A few American sheriffs will always hold an important spot in food rights lore, even if they wound up getting sucked into Donald Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
One of the most important events in the food rights movement occurred nine years ago, when an Indiana sheriff, Brad Rogers, stood with an Amish raw dairy farmer to fight the farmer’s summons by the U.S. Department of Justice to appear before a federal grand jury investigating possible illnesses from the farmer’s raw milk. Rogers was among those who encouraged the farmer to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights to not answer questions, and told the DOJ he would block any inspections of the farm, such as by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that weren’t backed up by search warrants. After some angry back-and-forths between Rogers and a DOJ lawyer, the feds backed down, and the dairy farmer, David Hochstetler, was excused from appearing before the grand jury. A Michigan farmer who was summoned as well to testify didn’t have to go, and the investigation was never heard from again.
Because grand jury proceedings are secret, we never learned why the DOJ backed off—it could have been the agency feared bad publicity for beating up on farmers, or it didn’t have as strong a case as it thought, or perhaps Indiana politicians lobbied on Hochstetler’s behalf. It didn’t really seem to matter. What was most important was that a local sheriff– the only law enforcement person identified by title in the U.S. Constitution–and the top federal law enforcement agency had worked things through. No ultimatums were issued—indeed, Rogers had publicly allowed that if federal inspectors showed up at the farm with a search warrant signed by a judge, Rogers would have no choice but to step aside. Constitutional issues were discussed and debated, and eventually, there was enough give in the system that everything was resolved without resort to extreme legal actions or violence.
Yes, there would be other less satisfactory outcomes over enforcement actions not long after against farmers and consumers, in Maryland, Minnesota, and California. But somehow, the Indiana confrontation seemed to symbolize that the fight for consumers to be able to access the foods of their choice was moving in the right direction. Two months after the Indiana win, Sheriff Rogers was given an award for “meritorious valor” by a new organization of sheriffs, known as the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), at its first convention, in Las Vegas. The sheriff’s group was organized by a former sheriff, Richard Mack, who felt that the U.S. Constitution wasn’t being strictly enough adhered to in law enforcement; he several times in talks expressed sympathy with the food rights movement.
Fast-forward to the election and its aftermath, including the Trump claims of fraud and the attack on the Capitol and attempted coup…..where did Richard Mack, Brad Rogers, and CSPOA come out? The CSPOA has grown from 200 at its founding ten years ago to about 400 sheriffs (out of about 3,000 nationally). Unfortunately, its members appear to have gone all in on Trump’s dictatorial designs. On the CSPOA web site, Mack, who still heads the organization, was nearly hysterical last November in his support of President Trump, and opposition to then-President-elect Biden, noting that in the 12 days after the election, “There were no shootings, no riots, and no murders. Yet, the leftist propagandists have warned us over and over how we should all be so terrified by Trump’s armed supporters, his right wing Militia members and all the Trump racists! But what happened when Trump supposedly loses and his supporters are all devastated? There was nothing but peaceful rallies at a few State Capitals. Would that have happened if Biden had lost? In fact, if Biden ends up actually losing this election, especially after being anointed the winner, does anyone believe for a moment that the streets of America will remain peaceful? There will be blood in the streets and there will be ‘hate groups’ going crazy with violence.” He didn’t quite have that situation scoped out, I’d say.
On Jan. 8, two days after the assault on the Capitol, which left five dead, including a police officer, the organization’s vice president, Rick Dalton, wrote on the CSPOA Facebook page that he was on the hunt for evidence of Antifa launching the attack: “I’m reaching out to all of our law enforcement elected officials and private citizen members and Friends. Especially those in the DC area. We need Witnesses and written affidavits and or video proof of instigators besides Trump supporters who started the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday. We know Antifa was there we need as much proof as we can also who was it that actually broke the windows to begin with and we understand that a lot of Trump supporters actually tried to stop the violence and some tried to protect the police who are under attack.” (No such evidence is reported subsequently by CSPOA, and the FBI has issued a statement saying there was “no indication” of Antifa participation.)
As for Brad Rogers, he has moved on from county sheriff to become a county commissioner. On his Facebook page, he issued a condemnation of the Jan. 6 violence, stating: “The actions by individuals on January 6, 2021, who have resisted and assaulted law enforcement officers to possess, damage, disrupt and take over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., is abhorrent and without excuse and those who did so should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” However, a few of his constituents mocked him in comments following his post, noting that Rogers seemed a tad hypocritical, since as sheriff, he had been open in his association with the far-right organization, Oath Seekers, some of whose members were being rounded up and accused of being leaders of the Jan. 6 coup attempt.
What concerns me isn’t the sheriffs’ political views—they are entitled to support any politicians they want. It’s their active lobbying on behalf of the far right, Trump and the insurrection; we don’t even know how many of them might have actively participated in the Capitol events; members of law enforcement who participated in Jan. 6 events are still being identified, but one report had it that 29 law enforcement people were involved.
Law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution (along with that of their state constitutions), and CSPOA even has “Constitution” as part of its name. The coup attempt Jan. 6 wasn’t just an assault on the Capitol building, it was an assault on the Constitution. The attackers sought to invalidate the Constitutionally mandated election held in November, and force the losing candidate to be installed as the ongoing U.S. president. The attackers, and those who backed them, were engaged in an act of sedition. There’s a temptation, being played out in Congress right now in the impeachment process, to downplay the gravity of the act, to “let bygones be bygones.” But we know, from our own history and that in other countries, that failure to punish those who would overthrow a democratic system with an authoritarian one only emboldens the seditionists to keep trying….until they eventually succeed. These law enforcement officers have sadly traveled a long ways from their food-rights days, of standing up for the sanctity of our Constitution.