Peroutka stated at a CSPOA law enforcement training, “What he does is, at this point, show that the sheriff goes out in the audience and does what, what does he gather up? [Several audience members say “posse”]. Right, because surrounding the city, now, is the sheriff and his, whatever, his militia, Posse, whatever.”
CSPOA trainer David Whitney has claimed a Constitutional mandate for militias, arguing that opponents of militias are the enemies of God. He demanded that militias be used to remove Obama if he did not voluntarily remove himself. He also argued that citizenship — including the right to vote, run for office, serve on a jury, or serve in a militia — should be restricted to Christians.
CSPOA trainer KrisAnne Hall has also spoken about the importance of militias (when not busy arguing that the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments are unconstitutional).
CSPOA CEO Sam Bushman has repeatedly promoted citizen militias. He’s even argued that “The Militia arose from the posse comitatus, constituting the people as a whole and embodying the Anglo-American idea that the citizenry is the best enforcer of the law.”
Whether calling them posses, militias, three percenters, or Oath Keepers, Mr. Mack and the CSPOA “army” have long catered to and had support from far-right paramilitary organizations. Suggesting anything else would be intellectually dishonest.
On Sam Bushman
Mr. Mack claimed, “Sam Bushman is a broadcast journalist and has been such for over 25 years. He has interviewed hundreds of people and does so often with those he does not agree with.”
To call Mr. Bushman a “broadcast journalist” would be a stretch. At IREHR, we’ve written extensively about Mr. Bushman’s troubling ties to white nationalism. Here are just a few:
- On Liberty Roundtable, he’s given a platform to a long list of white nationalist guests and agreed with many.
- He’s called white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens board member James Edwards a “friend.” Bushman regularly has Edwards on as a guest and platforms Edwards’s show.
- He’s given a platform to numerous far-right paramilitary groups, including the Oath Keepers.
- He’s run ads for a racist, antisemitic Christian Identity outfit on his program.
- His online radio network, Liberty News Radio, features two white nationalist programs.
- He gave a “salute” to the white nationalist secessionist League of the South on his show.
- He is a member of Ammon Bundy’s far-right People’s Rights network.
If Mr. Mack is concerned about the reputation of his organization, why would he hand it over to a figure with such disturbing ties to white nationalism?
On the KKK
Then Mr. Mack felt the need to declare, “I have never befriended or supported a known high ranking[sic] official of the KKK.” Even if we set aside the national tour with an antisemite and the times Mr. Mack has spoken at militia and Christian Identity meetings, Mr. Mack’s hand-picked CEO could not truthfully state the same.
CSPOA CEO Sam Bushman has, in Mr. Mack’s words, “befriended or supported” several “high ranking officials” of groups that are ideologically similar to the “KKK.” They may not wear sheets, but white nationalist groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens, League of the South, and Identity Dixie share the racism and antisemitism of the Ku Klux Klan. (see above)
For instance, Mr. Bushman appeared at a conference organized by the Council of Conservative Citizens (the reincarnation of the White Citizens Councils that Justice Thurgood Marshall called the “Uptown Klan”) and the white nationalist American Freedom Party. That event included speakers like former KKK leader David Duke and Rachel Pendergraft of Knights of the Ku Klux Klan leader Thom Robb’s Knights Party.
For more on Bushman, the League of the South, and this meeting, see the IREHR report, CSPOA, Dixie Fest, and the League of the South.
Then there are the CSPOA leadership positions of Michael Peroutka (CSPOA Board of Directors) and David Whitney (CSPOA trainer). Both were members of the League of the South, a white nationalist and secessionist organization dedicated to carving out a white ethnostate in the U.S. South. What does Mr. Mack have to say about that?
On CSPOA and Ammon Bundy
While Mr. Mack may have told Bundy to “get out” of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in 2016, other CSPOA leaders have been close to Ammon Bundy and his group.
Last month, CSPOA CEO Sam Bushman publicly declared he was a member of Ammon Bundy’s far-right group, the People’s Rights Network (PRN).
