The Arizona Mirror reports, Fringe groups plan to watch AZ ballot drop boxes (excerpt):
Fringe anti-government groups are planning to watch drop boxes and the polls in Arizona, spurred by conspiracy theories. The groups’ sometimes violent rhetoric has advocates worried, and some local politicians are stirring the pot.
“We know where you are. You see us everyday and you better believe we are watching you,” one video says on a website that advocates for watching of drop boxes, run by an anonymous Arizona resident who has fallen deep into COVID and election conspiracy theories. “Don’t sleep too soundly. That noise you hear might be one of us.”
[G]roups are organizing events to keep an eye on drop boxes in Arizona in an attempt to watch for alleged “mules” or other instances of wrongdoing in the Arizona general election. One of those groups is connected directly to the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government extremist group.
The Yavapai County Preparedness Team is the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers and is working with a group called the Lions of Liberty on what they call “Operation Drop Box.”
On its website the group members describe themselves as “conservative patriots” (sic) who say the country has been hijacked and undermined by “global elites, communists, leftists, deep state bureaucrats, and fake news.”
In other words, anti-Semitic QAnon conspiracy theories.
Jim Arroyo, the leader of the Arizona Oath Keepers chapter said in a video of their July meeting that the group sent out an email to everyone in the group’s roster, which included 1,000 people.
“For the November election we would like to post people there in addition to the cameras to have eyes on target to be able to notify law enforcement,” Arroyo said in the meeting, referring to the cameras the Yavapai County Recorder’s Office has already installed on the drop boxes around the county. “We have already coordinated with Sheriff Rhodes and he told us that if we see somebody stuffing a ballot box and if we get a license plate they will make an arrest and there will be a prosecution.”
Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes has spoken to the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers on two separate occasions, the Arizona Mirror confirmed.
“I’ve got to tell you, this is one of my favorite groups. It is great to be with friends,” Rhodes said in an August 2021 meeting, also noting that his predecessor was in attendance and had spoken during previous meetings.
County Sheriffs should not be meeting with a domestic terrorist organization, or coordinating with them on their voter suppression efforts. The Arizona Attorney general’s office and the Department of Justice need to have a word with Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes.
“Sheriff Rhodes has zero to do with their effort to watch the drop boxes,” Yavapai County spokesperson Kristin Greene told the Mirror when asked about coordination between the Sheriff, Lions of Liberty and the Oath Keepers. Previous versions of the Lions of Liberty website stated the group would get in touch with Rhodes; those references have now been removed.
Rhodes again spoke to the group in late September, a meeting which the Sheriff’s Office said was to educate the group on what was legal and what was not legal for the group to do. The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office told the group members that as long as they stay 75 feet away from the drop boxes, they are within their legal rights, but any closer and they could be violating the law.
“Any intimidation by anyone, of any voter is something this office takes seriously,” Greene said.
Yavapai County Recorder Michelle Burchill told the Mirror that the 75-foot limit may not be enforceable, however, the office is continuing to work diligently to make sure the cameras installed on all the drop boxes are working properly, a preemptive measure taken to get ahead of likely impending legislation.
“We kind of foresee that the future of the legislature is going to request or require cameras so we felt that we should get ahead of it and if it gives our voters one more sense of security,” Burchill said of the cameras.
Burchill called the Lions of Liberty “concerned citizens feeling they are doing their civic duty” [Bullshit!, This is illegal voter intimidation] but she is concerned that voters may feel uncomfortable or intimidated. She urged anyone who feels that way to contact law enforcement [see below] or their office directly.
“If there is something of actual concern or something that needs immediate attention [The Recorder] would direct them to the Sheriff department,” Burchill said. [Which is apparently is coordinating with the Yavapai County Preparedness Team and the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers and the Lions of Liberty, so not a good idea.]
The county is also at the center of another effort led by former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack, who leads the anti-government extremist organization the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.
Mack met with the Arizona Oath Keepers this month to discuss “election integrity” and an initiative led by the group behind D’Souza’s flawed film and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, according to CSPOA’s website. Mack’s group has been investigating alleged “voter fraud” with far-right Sheriffs across the country often attempting to do things outside of their duties and jurisdictions such as impounding voting machines.
