POLSON - From his patrol car, Richard Mack watched the old Datsun station wagon drive right through the stop sign in Provo, Utah.
The car was filled with rambunctious youngsters and one harried mother who, when she saw what she had done, and the police car parked nearby, threw her arms in the air in frustration and pulled over before Mack could even hit his lights and siren.
"It was a crappy old car, not worth $400," Mack told about 50 people at the VFW post in Polson on Monday. "The kids were all fighting and crying, the woman didn't say a word, just handed me her license and registration and stared straight ahead."
Mack said he had always been a by-the-book cop.
"When I was back in patrol it was all about bringing in the money, bringing in the numbers," he said. "If you wrote 35 tickets a day you were a good cop."
As he filled out his latest ticket, Mack said he looked at this woman and imagined she had probably been thinking her day couldn't get any worse - until he'd been parked where he was, and it did.
"Then I looked at myself," Mack said. "I asked myself, 'Am I doing anything to help this family? Am I making this town a better place to live? Am I making it safer? Am I bringing honor to my badge?' "
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What a true peace officer would do, Mack decided, was to suggest the woman swing by a nearby school playground and let the kids burn some energy while she regained her focus.
He tore up the ticket. The next day he went to the city clerk and asked to see the oath of office he had taken.
He'd sworn, he discovered, to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. And he'd sworn that he'd do so against enemies both foreign and domestic.
We know who America's foreign enemies are, Mack told the crowd.
The domestic enemy he fights today is a federal government he says is bent on taking away people's rights and freedoms.
And who can fight the massive federal government?
Your local sheriff, he said.
Mack - a former two-term sheriff in Graham County, Ariz., who along with former Ravalli County Sheriff Jay Printz, successfully sued the federal government when the Clinton administration demanded county sheriffs enforce provisions of the Brady Bill gun control law - said his movement seeks to target 1,000 sheriff races across the U.S. in 2010.
"We can have our country back," Mack said, "but if you think the answer is in Washington, D.C., I've got beachfront in Oklahoma for you."
All law enforcement officers, from the FBI down to the local meter maid, derive their powers from the people, Mack said, but the only law enforcement officers in the land who answer directly to the people are county sheriffs.
His book, "The County Sheriff, America's Last Hope" spells out why he believes sheriffs are the last line of defense for the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.
While many of Mack's backers are gun owners who believe the country is taking away their Second Amendment rights, Mack said true "constitutional" sheriffs will protect the rights and freedoms of all Americans on any front.
"What would a constitutional sheriff have done in 1959?" Mack asked the crowd.
When the call came in to the Montgomery County, Ala., sheriff's office that a black woman was refusing to move to the back of the bus - as required by law - the sheriff would have arrived on the scene and talked to Rosa Parks.
"Ma'am, what's the problem," a constitutional sheriff would have asked her, Mack said. Told she had taken an empty seat and just wanted to be left alone, the constitutional sheriff would have sat down next to her, ridden with her to her stop - and, once off, for good measure taken her into a whites-only restaurant so she could buy sandwiches for her and her husband.
He'd have then escorted her home, Mack said - asked if her husband was armed and could defend his family if anyone upset by what had happened came around and threatened them - and ordered extra patrols of the house.
"Remember, segregation wasn't a tradition, it was the law of the land," Mack said. "Rosa Parks taught us what you do with stupid laws."
Mack said the Constitution gives the federal government the authority to police exactly four areas: treason, piracy, treaty violations and counterfeiting.
"The other 5,000 they've stolen and usurped from state and local authorities," he said. "The very people who have promised us they will protect and defend the Constitution are the ones who are destroying it."
In his 49-page book, Mack quotes Founding Fathers who warned that a centralized power in government would lead to one, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated."
Mack said the day he pulled over the car filled with fighting children and the exasperated mother launched him in a new direction - and the day he filed his lawsuit over the Brady Bill gave him a national platform for what he calls a "revolution."
"I decided that day (he pulled the woman over) I was nothing but a liar and a hypocrite," he said. It almost drove him from law enforcement, he added, "until I realized I don't have to quit my job, I just have to quit being a liar and a hypocrite."
He remained in law enforcement for many more years, and believes all those who take an oath just like the ones he did in Utah and Arizona can make a difference.
"Sheriff," he writes in his book, "you are the sworn protector. You cannot shrink from that duty merely because the violator comes to town with a three-piece suit and a fancy attache case."
Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at (406) 319-2117 or at email@example.com.
Mack in Hamilton
Richard Mack, author of "The County Sheriff: America's Last Hope" speaks Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the First Interstate Center at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds in Hamilton. A 6 p.m. potluck dinner precedes the event; donations accepted.