Four sheriffs from rural Northern California and one from Oregon counties gathered Saturday in Ukiah where they railed against state and federal agencies, accusing them of overstepping their authority to the detriment of individual property rights and the economy.
"People are being regulated and permitted to death," Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said during the Support Rural America forum hosted by Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds.
The sheriffs blamed timber, water and fishing regulations for the economic woes suffered by some small rural counties.
The group also took issue with the country's government being described as a democracy, which Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson denounced as "mob rule." The United States was founded as a republic not a democracy, he said.
California, with its ballot initiative process, comes closest to being a democracy, Wilson said.
"It has created a total mess," he said.
The sheriffs said citizens should carefully read the Constitution so they understand what kind of government they are supposed to have.
They questioned the validity of regulations created by state and federal agencies, rather than the legislature. They also accused state and federal agents of trespassing to examine streams that flow through private property.
The group is affiliated with the National Constitutional Sheriffs' Association, a controversial group that critics call extremist and anti-government. It was one of the event's sponsors.
"We are not extremists," said Allman, who counts himself among about a dozen California sheriffs associated with the organization.
Among other things, the group claims that sheriffs have primary law enforcement authority over all land in their counties, including federal land.
"We are the watch keepers of our county," Allman said.
Allman said the rural sheriffs are not asking federal agencies to go away, just to rein in their bureaucrats and consult local sheriffs before they do anything on federal lands that may affect local economies or public safety. Most recently, federal authorities have failed to seek sufficient local input on proposed road closures in national forests, he said.
On the other hand, the group also wants the federal government to increase financial support of local law enforcement departments and marijuana eradication efforts in national forests. They also accused the U.S. Forest Service — a primary target of their criticism — of not doing enough to prevent forest fires. They suggested increased logging in national forests.
In general, federal bureaucrats are more interested in saving spotted owls, salmon, trees and frogs than helping people, the sheriffs said.
The sheriffs also want more done to crack down on illegal immigration. Allman said he agrees with controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio's tough stand on illegal immigration.
About 80 people attended the forum, most of them in apparent agreement with the forum members, which also included sheriffs from Tehama County and Josephine County, Oregon.
"We believe the federal government is growing and beginning to press against people's private property rights through overzealous enforcement of regulations," said Robin Carter, secretary of the Ukiah Valley Patriots, one of the event's co-sponsors.
The rural sheriffs forum was aimed at educating citizens and urging them to know and stand up for their rights. It was one in a series of meetings. The next is scheduled for Sept. 22 in Josephine County Oregon.