Moreover, before Bushman announced his PRN membership, Ammon Bundy appeared as a guest on the CSPOA leader’s show at least 16 times between November 2015 and May 2023, and Bushman reported on and boosted Bundy’s far-right escapades many more times. This included the January 2016 “Reports Live from Inside the Wildlife Refuge Continued!” and the show’s February 2020 declaration that “Sam Bushman Publicly Calls for Ammon Bundy to Be Nominated For 2020 Nobel Peace Prize!”
For more on CSPOA and Bundy’s People’s Rights Network, see: “CSPOA and the People’s Rights Network.”
In July, an Idaho jury found Ammon Bundy, fellow PRN leader Diego Rodriguez, and affiliated organizations had harassed and defamed staff at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Idaho. The jury ordered Bundy et al. to pay over $52 million to the plaintiffs. In August, Bundy was arrested on a contempt warrant connected to his failure to appear for proceedings in the St. Luke’s lawsuit.
Actions of CSPOA members
No one is asking Mr. Mack to “accept responsibility for any actions by any sheriff in this country.” Mr. Mack’s silence on the actions of CSPOA-affiliated figures like Joe Arpaio, Pam Elliot, and Nathan Johnson speaks volumes about his commitment to law and order.
Sadly, several other CSPOA-affiliated law enforcement officers are accused of engaging in deeply troubling activity, for which Mr. Mack should answer.
First, let’s discuss Barry County, Michigan, Sheriff Dar Leaf, a CSPOA Advisory Board member. Leaf was an unindicted co-conspirator in a Michigan voting machine tampering case. Emails obtained by Bridge Michigan show that Sheriff Leaf tried to enlist fellow “constitutional sheriffs” to seize Dominion voting machines at the heart of the election conspiracy promoted by then-President Donald Trump. In May 2020, Sheriff Leaf shared the stage with members of the Michigan Liberty Militia, including one of the men arrested in the plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Then there’s Culpepper County, Virginia, Sheriff Scott Jenkins, a featured speaker at CSPOA’s 2020 conference. Jenkins was indicted in June on a slew of corruption charges related to a scheme that offered police badges and gun permits in exchange for payments or political contributions.
There’s also Frederick County, Maryland Sheriff Charles “Chuck” Austin Jenkins, a CSPOA member who was indicted in April by a federal grand jury for breaking federal gun laws. Jenkins is alleged to have defrauded the United States by interfering with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by making false statements and representations in paperwork submitted to the ATF to obtain machine guns that were used by campaign supporter Robert Justin Krop’s firearms business, The Machine Gun Nest.
On “damning revelations” and Officer Mack’s misconduct
In the last point, Mr. Mack attempts to shine up the tarnished legacy of his time in law enforcement. Unfortunately for Mr. Mack, the judges in Utah—including the Utah Supreme Court—disagree with Mack’s version of events.
Mack cavalierly claimed, “The appeal by the convicted murderer had nothing to do with his guilty verdict and subsequent appeal. His guilt was never questioned. The only issue he was appealing dealt with the disclosure of the payments made to a couple of witnesses who were in our protection. Yes, we paid for some of their groceries and rent. It was never contingent upon them falsely testifying.”
The Courts disagree with Mr. Mack’s version of events. In 2019, the Utah Supreme Court found that “damning revelations” about the conduct of police and prosecutors could have affected the case’s conviction and sentencing. The ruling sent the case back to the 4th District.
In 2021, 4th District Court Judge Derek Pullan issued a searing 116-page opinion. The judge ruled that Mack, his lieutenant, and a prosecutor collaborated to violate an accused man’s constitutional rights and ended up putting him on death row for 37 years through a scheme that entailed paying more than $4,000 to key witnesses, threatening them with deportation and coaching them to lie on the stand to cover up the gifts and the threats.
It appears Officer Mack’s misconduct may have either cost an innocent man 37 years in prison or sent a killer free. Such conduct should be disqualifying for anyone wanting to train law enforcement officers.
At a time when law enforcement and community relations are already so deeply strained in Minnesota, efforts of a far-right group to infiltrate law enforcement pose a grave and growing threat to both officers and department credibility. Mr. Mack and his CSPOA Posse (or army, or militia, or whatever he’s calling it today) have no place in law enforcement. We urge you to speak out to make it clear that CSPOA has no place in or around American law enforcement. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us.