Lander County, Nevada, is shelling out $2,500 for lifetime membership to a controversial, far-right law-enforcement group, The Daily Beast has learned. For their money, residents will get some lapel pins, a plaque, and a big party featuring an alleged participant in the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol.
A former mining boom community in the Nevada desert, Lander County is the rural home to fewer than 10,000 residents. But after a 4-1 vote by its board of commissioners, it’s the first in the nation with a dubious distinction: Lander will become a county-level member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a right-wing group that promotes sheriffs as the last bastion of freedom and safety in Joe Biden’s America.
The Lander County manager and the head of the CSPOA both told The Daily Beast on Friday that the county had paid a $2,500 lifetime membership fee to join the group. And on Saturday, the county will host a party to celebrate its new status. The event’s speakers list includes the head of the CSPOA, a California-based “mamalitia” [mama militia], and Simone Gold, a hydroxychloroquine-hyping doctor who is currently facing charges for allegedly entering the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot.
Richard Mack, founder of the CSPOA, said Lander’s county manager reached out about securing membership for the entire jurisdiction. Membership is largely “symbolic,” Mack told The Daily Beast, though it does come at a cost.
“It’s $2,500,” Mack said on Friday. “We’re giving them a huge membership plaque to put on their wall at the county building and we’re giving them all sorts of merchandise from CSPOA: 100 lapel pins, 500 books, and blah blah blah, so when people come by or any citizen comes by, they can always get one. Then we’re gonna give out a bunch of free stuff tomorrow, too.”
Though Lander County leans strongly Republican, not everyone is thrilled with the news. Claudio Cardosa, chair of the county’s Democratic party, said he hadn’t even heard of the CSPOA until the county’s commissioners were voting to join it.
“I don’t know why the county’s joining organizations. That should be left up to individuals, not counties,” Cardosa told The Daily Beast. “We’ve got that much money we can just join associations, right or left?”
Mack said the county’s five commissioners voted unanimously in favor of CSPOA membership. That’s not exactly right, the county manager, Bert Ramos noted.
“It was a 4-1 vote,” Ramos told The Daily Beast. He said the opposing commissioner thought the CSPOA “was a militia and a group that would incite violence, supposedly. Misinformed is what the opposition’s initial opinion was. Since then, I think, that commissioner has done some research and is now in favor. But she was under the impression that it was more of a radical right-wing group.”
The dissenting commissioner might be forgiven for identifying the CSPOA as fringe.
Mack is a former sheriff who made his fame suing the federal government over gun laws. After leaving law enforcement, he launched a series of unsuccessful runs for office, and by 2010 had become a board member for the Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary group deeply implicated in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. (He quit the group in 2016, telling BuzzFeed it was becoming too much like a militia, although the Oath Keepers’ founder has subsequently appeared in videos the CSPOA sells online.)
In 2011, Mack launched the CSPOA, which tapped into a political theory that claims sheriffs—not city, state, or federal agencies—are where the buck stops with law and order. The theory is popular in conservative and libertarian circles, where its advocates use it to argue for selective enforcement of certain issues, like gun control or (notably in 2020) COVID-19 prevention measures.
Rachel Goldwasser, a research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the group’s claims to sheriff supremacy are, simply, bogus.
“They believe they have more enforcement authority than anyone else, including the president,” Goldwasser told The Daily Beast. “Mack has said this repeatedly. Where they become extreme is not just in the notion that they have more authority (they don't), but in how they go about utilizing the authority they think they have."
Some of the CSPOA’s most notable associates have also been its most controversial. Among them is Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff who ran a notoriously brutal outdoor jail, and who was convicted of contempt of court due to his department’s racial profiling practices. (Arpaio was later pardoned by President Donald Trump.) Former Milwaukee County, Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke, another GOP firebrand who ran a deadly jail, is a CSPOA award recipient. Barry County, Michigan Sheriff Dar Leaf, who has filed lawsuits attempting to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory and who described an alleged plot to kidnap the state’s governor as a “citizen’s arrest,” has also spoken at the group’s conferences.
Ramos declined to address CSPOA members’ more outlandish legal theories.
“That’s all subjective. I’m not getting into that because it can get ridiculous,” he said.
Not ridiculous enough to stop his county’s membership from becoming official on Saturday. “We’ll give him the check to make it official that the county has joined the CSPOA, and that’ll be it,” Ramos said.
Lander County is cementing the deal that day with a “patriotic social gathering,” complete with a bounce house, speeches from Mack, members of a California-based militia group (one of whom promoted the rally on TikTok), and Simone Gold, the doctor accused of participating in the Jan. 6 riot.
An arrest affidavit accuses Gold and an associate of being "in a large crowd attempting to push past multiple officers blocking the entrance to the Capitol, which had visibly broken windows at the time. One of the officers, who had been pinned near the doors to the Capitol, appears to be pulled down by someone in the crowd and lands near where [another accused rioter] and Gold were standing."
Reached briefly by phone on Friday, Gold told The Daily Beast to contact her organization, which did not respond. Asked whether Gold’s participation was inappropriate in a rally about law enforcement, Mack said he’d “heard she was arrested because of the information she put out, because she’s anti-vaccination and anti-mask and all that.”
Informed that she was arrested at the Capitol, Mack suggested that people who trespassed on Capitol grounds should not have been arrested, and that Gold did not enter the Capitol. “Disorderly conduct’s what cops charge people with when they don’t know how to charge them,” he said. “That’s really abuse.”
In fact, Gold had previously admitted to entering the building, telling the Washington Post, that she regretted it. Informed of the Post interview, Mack said he supported arrests of people who entered the building, and that he encouraged an investigation into her case. “I’d have to ask Dr. Simone, but she’s really a solid defender of liberty,” he said.
Ramos, the county manager, questioned whether Gold’s admission to entering the Capitol constituted wrongdoing.
“Is that breaking any laws?” he asked. “I don’t know what that has to do with our celebration.”