More than half of Arizona’s county sheriffs are at least partially aligned with a growing movement of so-called “constitutional sheriffs” whose ideology could radicalize law enforcement by indoctrinating them with false legal theories, according to a months-long AZCIR investigation. The theories promote an exaggerated definition of sheriffs’ authority, urging them to nullify laws they interpret as unconstitutional.
Four Arizona sheriffs have direct connections to Protect America Now or the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA)—both labeled as anti-government extremist organizations by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks domestic extremism. They are described as far-right nationalist and anti-democratic organizations by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
The groups are on the front lines of what domestic extremism experts warn is a troubling marriage between anti-democratic, anti-government groups and county sheriffs throughout the nation.
Arizona, they say, is “ground zero” for the movement.
In this ongoing series, AZCIR’s Isaac Stone Simonelli explores both the origins and ramifications of this growing national movement, including how one current and one former Arizona sheriff are at the forefront of efforts one expert calls “destabilizing to democracy and the safety and well-being of public officials.”
More than half of Arizona’s county sheriffs are at least partially aligned with a growing movement of so-called “constitutional sheriffs,” with an ideology that threatens to radicalize law enforcement by indoctrinating them with false legal theories about a sheriff’s authority over state and federal government, and a duty to nullify laws they interpret as unconstitutional. A shift toward amplifying misinformation about widespread voter fraud has experts sounding the alarm.
Election and domestic extremism experts warn that so-called “constitutional sheriff” groups are compounding problems created by disinformation campaigns and undermining public confidence in elections and law enforcement, setting the stage for situations that can lead to voter intimidation and ultimately subvert free and fair elections.READ MORE
A rule change by Arizona’s top law enforcement-certifying agency removes a safeguard against ‘extremist’ training for peace officers by allowing sheriffs and police chiefs more autonomy in determining what qualifies as mandatory continuing education credit.READ MORE
Whether or not sheriffs adopt the core ideologies of the movement is more telling when it comes to how they approach their jobs—including how they interact with constituents and other government agencies—than whether they use the “constitutional sheriff” moniker.READ MORE
The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association has formally embraced some of its more radical members by promoting them into leadership positions. The public-facing change comes at a time of growth for the organization as it seeks to further expand its influence and ideology across the U.S.READ MORE
A rule change that lowers the bar for extremist organizations to radicalize law enforcement through training was enacted on April 5, despite a series of letters from civil rights groups urging Arizona’s governor and attorney general to take preemptive action. The groups are particularly worried about so-called “constitutional sheriff” training, which they say contains false…READ MORE