CSPOA and the Oath Keepers have long had close ties, according to researchers.
Greene said that Sheriff Rhodes is not a member of CSPOA.
“Every sheriff is a constitutional sheriff,” [Yavapai County spokesperson Kristin] Greene said. [The word “sheriff” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution.]
The Southern Poverty Law Center explains this far-right constitutional sheriff movement (excerpt):
The concept of the constitutional sheriff is a subset of the larger antigovernment movement. Its origins are in the American county supremacy movement, which includes two concepts that often work in tandem. One is that county government should have control of all the land within its borders, taking this power away from the state and federal government. The other is focused on the role of the county sheriff, who they believe has ultimate law enforcement authority in the United States.
This idea was pioneered by Christian identity minister William Potter Gale in the 1970s as Posse Comitatus, which is Latin for the power of the county.
Gale promoted the formation of citizens militias, making the claim “that all healthy men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five who were not in the military could be mobilized into a posse comitatus to redress their grievances,” according to the book Aryan Cowboys: White Supremacists and the Search for a New Frontier, 1970-2000.
Citizens could either volunteer or be called up by their county sheriff, who Gale believed was the “only legal law enforcement officer” in the country.
His beliefs were disseminated far and wide. Henry Lamont “Mike” Beach of Oregon is alleged to have stolen Gale’s writings and used them to start a national “Sheriff’s Posse Comitatus” organization, which claimed the federal government overstepped their authority under the constitution and the posse could remove them from office and hang them.
Gale’s views, some parroted by Beach, grew in popularity among white supremacists, tax protesters and aggrieved citizens, such as farmers in the Midwest who faced significant financial crisis in the 1980s.
They were also pivotal to the formation of the modern constitutional sheriff, militia and sovereign citizen movements, all of whom distrust or detest the government.
Mack was so heavily influenced by the events at Ruby Ridge that he contributed to a book written by Randy Weaver, the white supremacist who provoked the standoff with the government. Mack wrote the foreword for Weaver’s book Vicki, Sam, and America: How the Government Killed All Three.
Mack is a former Graham County, Arizona, sheriff and a former Oath Keepers board member. He has previously declared that the “greatest threat we face today is not terrorists; it is our own federal government.”
CSPOA is an extremist group which espouses similar rhetoric to Gale and Beach. The group endeavors to radicalize county sheriffs across America into believing they are the ultimate law enforcement authority, able to enforce, ignore or break state and federal law as they choose.
[By] endorsing the idea that sheriffs can choose which U.S. laws are legitimate, constitutional sheriffs are conferring a job assigned to the Supreme Court by the nation’s founders onto themselves.
* * *
Throughout 2021, CSPOA held seminars and trainings meant to radicalize the sheriffs into believing they have ultimate U.S. law enforcement authority and are, as CSPOA presents it to them through online and in-person presentations, “America’s last hope.”
Over three dozen sheriffs attended an event hosted by CSPOA and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in The Woodlands, Texas, from Feb. 26-27, 2021. “We promise they will not leave the same,” CSPOA’s leader former sheriff Richard Mack said of the event during a Feb. 23 interview on the right-wing online show “American Journal” that was rebroadcast to Infowars.
Mack went on a speaking junket in 2021, promoting the organization at a series of events alongside a long list of extremists. This included Red Pill Expo, a who’s who of antigovernment figures hosted by well-known conspiracy theorist G. Edward Griffin, a QAnon sovereign citizen rally in Hawaii, the Rod of Iron Ministries Freedom Festivaland the Arise USA tour, hosted by the late antisemitic conspiracy theorist Robert David Steele where Mack was a speaker and CSPOA’s name was emblazoned on the side of the tour bus.
A new national constitutional sheriff’s group also emerged in 2021. The product of Republican political consultant Nathan Sproul, Protect America Now, incorporated in Phoenix, Arizona, as a domestic non-profit corporation on June 26, 2020. The group has an advisory board with a host of constitutional sheriffs.
