Sam Bushman wears many hats. All of them scream extremist.
Bushman is the new CEO of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association — a far-right group, with far-reaching influence, which preaches that the nation’s sheriffs have authority to judge the constitutionality of laws, and to block enforcement of any they deem objectionable.
Bushman is also the owner of Liberty News Radio, a right-wing radio and podcast network that provides a soapbox for white separatists, including airing shows that platform former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and Charlottesville Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler. Bushman hosts his own radio show on the network, and used his airtime on Juneteenth 2023 to blast Martin Luther King Jr. as a “thug.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, he doubled down, calling the civil rights icon “a bad guy in many, many, many ways.” This July, Bushman broadcast from a neo-Confederate carnival called Dixie Fest, where he platformed an author who called for the South to “secede from what is really a degenerate empire.”
Bushman’s intersection with white separatists is concerning on its own terms. “Folks that Sam runs with are seeking secession and the creation of a white nationalist entity in the South,” says Chuck Tanner, research chief for the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a Seattle-based nonprofit that watchdogs far-right movements.
But Bushman’s outré views are even more troubling in the context of his leadership role with CSPOA. As many as one in 10 of the nation’s 3,000 sheriffs are members of the constitutional sheriffs group he leads. CSPOA is also authorized to train law enforcement officials in states from Montana to Virginia to Tennessee. The constitutional sheriffs movement even counts allies with Beltway ambitions. Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb — a featured speaker at CSPOA’s national conference in 2020 — is running for Senate as a Republican in Arizona.
The constitutional sheriffs are an anti-government movement spun up by Richard Mack, a one-time sheriff from Arizona. Mack gained right-wing celebrity in the Clinton era for bringing a lawsuit to the Supreme Court that invalidated a provision of the gun control measure known as the Brady Bill. He was for many years on the board of the Oath Keepers, and split from the now-infamous group around 2015 to focus on his bizarre theory of sheriff supremacy. According to Mack, locally elected sheriffs are the final arbiter of what is constitutional in their jurisdictions — and in essence have veto power over acts of Congress and local officials.
The theory is legal hokum, but difficult to rein in because sheriffs have broad latitude in enforcement and are generally answerable only to voters who elect them. “The constitutional sheriffs movement is dangerous,” Mary McCord, legal director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection Georgetown University testified to Congress in a 2021 hearing. “It has no real authority under law. It’s a made-up thing, but it has a real impact.”
In recent years, members of the “constitutional sheriffs” have thumbed their noses at state gun control laws as well as at Covid health restrictions like mask mandates. Mack recently described the project of CSPOA in terms of a nationwide upheaval, vowing to “take America back county by county, state by state,” insisting, “it’s peaceful, it’s effective, and it’s constitutional.”
Underscoring just how fringe this ideology is, Mack insists that even some of the constitutional amendments are not constitutional. Speaking with Rolling Stone, he declares: “I don’t believe that all amendments are constitutional, especially the 16th.” (Adopted in 1909, the 16th Amendment created income taxes.) Pressed on how a duly passed constitutional amendment could violate the Constitution, Mack snapped: “You think everything that Congress does is constitutional? Just because they do it!?”
Right-wing watchdogs warn that such a view puts other key constitutional amendments — notably the 14th and 15th amendments that guarantee civil rights — at risk from the constitutional sheriffs. “They’re not standing up for the Constitution. They’re standing up for a far-right version, cycled through their warped way of seeing the world,” says Tanner. “They train sheriffs to think that they can enforce that on the rest of us,” he adds. “I don’t want to live in that world. I suspect a lot of folks don’t.”
Officers who attend CSPOA training often receive continuing education credits. But the state of Texas recently revoked the group’s educational certification, ruling that the instruction was “political” indoctrination, not sound legal advice. A state investigation uncovered that CSPOA training preached to officers that they were locked in a “war” with tyrannical bureaucrats and local agencies that have been infiltrated by “traitors and saboteurs.” The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) ruled in May that — contrary to the constitutional sheriff curriculum — there is no “legal principle that lawfully allows the individual nullification of existing laws,” adding that CSPOA theories represent a “misapplication” of “judicial review, which gives courts the authority to determine the constitutionality of laws.” Here again Mack is dismissive, telling Rolling Stone, “I don’t care what TCOLE says!”
Bushman was tapped to become CSPOA’s chief executive at the end of 2022, although Mack continues to oversee the organization. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Bushman insists, “I’m the CEO. My role is, day-to-day, running the organization.” Bushman — who does not have a law enforcement background — is an able communicator and voices the constitutional sheriff ethos. “Police officers,” he insists, “have absolute discretion as to what laws they enforce.” He adds that such officers “have an obligation … to determine which laws conflict with the supreme law” and that they “don’t need a court to make that determination.”
According to Mack, Bushman is a constant presence at constitutional sheriff presentations, saying: “Sam’s been at every one of ‘em.” Asked about Bushman’s other business as a right-wing radio mogul, Mack says: “It’s his radio show. I don’t tell him how to run his radio show.”
Bushman runs the Liberty News Radio network, and is the host of show called Liberty Roundtable. His network also provides a home for a long-running program called Political Cesspool, hosted by James Edwards, whom Bushman praises as “The Mouth of the South.” Edwards is also a contributor to a recent book on Southern secession in which he writes: “I hope our people will rise up and reclaim their destiny. I believe that we still can. Dixie and everything about her must endure for our posterity.”
