Richard Mack, the founder and leader of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), contends that sheriffs have an authority established in England centuries ago called posse comitatus, translated from Latin as the “power of the county.” In the days of Robin Hood and sheriffs of Nottingham, the sheriff could compel ordinary people to form a posse to carry out the king’s demands. The concept carried over in this country and a sheriff’s posse is a familiar facet of western films.
But the claim by Mack, who recently received a rare honor from Republican Congressman Chuck Edwards, that sheriffs have that power even today strikes many critics as ominous.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Mary McCord, a former assistant deputy attorney general who now heads the Georgetown University Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, called posse comitatus “the evil lurking” in Mack’s CSPOA trainings, which push the myth that the sheriff is the supreme legal figure in all U.S. counties.
“CSPOA is now essentially part of a broader movement in the United States to think it’s OK to use political violence if we disagree with some sort of government policy,” McCord said.
Posse Comitatus was also the name of a violent militia movement that sprang up in 1970 to protest federal support for school integration and federal income taxes, which adherents claimed were not only unconstitutional, but contrary to Christian teaching. Its founder was William Potter Gale, who, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, embraced Christian Identity theology, which asserts that only white Christians are “God’s chosen people.”
In 1983, a Posse Comitatus member named Gordon Kahl, his son and another follower, killed two federal marshals and wounded four others in a firefight to thwart Kahl’s arrest for tax evasion. Kahl fled and hid for weeks in Texas and Arkansas before being found and killed in another gun fight.
Mack’s revival of these anti-government messages of Posse Comitatus remains a major part of his trainings, a message he repeated in Cherokee County, according to a Smoky Mountain News report.
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