Home » ‘Danger to our democracy’: fears over Trump allies’ summit with far-right sheriffs | US politics

‘Danger to our democracy’: fears over Trump allies’ summit with far-right sheriffs | US politics

by John Jefferson
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A group of far-right sheriffs is set to meet Donald Trump allies in Las Vegas on Wednesday for talks with dozens of Republican state officials and candidates focused partly on potential election fraud by non-citizens, which experts say is wildly overblown.

The far-right Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which the former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack founded in 2011 and which boasts hundreds of members nationwide, is hosting the day-long event, which it bills as a “training session”. The group is known for attacks on Covid mask mandates and gun control measures.

The Vegas confab is slated to feature talks by Mack and several conspiracy-minded Trump allies who have been major election denialists including the retired lieutenant general Mike Flynn, the MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell and the multi-millionaire Patrick Byrne.

The event’s agenda and crew of Trump allies participating in it underscores how Trump’s campaign to return to the White House harbors extremist ties and beliefs, running from conspiracy theories around election fraud and the January 6 insurrection to Christian nationalism.

Mack, an ex-board member of the extremist Oath Keepers, told the Guardian that a key focus of the training session for sheriffs and others will be on the “chaos at the border” and the threat of voting fraud by noncitizens.

“Election fraud and the border go hand in hand,” said Mack. Dozens of candidates and elected officials including sheriffs from states such as Arizona and Nevada are expected to attend the gathering, Mack added.

The Brennan Center for Justice and other experts have revealed that the amount of voting by non-citizens is miniscule.

One Brennan Center study that focused on the 2016 election showed that only 0.0001% of votes across 42 jurisdictions, with a total of 23.5 million votes, were suspected to involve non-citizens voting, or 30 incidents in total.

Likewise, the former federal judge John Jones said the suggestion that non-citizens are fueling voting fraud “seems to be an outrageous reach”. In his 19 years as a judge, Jones said, “I sentenced hundreds of people for illegal entry to the US and not one for illegal voting.”

Besides raising the specter of illegal immigrant voting, Mack made the sweeping claim that “sheriffs have the right and the responsibility to take action when they see other government corruption,” adding that the “proof of corruption with our elections is irrefutable”.

Mack indicated these themes are likely to be part of the keynote address he will deliver at the Vegas meeting.

Similarly, Mack’s group has taught that elected sheriffs ought to “protect their citizens from the overreach of an out-of-control federal government” and to refuse to enforce laws they regard as unconstitutional or “unjust”.

Some ex-sheriffs and experts voice strong concerns about the roles that Mack and his group, which boasts hundreds of members nationwide, are playing with their claims of extraordinary powers and conspiratorial rhetoric about election fraud by non-citizens.

“When you say ‘constitutional sheriff’, you’re giving yourself a moniker and status that ascends that of your ethical peer group,” said Paul Penzone, a former Maricopa county Arizona sheriff who now chairs the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections. “Our job is to manage public safety and investigate crimes. It’s not to influence or impede the outcome of elections.”

Jones said Mack’s specter of voting fraud by non-citizens represents “an extension of the insurrectionist behavior we’ve seen, and just like the stolen election rhetoric it’s bereft of any facts, as is the contention that illegals are voting”.

“I fear this is an attempt to gin up certain segments of the electorate in anticipation of the presidential election in November,” Jones added.

The focus by Mack’s group on voting fraud by non-citizens comes as Trump and Speaker Mike Johnson held a joint press conference last Friday at Mar-a-Lago to promote a new bill that Johnson plans to introduce to ban non-citizens from voting, even though it is already illegal.

Further, the rightwing lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who runs an election integrity network at the Conservative Partnership Institute, where she is a senior legal fellow, has been fueling conspiracies about non-citizen voting.

According to NPR, Mitchell has circulated a two page memo on “the threat of non-citizen voting in 2024”.

Mitchell also told an Illinois talk radio show this year: “I absolutely believe this is intentional, and one of the reasons the Biden administration is allowing all these illegals to flood the country.”

Mitchell was on Trump’s call with Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger on 2 January 2021 when Trump pressed him hard to “find” 11,780 votes to overturn his defeat there.

Other Trump allies who have promoted baseless fraud claims about Trump’s 2020 loss and are scheduled to speak at the Vegas event seem to have embraced conspiratorial links between illegal immigrants and voting fraud.

Among them is Byrne, who Mack said has been a “regular” funder of his efforts for some time, and who in 2021 founded the America Project, which has been in the vanguard of promoting bogus charges of voting fraud in 2020.

Mack said Byrne’s talk in Las Vegas will focus on the “deep state”, the conspiratorial term that suggests Trump, Maga allies and others are targets of a vast plot by Democratic-allied law enforcement officers, intelligence agencies and other bureaucratic forces.

Similarly, Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, is said to have been fanning concerns about illegal voting by non-citizens while on a national tour promoting a new movie about his life, according to a person close to the Trump campaign. “I’ve heard that illegal immigrant voting has been discussed at recent Flynn events,” he said.

Flynn has for months been talking up the need for a broad “guard the vote” drive, which Trump has touted too.

On another election front that is expected to be part of the Vegas gathering, Mack echoed Lindell’s bogeyman of getting rid of electronic voting machines and replacing them with all-paper ballots that are hand-counted. Mack claimed without evidence that machines “guarantee the likelihood of cheating because they’re hackable. No one can guarantee the machines aren’t being hacked.”

The Vegas meeting is also slated to hear from Arizona state senate candidate Mark Finchem, who lost his 2022 race to be secretary of state, which he charged was due to fraud, prompting a court to sanction him for making false claims.

Some ex-Republican House members have voiced strong worries about Mack’s mission and the Trump allies working in tandem with him to rev up fears of illegal non-citizen voting and other exaggerated claims of voting fraud

“This is a continuing effort to divide our country by Trump and his minions and to motivate and excite his base,” the ex-House Republican member Dave Trott told the Guardian. “They’re clearly trying to come up with additional arguments to challenge election results if Trump loses.”

Veteran prosecutors and election watchdogs share these fears.

“Mack and his group pose a clear and present danger in the upcoming 2024 election cycle,” said Paul Pelletier, a former acting chief of the fraud section at the justice department. “Mixing this false specter of voting fraud by non-citizens with private rightwing ‘vote enforcers’ will energize a toxic environment that puts all voters of color in danger, especially those in border states.”

American Oversight’s interim executive director Chioma Chukwu, told the Guardian: “Nothing is more dangerous to our democracy than a movement based on election lies promoted by radical law enforcement officials who falsely believe they are the ultimate authority, including on matters of election administration.”

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