A half dozen sheriffs from across the country addressed a far-right conference focused on bogus claims of voter fraud this week.
The event, hosted by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, featured speeches from several Republican state lawmakers as well as fringe election deniers including MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, ex-Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, and Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, a former treasure hunter who’s claimed without evidence to have developed a technology that uses microscopic imaging to root out cheating in elections.
The sheriffs and other speakers at the event pushed discredited voter fraud allegations from the documentary “2000 Mules,” which asserts evidence of a vast network of illegal vote smugglers based on vague cellphone data and clipped surveillance footage. And attendees announced an effort to fundraise for additional surveillance cameras and other tools to allow sheriffs to watch voters as they cast their ballots.
Notably, the event also led a Colorado judge to issue an arrest warrant for Tina Peters, an indicted county clerk who’s become a cause célèbre for the election conspiracy theory crowd, finding that she’d violated the terms of her release to travel to Las Vegas for the event.
The “constitutional sheriffs” movement, which convened the conference, holds that sheriffs are the supreme law enforcement authorities in their jurisdictions — above even state and federal authorities — and also that sheriffs have a duty to ignore laws they view as unconstitutional. That logic has, in recent years, been applied to gun control measures and pandemic health precautions.
CSPOA’s founder Richard Mack, a former board member of the Oath Keepers and a longtime fixture on the right-wing speaking circuit, told TPM last month supported the would-be effort to seize voting machines around in the country after the 2020 election, and said a constitutional sheriff in Michigan who has attracted scrutiny for pursuing a bogus voter fraud probe would be within his rights to arrest state authorities he viewed as meddling in the effort.
Most county sheriffs are wary of openly associating with CSPOA given its far-right views. But on Tuesday, a half-dozen sheriffs, whose jurisdictions collectively cover roughly 1 million people, addressed the group’s convention at the Ahern Hotel in Las Vegas, joining Big Lie influencers to add a patina of law enforcement-legitimacy to claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent and other false conspiracy theories.
‘That Investigation Is Targeting Me’
Perhaps most notable among the sheriffs at Tuesday’s event was Sheriff Calvin Hayden of Johnson County, Kansas, a Kansas City suburb home to a half-million people.
During brief remarks to the convention, Hayden complained that the area was seeing population growth, and that new residents were “bringing some of their politics from the crummy place they lived to my county, and it’s not fun.”
Hayden said he’d seen no evidence that the voting machines in his county were certified (the Kansas City Star quickly reported documentation to the contrary), and also that the “presidents” of both the Republican and Democratic parties had asked him to resign (the Kansas GOP chair told the Star this wasn’t true). After acknowledging, “we’re cops, we don’t know anything about elections,” Hayden announced to the crowd, without any explanation: “We are going to start doing our geo-data and fencing!”
Others who addressed the crowd have become national names in the election conspiracy theory movement: Christopher Schmaling, the Racine County, Wisconsin sheriff, made headlines last year for recommending criminal charges against a majority of the Wisconsin Election Commission because they had not dispatched special voting deputies to nursing homes in 2020 in light of COVID-19 visitation rules. Schmaling sounded a hopeful note at the end of his remarks: Elections are coming up, and at least one candidate for Wisconsin attorney general, Schmaling said, “has said publicly that he will prosecute those members of the WEC.”
Sheriff Dar Leaf of Barry County, Michigan — another well known name in the Big Lie community — has spent months running down leads in his own investigation, even dispatching a deputy and a private investigator to grill small town clerks on their election practices. More recently, Leaf sued state officials, accusing them of usurping his authority with their own investigation. “I found out that that investigation is targeting me,” he griped to the crowd. He then lamented that his county prosecutor had recently informed him that she didn’t see any probable cause in his investigatory findings so far.
Three Texas sheriffs addressed the convention, one each from Coryell County, Panola County and Zapata County. Sheriff Raymundo Del Bosque, Jr., who was sworn in last year in Zapata, recalled the harrowing tale of ballots in his own race being counted into the wee hours of the morning after election night.
“I reached out to these great law enforcement agencies, and they helped me, and I was able to prevail,” Del Bosque said.
Sheriff Scott Williams of Coryell County referred to himself as a “born again sheriff” and pledged to other sheriffs that when the “globalists” came to their county, “I’m that sheriff that will go anywhere, anytime.”
‘Eyes On Those Drop Boxes’
Much of the event centered on claims from True the Vote, the group behind the bogus voter fraud documentary “2000 Mules,” which was shown at the conference, and which was an apparent inspiration for Mack and the CSPOA’s pivot toward voter fraud as a central focus.
The group’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, addressed the convention, describing a revelation she’d had: “The lights went on: ‘It’s the sheriffs! That’s who can do these investigations, that’s who we can trust, that’s who we can turn over information to.’”
She announced a partnership between True the Vote and law enforcement groups like CSPOA and another right-wing sheriffs group, Protect America now, that included an effort to get “eyes on those drop boxes in states where they still exist.”
She passed the mic to Gregg Phillips, who works with True the Vote and was the source of Donald Trump’s false 2016-era claim that millions of people had cast illegal ballots.
Phillips announced a new fundraising plan, a grant program for sheriff’s offices “to put surveillance on all of these drop boxes that they refuse to ban.”
“We’re going to put high-end equipment, we’re going to put artificial surveillance, and most importantly, we’re going to create a fusion center,” Phillips said to bundle data in order to aid sheriffs.
After a quick shout out to “these people in Sri Lanka who are storming their capital,” Phillips asked the crowd to pray for the constitutional sheriffs. Then, responding to a reporter’s question, Engelbrecht hopped back on the mic and praised the assembled sheriffs.
“If we would know about you guys back in 2020, things would have been a little bit different,” she said.