My First Year as a Voluntarist Sheriff

by David Hathaway

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Being a politician is, of course, being a professional thief. A tax feeder.  A central planner. A mandator. Part of what Murray Rothbard described as a “GANG OF THIEVES.” There is no way to sugar coat it and keep any legitimacy. There is the voluntary economic method and the coercive political method. Being a sheriff is using the political method. It is not a thing created by the market via price signals. A state agency does not spring into existence, scale up or down in size, or go bankrupt and cease to exist based on market demand. Being a politician in the executive branch is brandishing the edge of the knife of statism. A legislator can vote no, opt out, or decry all the actions of the state. A politician in the executive branch in control of state gun wielders has more of a challenge.

On another side of opinion, the traditional side, there is the fact that the sheriff was the only law enforcement function at the inception of the U.S. It was a common-law tradition inherited from England. If historical precedent means anything, then the office of the sheriff is more legitimate than the Johnny-Come-Lately three-letter federal agencies that sprang into existence in the 20th century (think FBI, ATF, DEA) and the city “police departments” that were invented in the late 1800s.  And, of course, sheriffs are the only law enforcement officials that are elected by the people as opposed to appointed—which suggests there may be some mechanism for accountability if they stomp on the people.

What have I learned in my first year as a voluntarist sheriff? Very little. You can’t be a central planner exercising unilateral force and expect it to work. About the best you can do is say, “no,” “no,” “no,” “no.” “No, the market can handle it.” “No, there is not a crisis needing a government solution.” “No, that is private property and the state has no business intervening.” Anything else is picking sides with no market signals to say who should prevail.

Reduced Focus on National Politics

One good trend that I have noticed as an elected sheriff in this era is that people have started to lose faith in national politics after the last two years. People are looking for local solutions. In a country of 330 million people living in wide-ranging geographic zones and linguistic communities, it is impossible for everyone to have the same time preferences, goals, abilities, cultural traits, economic advantages, and consumer preferences. A one-size-fits-all national policy mandated on dissimilar peoples makes no sense. The bluster of national level politicians is being increasingly ignored. The resultant local focus is good.

Hoppean Capital Preservation

I have also noted that, since an elected sheriff is usually not term-limited and has no boss within the state apparatus, he can, in the Hoppean sense, act more like a capital-preserving force in his local area. He can, in a fashion, have the mindset of a benevolent ruler as opposed to that of a ruler that is exploiting the people for his own benefit during his rotating tenancy in the position (as happens with term-limited governors, presidents, and politicians at all levels). In the case of a voluntarist sheriff, he can choose to implement control not so much over what things the state shall do, but over the things the state cannot do in his county.

Petty Tyrants

On the negative side, my first year as a voluntarist sheriff has caused me a lot of heartache and made me some enemies. The little petty bean-counting tyrants that were previously just a nuisance to me, now hate my guts. No, I won’t enforce your mandates. No, I won’t force Sheriff’s Office employees to get shots. No, I don’t want to militarize my county. Yes, I will violate your occupancy rules, curfews, and mask rules and speak to large crowds in indoor venues.

On the more cynical side, someone could ask what the point is of even being Sheriff if I don’t intend to use the power and endorse the graft and the lies that the state expects from me? If I am not going to insist on more DUI checkpoints, a bigger drug war, or more cops to push people around; or promote some other “public good” that the market supposedly can’t provide, why would I even fight in a six-candidate race, wear out shoes campaigning with my wife and children, and knock on thousands of doors for a year and a half and put myself in this position? The answer is pretty simple, but maybe it doesn’t make sense: I can at least be a place holder in my little corner of the world to keep a gun-grabbing, vaccine-pushing, private property disrespecting tyrant from occupying the spot. This benefits my family and my neighbors.

Change the Cops from the Inside?

Can I change the mindset of state employees from the inside of an agency? No, not in a significant way. This is one of the biggest misconceptions. I have received many communications from good people and organizations suggesting that I could be the one to end the tyrannical nature of state police forces starting with my agency.

It is difficult to force such a philosophical shift from within an agency of the state. “Law enforcement officers” want their families to think that daddy is a moral person who is working in a good profession where evil needs to be suppressed by better men who have more power than the mundanes. Having a staff meeting to explain that “you are all thieves” and that there are no price signals to scale the size of the agency from zero to huge or to guide your actions is a wasted effort. Even those who understand that there is no legitimacy to state plunder-funded employment and decisions made by a technocratic elite will remain satisfied in a tacit perverse way knowing that the state’s power grab and stealing is benefitting themselves. After all, it gives them more money than they could get elsewhere with their skills, knowledge, and attitudes or they would switch jobs. For some, it satisfies their lust for power, their libido dominandi.

What I can do is strive to do on the way to voluntarism is to prevent the enforcement of things that are “unconstitutional,” but, even then, I run the risk of being found in contempt of court if I decide to not enforce a warrant or house someone in my jail for a victimless or unjust crime currently on the books. How far am I willing to go to buck the system? Well, I do like to see my wife, children, and grandchildren, do enjoy the thought of having a Dr. Pepper with Scott Horton, and would rather not be in a cell with Julian or Ross.

