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Rep. Chuck Edwards praises far-right "Constitutional Sheriffs" leader Richard Mack

Richard Mack, leader of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and Lake Silver, field representative for Rep. Chuck Edwards, at a training in Murphy on Sept. 9. Silver presented Mack with a letter and a challenge coin from the Congressman.
Jessica Pishko/The Assembly
Richard Mack, leader of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and Lake Silver, field representative for Rep. Chuck Edwards, at a training in Murphy on Sept. 9. Silver presented Mack with a letter and a challenge coin from the Congressman.

In a letter read by an aide, Rep. Chuck Edwards praised the leader of the far-right "Constitutional Sheriffs" group at a training session in Murphy on Saturday.

Edwards' field representative Lake Silver read a message from the congressman calling the group “trailblazers” and praising its leader, former sheriff and former Oath Keeper Richard Mack, as “inspirational.”

The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association promotes the idea that law enforcement officials have the power to ignore laws they deem unconstitutional. The group supports far-right stances such as defying federal land use restrictions and resisting immigration.

“It is the work of constitutional law enforcement officers like yourself and so many others that allow us all to sleep easier every night,” the letter read. “We know that when those who seek to destroy our country rise, you act as a strong line of defense for the soul of our nation. I honor you as a long standing defender of our constitutionally protected rights.”

The event was co-hosted by Cherokee County Sheriff Dustin Smith.

Freelance journalist Jessica Piskco covered the event for The Assembly and spoke with BPR News Director Laura Lee about the training and Edwards’ message

Lee: Jessica, thanks for talking with us. Who are the constitutional sheriffs?

Pishko: The constitutional sheriffs are a group of sheriffs who really affiliate with far right groups across the country. They have a theory that essentially argues that the sheriff, who is an elected law enforcement officer in each county, is in a unique position to support the citizens constitutional rights.

Lee: So what does that mean for the parameters of what sheriffs have to consider in terms of other laws or state statutes?

Pishko: So the idea that the constitutional sheriffs movement wants to encourage sheriffs to do is to, in essence, use their own judgment and do what's called interpose themselves between the citizens of their county and any state or federal laws that someone may pass.

Lee: And who leads this constitutional sheriffs movement?

Pishko: So the constitutional sheriffs movement has one organization that is the largest. It's called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association or the CSPOA. And their founder and president is a man named Richard Mack. He was a two-term sheriff in Arizona, in the late 80s and early 1990s.

Mack got his start actually touring around the country with Stewart Rhodes and the Oathkeepers. Since then, he has continued that same system, so this event in Murphy was one of his stops along what he sometimes calls his national circuit. So he stopped in Murphy to do what he calls a day-long course. It's really something more like a sermon or a lecture. He also spends quite a lot of time uplifting certain anti-government extremists. So he'll spend a bit of time talking about Randy Weaver, who was a white supremacist, and also some time talking about the Bundy family, which might be more familiar to people as the ranching family that was trying to kick the Bureau of Land Management off their land.

Lee: What can you tell us about Saturday's event? It was held at a church and there was some involvement by local sheriffs, right?

Pishko: Yes, so the event was sponsored by the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office. The Cherokee County sheriff was there along with some of his deputies. I had the understanding that they were providing some sort of security for the event. The event was open to everyone, so the vast majority of people were civilians. They were not sheriffs.

Lee: And Congressman Edwards sent a representative from his office. Can you tell us who that person was and what they were doing there?

Pishko: Congressman Edwards sent his representative, Lake Silver, who I understood to be the field officer. He read a letter that Congressman Edwards wrote to Richard Mack, praising Richard Mack and his work, particularly noting Mack’s sort of intense loyalty to Second Amendment rights. And he also presented Mack with what looked like a certificate and a challenge coin, which is a sort of token that is often exchanged among law enforcement and military as a sign of respect.

Lee: Jessica, you've reported extensively on this across the country. What are some common threads? What are the elements that you saw on Saturday that you also see in other places in the country?

Pishko: I think one of the things it's important to keep in mind is that this movement is a rather fringe far-right movement, so most North Carolina sheriffs were not present. But what's important about it is that a lot of the ideas that Richard Mack and his followers put into the air have become mainstream GOP ideas, which is signified by the letter from Chuck Edwards. The fact that the event was held in Murphy, which is a rather rural section of the state, and the fact that North Carolina is still very much a purple state is also a sign that Mack and other far-right groups see it as a place where they can sow more political discontent.