Extremist Sheriffs Double Down On Embrace Of Big Lie As Midterm Approaches
It’s a testament to the cult power of Donald Trump’s Big Lie that an elected lawman who himself now faces investigation for tampering with voting machines will not only refuse to apologize, but proceed to double down. Another law enforcement official subscribing to the same authoritarian conspiracy theories is meanwhile threatening everyone within his fiefdom with repercussions if they don’t submit to his similar “investigations,” and setting the stage for his nakedly partisan deputies to patrol at polling places.
These cases, both involving the so-called “constitutional sheriffs” movement’s open embrace of Trump’s election denialism, reflect the challenge that awaits much of the country—particularly the rural areas where these sheriffs rule—when we head to the polls in November. Their well-financed campaign, coordinated with leading Trumpists, to overturn election results and seize voting machines they suspect of skewing the vote could wreak havoc with election results around the country if it continues to gain steam.
Dar Leaf, the sheriff of Michigan’s Barry County, has played a leading role in the unfolding saga. It recently emerged that not only does Leaf insist that his dubious “investigations” of election outcomes in his county—based almost entirely on a fraudulent Dinesh D’Souza pseudodocumentary—are legitimate, but that he has continued to seek warrants to confiscate voting tabulators from election officials in townships throughout his county.
Leaf sought warrants to seize machines and search offices of the Barry County Clerk, as well as in Woodland Township and Irving Township, Bridge Michigan found through a Freedom of Information Act request. His affidavits could not cite any evidence justifying the searches, saying only that Leaf sought "evidence of the crime of election law violations."
The report found that Leaf wanted to seize "components of voting and election equipment"—tabulation machines, poll books, election reporting modules, as well as 2020 election paper ballots. He also demanded keys to unlock the devices.
Leaf’s intentions, the affidavits showed, were to have the voting equipment "forensically examined" by someone "who is certified and trained to conduct data extractions."
His involvement in seizing one such tabulator in 2021—which resulted in its being dismantled and examined, then returned with its seals broken—is part of a state investigation that involves not just Leaf, but the Republican nominee for Michigan’s attorney general, Matthew DePerno.
Last month, the current Democratic attorney general, Dana Nesso, filed a petition for a special prosecutor to handle that investigation since it involves her likely Republican opponent in the fall election. The petition indicated that state police investigators believed that DePerno was “one of the prime instigators,” along with Leaf and a state legislator, of a conspiracy to persuade Michigan clerks to allow unauthorized access to voting machines.
DePerno’s campaign issued a statement ridiculing Nessel’s petition as “an incoherent liberal fever dream of lies.”
Barry County Prosecutor Julie Nakfoor Pratt's office refused to sign off on the warrant requests because Leaf had not established "probable cause" to conduct the searches.
"There just wasn't anything in there that amounted to any fraud that I could see," she told Bridge Michigan.
Leaf’s efforts on Trump’s behalf began in December 2020, when he filed a lawsuit demanding Barry County’s voting machines be impounded—which was swiftly laughed out of court. He then embarked on an “investigation” of the machines by sending a deputy and a private investigator to grill township officials about their intricacies.
It was during one of these interrogations that the Irving Township clerk surrendered one of the town’s Dominion machines to Leaf’s team. “I’ve been told they took it (to the Detroit area) and tore it apart,” she told a local TV station, noting that when the machine was returned during a meeting in a parking lot, its security seal had been broken.
Dominion’s machines were the focus of a conspiracy theory popular after the election among the Trumpist right claiming that vote totals had been secretly manipulated to hand the presidency to Joe Biden. The theory was widely circulated on right-wing media such as Fox News, OAN, and Newsmax, all of whom now face multibillion-dollar defamation lawsuits from the company.
Leaf was connected through his attorney, Carson Tucker, to a number of the leading Trump-loving conspiracists the former president employed, including ex-Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Lin Wood. “My client Barry County Sheriff and several other county sheriffs in Michigan would like to consider issuing probable cause warrants to sequester Dominion voting machines if there is evidence of criminal manipulation,” Tucker wrote to them in one email.
His claims made little sense in Barry County, where Trump won by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Rutland Charter Township clerk Ruth Hawthorne observed tartly: “They seem to think there was some kind of microchip in our tabulators that was throwing votes to Biden. But Trump won Barry County. He won by 65 percent of the vote, so I don’t know where they’re thinking that any kind of chips were in any of our machines or thinking that something had happened to them. The whole thing is nutty. It is nutty, totally nutty.”
