A former law enforcement officer is trying to overthrow the U.S. government one county at a time by encouraging sheriffs to disobey federal laws they don't like.
Richard Mack, the former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, has been involved in a number of anti-government actions -- including the standoff at the Bundy ranch, where he encouraged the use of women and children as human shields.
Mack is also the head of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which promotes the legal fallacy that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the United States and authorized to evaluate which laws are constitutional.
His group, which claims to have several hundred sheriffs as dues-paying members, is circulating a survey intended to push other sheriffs into disregarding federal laws they believe are unconstitutional.
The group cites conspiracy theories about the Affordable Care Act and United Nations gun confiscation to ask sheriff candidates whether they would enforce laws that would punish Americans who refuse to submit.
The CSPOA, which was not involved in the occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge but clearly influenced those armed militants, works to elect like-minded sheriffs and pressure elected officials not to enforce gun laws.
"The CSPOA will be the army to set our nation free," said Mack, who believes President Barack Obama was born outside the U.S.
He and other CSPOA members, including former Florida prosecutor KrisAnne Hall, promote the group's interpretation of constitutional law to sheriffs and others over hundreds of sessions each year.
Their theories are rooted in "sovereign citizen" teachings of William Potter Gale, a white supremacist Christian Identity minister whose writings in the 1970s influenced the Posse Comitatus and militia movements.
However, legal experts say Mack's interpretation contradicts the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which authorizes federal agents to enforce federal law that may conflict with state or local laws.
Jared Goldstein, professor of constitutional law at the Roger Williams University School of Law, said Mack and his followers were dangerous because their views promote violent resistance to federal authority.
He compared them to Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk jailed last year after disobeying the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage -- "but with guns."
“We can’t make anybody be courageous, but we want sheriffs to see the abuses of the federal government,” Mack said. “If you put them in front of the right information, they’ll do the right thing.”