The same James Edwards is also listed as “director” of the American Freedom Party, described by a fellow party leader as “an American fascist political party.” The party’s platform insists “the United States was conceived with the vision of a White country,” and calls for the “voluntary repatriation” of non-white Americans “to their ancestral homelands.”
Edwards’ radio show has frequently featured guest appearances by former Klan leader David Duke. In 2017, Edwards lost a defamation lawsuit filed over a newspaper column that had characterized Edwards as a “leader” of the KKK. While Edwards was not, in fact, a member or an officeholder of the Klan, a Michigan court ruled the column was “protected opinion speech,” and that readers could fairly interpret the claim “to mean that Edwards was someone who guided ‘disciples or adherents’ of the Ku Klux Klan.” The court summarized its ruling: “Mindful of Aesop’s lesson, ‘A man is known by the company he keeps,’ we hold that Edwards cannot make claims of defamation.”
Edwards did not respond to interview requests from Rolling Stone. During an October appearance on Bushman’s radio show, he insisted he was not a leader in the constitutional sheriff movement: “Other than knowing what the CSPOA is, and being supportive of the message and the movement, I certainly haven’t had any hand in it.”
Because of this association with Edwards, Bushman was flagged in a 2021 letter to Congress by Southern Poverty Law Center Action, an arm of the civil rights group. The letter warned that Bushman and Edwards stand at the “nexus of the antigovernment and white nationalist movements.” Bushman says he just recently became aware of the letter, and calls it ”completely bogus.” (For his part, Mack calls the SPLC “the worst hate group in America.”)
On an October 4 radio appearance with Edwards, responding to the SPLC letter, Bushman was defiant. “I 100 percent agree that Sam Bushman and James Edwards stand shoulder to shoulder — that is absolutely the truth,” he said. “The truth is, we are white. And so we advocate for the white race, why wouldn’t we?” He added: “I am not violent or hostile or anti-government in any way.”
Bushman tells Rolling Stone: “James Edwards, in my view, is not a racist. He’s a friend.” Bushman insists that he also is not a racist, a white supremacist, or a secessionist. From his long radio training, Bushman is an aggressive talker. Speaking with Rolling Stone, he often voiced the parts of interviewer and interviewee: “You say ‘Sam, you advocate for the white race? Isn’t that white nationalism, white supremacy?’ And I say no.” He adds, “Why is it if the Blacks advocate for their race, it’s not Black nationalism, or Black supremacy?” Continuing to rattle off questions, he asks this reporter: “I don’t know what race you are. But if you have children, are you advocating for your race by carrying on the population?”
Bushman has a track record of making inflammatory statements on race during his radio broadcasts. In a Juneteeth broadcast this year, Bushman blasted Martin Luther King Jr. “as an absolute rapist, pervert thug that wasn’t religious at all.” He added: “Everywhere he went, there was violence,” and Bushman alleged that the civil rights legend, “was a sexual predator to the n-th degree.”
On this one front, Richard Mack, CSPOA’s founder, distanced himself from Bushman, calling these MLK remarks “a mistake.” Mack says that CSPOA uses both King and Rosa Parks in its training as examples of why law enforcement shouldn’t blindly enforce unjust laws. But in his interview with Rolling Stone, Mack added: “I don’t agree with everything Martin Luther King did either.”
This summer, both Bushman and James Edwards traveled to South Carolina to record live radio broadcasts from Dixie Fest, a neo-Confederate celebration put on by Dixie Republic, an SPLC-designated hate group. Dixie Fest was spun up in South Carolina after the Confederate battle flag was removed as a symbol of state government in 2015 by then Gov. Nikki Haley.
Bushman, in his broadcast, called Haley a “carpetbagger” — a term used in the Reconstruction period to denigrate outsiders imposing their will on the South. He interviewed a man who goes by the alias Padraig Martin, who said he’d served prison time after he participated in the Unite the Right movement in Charlottesville. Martin insisted that the South needed to leave the Union and that a “free South will be a Christian nation state.”
Bushman told listeners he knew he was courting controversy by appearing at the neo-Confederate celebration. “I wanted to broadcast live this week … to celebrate Dixie Fest,” he said. “They’ll attack me relentlessly for that, ladies and gentlemen, but I don’t care.” He added: “They call me a racist, and I say I’m winning the race.”
Bushman insists that his associations with Southern secessionists are harmless: “I’m telling you that somebody can be an advocate of the South and not be racist.” Asked what he was celebrating at Dixie Fest, he tells Rolling Stone: “There was a barbecue there. I ate food. They had music and crafts for children. There was a country music band playing. It was a very peaceful kind of atmosphere.”
Bushman insists that the racial advocacy on his radio programming and the work he does for CSPOA are “completely separate.” He argues that, “My hat of a political talk show host and as a radio network owner, and my responsibilities at CSPOA, are not commingled to the point that you want to suggest.” Bushman adds: “When I go on a sheriff’s training mission, to train sheriff’s about the Constitution, about the rule of law, I don’t spend time talking about race.“ He argues that CSPOA-trained police officers “will do their very best to guarantee due process for all their citizens, regardless of any division lines that you guys may draw, regardless of race.”
Bushman then rebuked Rolling Stone for “doing this guilt by association plan” and blasted SPLC. “If I’m the ‘nexus’ of white supremacists in America like the Southern Poverty Law Center lied to Congress and said that I was, How come I don’t know any of those people?” he asks. “I don’t even know most of the people that were at January 6, or Charlottesville,” Bushman insists. “I don’t even know David Duke.”