Sheriff Nick Finch let a pistol-packing local man out of the Liberty County, Florida, jail shortly after taking office, a decision that brought him admiration, donations, and speaking requests from anti-government activists across the country. It put him at odds with state authorities, who charged him with a crime, but also thrust him into the vanguard of a radical and growing movement among sheriffs in rural communities who assert they can ignore state and federal laws they decide are unconstitutional.
The Florida episode began in the middle of the county’s lush Apalichicola National Forest on March 8, 2013, when one of Finch’s deputies pulled over a driver and discovered a loaded .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol in his front pocket, according to the deputy’s sworn statement. Carrying a concealed firearm without a license is a third-degree felony under Florida law, so the deputy arrested the man, Lloyd Parrish, and brought him in to the county jail.
Finch, 53, later said he decided that “I know what law rules the day, and it’s the U.S. Constitution.” He ordered Parrish released and someone whited out Parrish’s booking record, an act that caused Republican Gov. Rick Scott to order Finch’s suspension after the deputy complained. But then former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack called, and the political machinery of a group that Mack heads — the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association — became engaged.
Sympathizers created a Facebook support page for the previously obscure former U.S.Army police supervisor, and online commentators expressed outrage at what they called an unconstitutional attempt by the state to interfere with Finch’s support for gun rights. Mack organized a fundraiser in nearby Panama City and brought Stewart Rhodes, head of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers, the same group that made national headlines last August for patrolling the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, with long guns. Mack is also on the Oath Keepers’ board of directors.
It wasn’t the only occasion in which Mack, a former public relations director of a lobbying group called Gun Owners of America, has intervened on behalf of someone who prominently contested the enforcement of laws. He’s traveled repeatedly to Oregon this year, appearing at high schools and fairgrounds, and giving interviews in which he sharply criticized federal authorities during their armed standoff with militants who occupied a wildlife refuge there to protest federal land-use rules. He’s also promised to help elect new sheriffs in the region who share his views. Gun laws are a focus of his ire, but federal lands restrictions and tax laws also have been in his sights.
What’s unique about his group is not that it opposes gun controls but that its ambition is to encourage law enforcement officers to defy laws they decide themselves are illegal. On occasion, some of his group’s sheriffs have found themselves in curious agreement with members of the sovereign citizens’ movement, which was also founded on claimed rights of legal defiance and is said by the FBI to pose one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats.
Mack has referred to the federal government as “the greatest threat we face today,” and describes his association — which states its meetings are supported by the John Birch Society and Gun Owners of America, as well as by annual dues payments of $50 — as “the army to set our nation free.” He said in an interview with the Center for Public Integrity that he has grown the army by training more than 400 sheriffs at seminars and conventions in how to interpret the U.S. Constitution and how to resist authorities and laws that violate it. A former Florida assistant state attorney, KrisAnne Hall, assists in a coordinated training effort and says she conducts 265 sessions annually.
Mack says that more than 100 sheriffs have shown up at the annual conventions his group has organized, including many in 2014 where Finch received the group’s top honor: Constitutional Sheriff of the Year. With forty other sheriffs, Finch signed a resolution there declaring they would not tolerate any federal agent who attempted to register firearms, arrest someone, or seize property in their counties without their consent.
“We can’t make anybody be courageous, but we want sheriffs to see the abuses of the federal government,” Mack said in the interview. “If you put them in front of the right information, they’ll do the right thing.”
How Mack’s campaign plays out over the next few years is unclear. The general political climate, as reflected in the presidential campaign, is angrier and more confrontational than ever.
One thing is very clear. With Supreme Court Justice Scalia gone, we are just one justice away from Obama and Democrats destroying more of our Constitutional rights. With Hillary lurking in the wings for a presidential win, one thing is for certain, if “We The People” wish to defend our 2nd Amendment Rights, we must elect a Republican candidate for president.
The 2nd Amendment – the Right to Keep and Bear Arms must be defended, supported and protected. This is about self defense and defending our Constitution. This is critical to our nation’s survival.
I salute Sheriff Richard Mack. Anyone who stands up to defend the Constitution and our Right to Keep and Bear Arms deserves the respect and support of “We The People”. You have stood up against government and fought on the behalf of many citizens and their rights, most recently Cliven Bundy in Nevada and the Hammond Family in Oregon. With Obama in charge, it’s nice to know you have our backs! Thank you! And to all the members of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association – God Bless You!
For more information on CSPO go here: http://cspoa.org/
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