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.