Linn Sheriff Mueller, and Just What Is Posse Comitatus?: The False Dichotomy of Gun Control

The ongoing gun control debate in this country sometimes seems like a cross between an episode of The Flying Nun and a scrambled egg. Real facts and reasoning are lost in the hubbub of what seems to be largely a false dichotomy. I know, this isn’t news, it’s just the 21st century. Fair enough. But it’s important to know who the troublemakers are, and here in Corvallis we have one right in our backyard.

Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller is counted amongst supporters of a frankly bizarre movement known as Posse Comitatus that, although loosely organized at best, is made up of dozens of US sheriffs who—amongst other things—believe it is their duty to protect the Constitution as the only real law enforcement authority in the country. The movement was founded in Portland in the late 1960s by one Henry Beach, who had been a member of a white power group based on Hitler’s Nazi worldview. Original Posse members firmly believed that the US federal government was under the control of a Jewish conspiracy, and many of these anti-Semitic and white supremacist values persist in the group today.

As actionable misdeeds go, most of the crimes associated with Posse members have not been too out of the ordinary for extremist groups, such as refusals to get driver’s licenses or pay taxes, threatening to kill judges and IRS agents, counterfeiting, etc. Except that these crimes were committed by sheriffs.

In 1975, members of a Posse group loaded up their favorite firearms and went to stop a union from helping to organize a group of tomato pickers in California. The result? The leader of the group, Earl Gillings, shot at a local deputy, hitting him in the ear after the deputy tried to arrest him on an outstanding traffic warrant. In the late 70s, another Posse group attempted to take over an entire California county by settling in the area, but they were eventually exposed and weren’t able to win the local election. In 1983, ex-Posse member Gordon Kahl killed two federal marshals and then ran, later killing an Arkansas sheriff.

While the crimes above were perpetrated decades ago, Posse Comitatus still has an undeniable following today. Just last year, five individuals with supposed ties to the group were arrested for murdering two sheriff’s deputies and wounding two others in Louisiana.

To quote modern Posse loudmouth Richard Mack, who runs the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) and has close ties to the NRA, “The county sheriff is the line in the sand. The county sheriff is the one who can say to the feds, ‘Beyond these bounds you shall not pass.’ This is not only within the scope of the sheriff’s authority; it’s the sheriff’s sworn duty.”

As cavalier and frankly renegade as his statements sound, Mack is not alone. Members of Utah’s Sheriff Association (part of the CSPOA) wrote in a letter to President Obama in relation to new gun control measures, “We are prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of [the Second Amendment’s] traditional interpretation. As you deliberate, please remember the Founders of this great nation created the Constitution, and its accompanying Bill of Rights, in an effort to protect citizens from all forms of tyrannical subjugation… We pray the Almighty will guide the People’s Representatives collectively.”

By way of history and current ties, the Posse Comitatus movement and figurehead organizations like CSPOA remain blemishes on this state. And that brings us back to Mueller and his recent statement making it clear that he’d refuse to enforce any new federal gun control laws.

“In summary, it is the position of this Sheriff that I refuse to participate, or stand idly by, while my citizens are turned into criminals due to the unconstitutional actions of misguided politicians,” Mueller wrote in a letter to Vice President Joe Biden.

While we can all appreciate an elected official who truly cares and takes his office seriously, I can’t help but see this as a knee-jerk and vaguely threatening reaction to legislation that hasn’t even passed yet. Throwing around terms equating a ban on dangerous weapons to turning citizens into criminals instead of encouraging meaningful dialog? Confusing the term “uphold” with “interpret” when it comes to the Constitution? There it is folks, that false dichotomy—we really do have other alternatives.

Although contacting the Linn County Sheriff’s Office was not met with a response on the topic, I see no reason to judge an elected official based on a collection of associations and interpretations. As far as I can tell, no illegal actions have yet been taken. Still, Mueller’s connection to Posse Comitatus is deeply troubling, especially with the group’s increasingly public response to gun control.

But things are often not as bad as they seem. Unlike the Posse Comitatus sheriffs, we as citizens are the last word in law enforcement. We hold the only real keys to our country and the laws within. We choose who is charged with protecting those laws as well as the judges who interpret them. Our duty is simply to remain as informed as possible. The real enemy of the citizenry isn’t ideological warfare; it is those who by way of ignorance, willful or otherwise, obstruct our ability to make truly informed decisions.

by Johnny Beaver

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