Oath Keeper founder teaching ‘anti-government propaganda’ to Texas cops -- with state's blessing
Sheriff Richard Mack (YouTube)

A right-wing former sheriff is traveling around the country spreading his anti-government views to law enforcement officers, sometimes with state approval.

Richard Mack, the former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, and co-founder of the Oath Keepers, pushes the legal fallacy that county sheriffs are the highest legal authority in the United States and have the authority to defy or disregard laws they believe are unconstitutional, and travels the country seeking to induct local law enforcement into his Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), reported Mother Jones.

"He's had more success in bringing anti-government ideas to law enforcement than anyone else," said Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism who recently published a report on Mack and his organization.

The 68-year-old Mack first gained notoriety in the mid-1990s after challenging the Brady Bill requiring background checks for gun purchases, and he's been spreading his "constitutional sheriff" theories to right-wing "patriot" groups and law enforcement for more than a decade.

"There is a huge problem already with hate groups organizing within law enforcement," said Jonathan Smith, who served in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration and now heads the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. "We've seen repeated waves of it in the past 10 years, with the recruitment of law enforcement officers on the internet. For this to move from the sort of the dark corners of the internet to officially sanctioned trainings from one of the largest states is really frightening in my view."

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) this year approved CSPOA to provide training that officers must complete to maintain their proficiency certificates, and Mack says that 10 other states, including Montana, South Carolina and Virginia, have done the same.

"If this event would have been in Texas, we would have had 75 or 80 sheriffs here," Mack told an audience recently in Maryland.

Mack had invited all 24 of the state's sheriffs to the event, but only Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, a Fox News regular who regularly bashes immigrants and recently settled a racial profiling lawsuit filed by a Latina woman, showed up.

"People who say I'm radical, I'm an extremist, I'm dangerous, I promote violence," Mack told the crowd. "Let's make this very clear right now: I had never promoted violence or advocated violence. Ever. In 20 years of law enforcement, I never even slapped or slugged another human being. I never shot anybody or maced anybody. I never hit somebody with my nightstick. I've never attacked, hurt or maimed any human being ever. But yet the Southern Poverty Law Center has me down as a domestic terrorist!"

"There is a God! Our rights come from Him!" the crowd chants. "The purpose of civil government is to protect God given rights!"

TCOLE sent two field agents to CSPOA training sessions in July, after receiving a complaint by a civil rights watchdog, and reported no reason to deny continuing education credits to attendees, but Texas attorney general Ken Paxton signaled his endorsement by addressing the group's conference last week in Mesquite.

"It's legitimate law enforcement training," Mack told Mother Jones. "We are the only ones who teach the oath of office."

Pitcavage said fears about extremists infiltrating law enforcement are somewhat overwrought, but he said CSPOA was a "huge exception," and he said Paxton's endorsement was troubling.

"What extremists crave is recognition, official recognition," Pitcavage said. "When [Mack] can get official law enforcement bodies to get trainings, it allows him entrée into more spaces and places and allows him to promote his views about government. [Some states] have officially approved what is essentially anti-government propaganda being delivered to law enforcement in their states."