[Cross-posted at Orcinus.]
Will Jeff Sessions become the nation's first "constitutionalist" attorney general?
One of the main takeaways so far from the Senate confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's nominee to be the nation's next attorney general, is that the Alabama senator has a long history of cozying up to some of the most extreme Nativist and anti-Muslim organizations of anyone in the Senate. And we've seen that extremism bubble up in the testimony, as well as his record of attempting to prosecute people who assist blacks in exercising their civil rights.
There is one dimension further to all this -- namely, Sessions' dalliance with far-right "constitutionalists" organized under the banner of local law enforcement, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. It certainly raises the question of whether the nation's No. 1 law-enforcement officer will be sympathetic to the extremist beliefs advocated by the CSPOA.
Sessions, along with Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, all Republicans, participated in a meeting on Dec. 10, 2014, organized under the auspices of Sessions' office with a group of county sheriffs from around the country who were demanding tougher action on immigration and border security.
The focus of the event was to stand in protest of President Obama’s executive action, taken after years of congressional inaction, to offer temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years and whose children were born here and are U.S. citizens, provided they pass a background check and pay taxes.
One of the primary presences at the gathering was the CSPOA and its president, former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack. Mack's organization preaches the far-right theory, derived from the racist Posse Comitatus belief system, that the nation's county sheriffs actually constitute the primary law-enforcement officers of the land, rendering them capable of overturning and/or ignoring federal laws and dictates.
Originally billed in the National Review as a “massive gathering” of sheriffs from around the nation to protest immigration, the event was organized by two sheriffs who are active leaders in Mack’s CSPOA; Mack himself insisted he only was present as an invitee, not an organizer. Most of the sheriffs who participated, though not all, are active CSPOA members.
Mack himself is closely associated with Cliven Bundy and his sons and associates, who led armed standoffs with federal law-enforcement officers in two separate incidents -- in April 2014 in Bunkerville, Nev., and in January 2016 at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. Mack was present at each of those standoffs vocally supporting the "constitutionalist" cause that fueled the confrontations.
The extremism engendered by the CSPOA and its sheriffs was reflected in the crowd of "Patriot" supporters who gathered in Washington on the same day as the meeting with Sessions. Before the meeting took place, these supporters held a protest outside the White House that quickly devolved into an ugly mob demanding that President Obama be lynched.
The protest and the meetings afterward were videotaped by Patriot figure Blaine Cooper, who later was arrested and convicted as part of the Malheur takeover gang.
One protester in particular — a bearded man toting an American flag — seemed especially intent on seeing Obama hung.
“Hang the lying Kenyan traitor terrorist piece of shit,” he shouted at one point. “He’s a traitor! Hang him!” The same man kept shouting variations of this throughout the protest.
At one point, he was joined by another protester, who remarked: “We got room.”
“There’s plenty of trees in the front yard,” said the first man. “Oh yeah, plenty of trees. There’s a fine one right there.”
“He wouldn’t be the first one hung from one of them trees.”
“We used to run them out on a rail or fire up the bad ones. Whatever happened to them good old days?”
“You know what the punishment for high treason is,” chimed in the man carrying the livestream camera.
“Written into the constitution by our founding fathers,” said the bearded man. “Death. Death.”
“By hanging,” said the cameraman.
“Upon apprehension,” said the bearded man. “You don’t snap his neck – you watch him choke to death.”
“You slowly lower him down to where his feet are almost touching the ground,” said the other protester.
When a large wood chipper drove past the scene, one of the protesters remarked: “Hey, a wood chipper! That gives me an idea” – suggesting he would like to run the president through the machine.
Afterward, this same group of protesters gathered in the Senate building, outside the meeting hall where the gathering took place, while the participants held a press conference with credentialed media.
Sessions used the gathering to attack Obama's immigration policies. Obama's executive action “is taking jobs and benefits directly from struggling American lawful immigrants and our native-born,” Sessions said. “A government must serve its own citizens."
When the press conference had finished, the participants were swarmed by the sheriffs’ supporters in the foyer, who cheered loudly as they exited and swarmed Sessions to express their admiration
“We love you, God bless you,” one said. “Thank you for all your work in the Senate, and thank you for all of this – fighting Obama tooth and nail.”
Sessions beamed and thanked the woman.