Since the election of Barack Obama, some members and former members of the military and law enforcement have organized to defend the Constitution as they see it. They call themselves Oath Keepers and vow to protect the people against the federal government.
While both the Bush and Obama administrations have increased the federal government’s surveillance and detention powers since 9/11, the legitimate concerns of the Oath Keepers have been overwhelmed by exaggerated and made-up fears and scenarios.
For example, the Oath Keepers vow to resist any invasion of a state or the order to impose martial law on it. They vow to resist any order to surround and block American cities and turn them into concentration camps. They also promise to resist the use of foreign troops to quell American dissent.
These ideas of concentration camps and foreign troops coming onto American soil have been raised by fear-mongers for decades. However, after the election of Obama, these groups have grown in force significantly. With limited electoral appeal, they have turned to force as the backup plan for their agenda.
An offshoot of the Oath Keepers is the Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). A few weeks ago, 115 county sheriffs, mainly from the West, met in Las Vegas to discuss constitutional issues. Specifically, these sheriffs spoke of their power to keep federal law enforcement officials out of their counties.
From the CSPOA’s website, former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack writes:
Very few people realize that the Sheriff has the legitimate authority to prevent federal agents from entering the county – or the power to throw them out once they are there.
In plainer terms, this is how one supporter of sheriff’s authority put it:
People don’t realize it but the LOCAL SHERIFF is the HIGHEST law enforcement official in America! He is ABOVE the FBI, DEA, DOJ, DHS, ATF, TSA, and all of the rest of the feds! Your local sheriff is the highest police officer in the land.
Federal authorities may be overstepping their bounds in some areas but just as scary is the CSPOA contention that they are defenders of the Constitution, insinuating that only their interpretation is valid.
Power-hungry government officials – backed by people with hidden agendas – have convinced us to sacrifice our freedoms bit by bit, always in the name of some supposedly noble cause (usually something to do with protecting us from some imaginary or greatly exaggerated danger). And with every change they gain a little more power; a little more control.
But what does this have to do with the CSPOA?
The county sheriff is the line in the sand. The county sheriff is the one who can say to the feds, “Beyond these bounds you shall not pass.” This is not only within the scope of the sheriff’s authority; it’s the sheriff’s sworn duty. And what about the little guys; the individual police officers? It’s all about judgement (sic) calls. When you pull over a frazzled apologetic mother with a minivan full of crazed kids who has just ‘rolled’ a stop sign, do you treat her the same as you would a pack of bad-mouthed teenagers in a hot rod that smells like dope for the same offense? The people of this land would certainly hope that you would have more charity than that, and we at the CSPOA believe that you do.
Remember to ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this law I am enforcing? Am I helping to serve the people and protect their rights by doing this, or am I doing something else entirely?”
These law enforcement officials see themselves as the last stand of Constitution. As the Denver Post reported from the recent Las Vegas conference:
The 100 or so sheriffs gathered in a Las Vegas hotel ballroom two weeks ago learned that some weighty titles have been attached to the stars they wear on their chests.
“Ultimate enforcers of the Constitution.” “Protectors against government tyranny.” “America’s last hope.” “Brave oath keepers.”
The person who will “stand tall against federal tyranny,” even if it means armed resistance, according to organizers, is the county sheriff.
Basically, these officials are taking on the role of vigilantes. Instead of using the courts or elections, they assume that as local elected officials their version of the Constitution is the right one.
The Supreme Court is often divided on controversial issues by 5-4 votes. Those nine justices are far more versed on the Constitution than a county sheriff from Arizona. The problem is that a sheriff, usually from a small, rural county, has weapons and deputies. There haven’t been any shooting wars between local sheriffs and the feds, but it is getting close to that.
Nevada Sheriff Tony DeMeo stopped Bureau of Land Management officials from confiscating cattle from a local rancher by threatening to match his SWAT team against theirs. DeMeo and the rancher said that the cattle confiscation was over water rights. BLM officials stated that it was because the cattle were grazing on federal land without permits, and the rancher was illegally leasing those lands to other ranchers for grazing.
In Wyoming, Bighorn County Sheriff Dave Mattis declared that he will arrest federal officials who come into his county without obtaining prior approval.
In New Mexico, Otero County Sheriff Benny House vowed to arrest federal officials on kidnapping charges if they intervened to halt a tree cutting protest against federal regulations.
There is a problem with enforcement from many government agencies. After Congress gives them the authority to act, they write their own rules, develop their own enforcement agencies and often run roughshod over those who dispute them.
The New Mexico dispute is an example of that. State and local officials did not feel that federal officials were properly managing the forest for fire prevention. The state passed a law that conflicted with the federal governments. Generally, the courts are used to settle a dispute like this. Local officials who believe that the federal government is a greater threat than terrorists prefer to rely on a sheriff.
In Arizona, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has connections to CSPOA, has faced charges of mismanagement, violating civil rights and trying to bypass the highest elected official in the county, the Board of Supervisors. Arpaio is a model for what these other sheriffs want to become. Rather than protectors of the Constitution, they are threatening to turn it into a worthless document subservient to a sheriff’s badge.
The potential for favoritism and corruption is enormous. Instead of being defenders of the Constitution, these sheriffs threaten to wreck the rule of law with extrajudicial actions based on wide-eyed conspiracies and misplaced self-righteousness. In an ironic twist, their overzealousness makes the feds look like the good guys.