The group includes Mark Lamb of Pinal County, Arizona, whom Mack personally endorsed saying, “Yes, Sheriff Lamb is a Constitutional Sheriff and is one of the best sheriffs in America”; Sheriff Wayne Ivey of Brevard, Florida, and Sheriff Jesse Watts of Eureka, Nevada, who have both self-identified as constitutional sheriffs; and Sheriff Scott Jenkins of Culpeper, Virginia, who spoke at the 2020 CSPOA Conference at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Others share Burchill’s worries but also have concerns about the Oath Keepers watching the polls and drop boxes, especially given their history.
“I certainly have some concern given the reputation of the Oath Keepers and given the language of some of these organizations,” Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the voting rights program at the Brennan Center for Justice told the Mirror.
* * *
GOP Secretary of State nominee Mark Finchem in a recent interview pushed for people to download a smartphone application that encourages users to take photos and videos of alleged election fraud to create a “national database.”
“You can take a picture of a fictitious ballot, you can do video of somebody who is walking up to a ballot box and stuffing it with ballots, you can take a picture of their license plate on their car,” Finchem said. “Everyday citizens, if you see something, take a picture and say something.”
Finchem is far from alone in pushing residents to do similar actions. Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, in a hearing about evidence of alleged voter fraud found by the group behind the flawed D’Souza movie, Townsend called on “vigilantes” to camp out on drop boxes.
“I have been so pleased to hear about all you vigilantes out there that want to camp out at these drop boxes,” Townsend said at the end of a nearly two-hour legislative hearing by True the Vote, a conservative group that supports restrictive voting laws to combat what it says is massive voter fraud.
“We’re going to have hidden trail cameras, we are going to have people parked out there watching you and they are going to follow you to your car and get your license plate, so don’t try it. Don’t try it anymore,” Townsend said.
Lake Havasu Republican Sonny Borrelli has also made similar calls while at an election security forum.
“We need to be force multipliers,” Borrelli told the crowd in Tempe. “We need to have people camped on unmanned drop boxes and camp on those and keep an eye on them and take down that data, license plates, pictures and so on and so forth.”
“It is not their job to be sort of vigilante law enforcement,” Morales-Doyle said of poll watching.
Local law enforcement may not be the best option for a voter to turn to if they do end up feeling intimidated at the polls, according to Morales-Doyle. He suggested going to local election officials, the election protection hotline [866-687-8683] or federal law enforcement. [See below.]
Voter intimidation is a federal crime, one that is enforced by the FBI and Department of Justice.
When asked for comment about the situation in Yavapai County, the FBI Phoenix Field Office referred the Mirror to a link about what the FBI can and cannot do in regards to election-related crimes.
“Enough with the election deniers and fear-mongers, who only seek to undermine our democratic process,” United States Attorney for Arizona Gary Restaino said in a statement to the Mirror. “I’m proud to live in a state that endeavors to remove barriers to voting, and that has long believed in vote-by-mail. Working in partnership with our state and local election officials, the Department of Justice will do its very best to ensure that every eligible voter who chooses to vote can do so easily and efficiently, without interference or discrimination.”
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Yvette Cantu said the office could not “comment about any specific cases or matters” when asked about the Oath Keepers in Yavapai County When asked if that meant there was an investigation into the Oath Keepers, the office did not respond.
United States Attorney Gary Restaino announced that Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) Sean Lokey has been appointed to serve as the District Election Officer for the District of Arizona, and in that capacity is responsible for overseeing the District’s handling of complaints of voting rights violations and election fraud in consultation with Justice Department headquarters in Washington. U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino Appoints Election Officer for the District of Arizona:
AUSA Lokey will be on duty … to respond to complaints of election fraud, voting rights violations, or intimidation. AUSA Lokey can be reached by the public at the following telephone number: 602-514-7516.
The FBI will also have special agents available in the Phoenix Field Division to receive allegations of election abuses on election day. FBI in Arizona can be reached by phone at 623-466-1999 or online at https://tips.fbi.gov/.
Complaints about possible violations of the federal voting rights laws can be made directly to the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. by phone at 800-253-3931 or by complaint form at https://civilrights.justice.gov/ .
In the case of a crime of violence, call 911 immediately. State and local police have primary jurisdiction over polling places.