Leaf’s extremism was well established before the 2020 election. He had appeared on stage at an anti-masking rally bashing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with three of the “Patriots” who were later charged with plotting to kidnap and execute her. He first suggested to reporters that perhaps the plotters were only trying to make a “citizens arrest.” Leaf and other Michigan “constitutional sheriffs” also later refused to enforce a statewide ban on guns in Michigan polling places.
His “election integrity” campaign in Michigan caught the attention of Richard Mack, the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Keepers Association (CSPOA), who then announced a nationwide campaign involving all of the country’s “constitutional sheriffs.”
In May, Mack called on sheriffs and police around the U.S. “to come together in pursuit of the truth regarding the 2020 election.” A CSPOA press release made clear that the basis of their “investigations” was D’Souza’s widely debunked pseudodocumentary, 2000 Mules:
Considering the persistent allegations of election fraud since even before the 2020 elections began, and as a response to the perpetual polarizing effect this has had on the American people, the CSPOA would like to put this issue to rest. Our constitutional republic and peaceful future as a free people absolutely depend on it.
In the opinion of the CSPOA, there is very compelling physical evidence presented by truethevote.org in the movie “2000 Mules” produced by Dinesh D'Souza. “Law Enforcement has to step in at this point,” asserts D'Souza, and we absolutely agree with him. Therefore, we are asking for all local law enforcement agencies to work together to pursue investigations to determine the veracity of the “2000 Mules” information.
In fact, D’Souza’s documentary has been repeatedly demonstrated to be utterly groundless garbage. It has been debunked by Reuters, the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, FactCheck.org, Politifact, and NPR, to name only a few of the outlets where its phony “facts” and false premises have been eviscerated.
In short order, the CSPOA had teamed up with Trump’s most fervent election denialists, True the Vote, which receives substantial funding from notorious pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell. “Constitutional sheriffs” in other counties—including one in Kansas and another in Wisconsin—attempted similar “investigations” but came up empty-handed.
At a Las Vegas gathering organized by Mack and True the Vote in July, Leaf called the county prosecutor’s refusal to hand out the search warrants "ridiculous,” adding: “We think we have enough for search warrants and everything else,” Leaf said during the conference, which also featured speeches from Trump loyalists like Lindell. “We're gonna keep moving forward, folks. We’re not done with this.”
Leaf harkened to the “constitutionalist” claim that county sheriffs are the supreme law of the land, saying: “What that does, it gives you the power—and I don’t know if you’re gonna appreciate me saying this—if we can’t get anywhere, we’re looking at doing grand juries, at the common law.”
One of True the Vote’s partners in the “election integrity” campaign is another “constitutional sheriffs” organization called Protect America Now, run by Sheriff Mark Lamb of Arizona’s Pinal County. Lamb was a featured speaker at a Trump rally in Prescott in July, where he revved the crowd up with promises that the nation’s sheriffs would intervene on their behalf in future elections.
“We’re gonna make sure that we have election integrity this year,” Lamb declared. “Sheriffs are going to enforce the law. This is about the rule of law. It is against the law to violate elections laws—and that’s a novel idea, we’re going to hold you accountable for that. We will not let happen what happened in 2020.”
Lamb has plenty of local critics in Pinal County. At recent meeting of the county’s Board of Supervisors, he was accused by longtime residents of indulging in baseless fearmongering over election results.
Roberto Reveles, a longtime Arizona civil rights activist, told commissioners that Lamb was engaging in naked partisan threats: “I recently was subjected to the intimidation referred to by a previous speaker. Sheriff Mark Lamb walked up to me and pointed at me … and said, ‘You and your fellow Democrats are destroying our country.’”
Lamb defended himself shortly afterwards during an appearance on Newsmax. “Last week in the board meeting I had probably 8 to 10 Democrats show up and absolutely blast me because I believe in the ‘Big Lie,’” Lamb said.
“It clearly shows that these folks don’t care about election integrity,” he continued. “They’re happy that their guy is in power, and right now they should care more than ever because this guy in office, Joe Biden and his administration, is absolutely destroying America and freedom and they’re turning this into a country that we just don’t recognize.”
Local Democrats like Ralph Atchue, formerly a candidate for Arizona Senate, state that Lamb and his deputies will begin patrolling polling places. “I hear from everybody that the line is being crossed,” Atchue told Jessica Pishko of Bolts. “Completely blurred.”
Far-right election denialists in Seattle’s King County placed signs during the July primary at ballot drop boxes warning people that their actions were being recorded on camera. Ironically, the King County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating those actions at the behest of the county’s elections office.
“The specter of law enforcement at the polls is already enough to discourage people from going to the polls,” observes Devin Burghart of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. “Moreover, the threat of surveillance of polling places and drop boxes proposed by groups like True the Vote is meant to intimidate voters, particularly people of color, and deter them from casting ballots.”
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.