Why would my staff immediately put their jobs on the line and stop enforcing laws on the books about drugs — or zoning, unprocessed unlicensed food sales, unsanctioned medical practices, “illegal” hair-cutting, unlicensed well-drilling, private beef sales via unlicensed butchers, or tax foreclosures — just because I asked them to? Revenue collected from those actions pay their salaries. Ignoring “constitutionality” for a moment, the main problem with an officer being authorized or required by statute to take action if he sees a violation of those laws, is that there is no price signal from the market that indicates whether market participants want to pay to lock people in cages and deny them productive pursuits in the economy. The whole charade involves the typical government formula (not backed by market signals) for all state action which is: Articulate a crisis, real or imaginary, and present the state as the solution.  The lobbiest-controlled legislature said it is illegal, so it is illegal. The public doesn’t have to agree to fund the room-and-board and the caretakers for all those violators and doesn’t have to agree that all those defendants should forego their incomes and stop contributing to society via a fuller division of labor. We just force the public via compulsory taxation to pay for crony arrangements to prevent competition. Forget the market.

Imagine the staff meeting where I explain the moral philosophy outlined in the previous three paragraphs–to a bunch of cops that get paid from taxes–as an explanation for why they shouldn’t enforce laws on victimless crimes that they have been told in a state-run police academy “keep us safe from unscrupulous people.”

Court Intellectuals

The futility of “change from the inside” is also partly the result of a general moral degradation in society that has been ushered in by court intellectuals over time. Don’t worry, services must be provided via stolen money. Plunder is needed. Public good. Social contract all that.

It is so ingrained in society; even in churches. The church officials are cooperating as court intellectuals to legitimize the state and to diminish the conscience of the masses–resulting in moral decline. They gloriously celebrate gun-wielding state actors and supporting industries which fork over tithes and offerings to keep the praise coming. Many theologians pompously explain how we must all be permanently degenerate as part of the plan of God anyway; and how the state is ordained to wreak havoc on whomever it chooses. So, don’t worry about the state’s stealing and killing. You know, Romans 13, war, bombs, qualified immunity, cages, it’s all good. Forget the Sermon on the Mount. So, long story short: Cops must keep busting heads and lecturing you about how to live your life­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­–for your own good. And they are bolstered in that role by the state-promoting clergy, the scare-mongering media, and authoritarian politicians.

There are some other life lessons that were confirmed in my mind during my time as Sheriff.

Central Planning Does Not Work

First lesson; central planning does not work. With central planning, there are no price signals. How much externally-provided security does each individual need: More? Less? None? All you can do as a central planner is wave a wand and say, “Take more taxes, hire more cops.” Why more cops? Because some bureaucrat says so. Why does the bureaucrat want it? Because a court intellectual provided the “reasons.” Why did the court intellectual invent the reasons? Because a lobbying organization like a police association or a crony vendor funded a study. Why did the lobbying organization fund a study? Because state actors, and everyone else, wants more money. Why do the central planners get to implement the new decree? Because they are evil demons and they get to steal from others–because they said they get to do so. They hold the reigns of the state’s hoped-for monopoly on the use of force.

Democracy Doesn’t Work

Another lesson that has been reinforced during my first year as Sheriff: Democracy doesn’t work. Some people praise you and others call and yell and call and yell. They call you heartless, callous, mean, divisive, conservative, leftist, God-lover, God-hater, Trump-lover, Biden-lover, too traditional, or too un-American. Whoever is the loudest screamer claims the ability to control the state towards his ends. Since state transactions are not voluntary or mutually beneficial, spoiled brats try to leverage way more power than what comes with their beloved “one man, one vote.” And speaking about democracy, what about all the ones that don’t get what they voted for? Are their concerns now illegitimate? I have an open-door policy, talk to everyone, and answer my phone, but many times the calls and visits are from people wanting to leverage control of state power to win a private battle over others. I do appreciate the visits, calls, and emails from those who understand that I want to let them live their own lives. I think most people have that attitude, but they are part of the silent majority. I have to make sure I don’t take action to subvert the rights of others based on the elevated emotional displays or frequency of contacts from certain individuals.

Media Manipulation

Another thing I have learned is the evil deceptive nature of the mainstream media. They are only interested in pushing certain messaging as promoted by their crony masters who want to influence state actors and the public. They almost always try to craft the message for me; either by directly telling me what to say or by editing out anything that doesn’t fit their slant. Long-form interviews are never featured on mainstream media. They either contain too much obvious truth or, conversely, lay bare the bad intentions of the speaker. Neither is good for the mainstream media. I am continually admonished to speak in short sentences, although filming sessions will last a long time. A 40-minute TV interview with a reporter results in two clips with me, one of three seconds, and the other of five seconds. Other “B Roll” footage of me is used with muted audio superimposed with either dramatic music or ominous language from the reporter narrating about a scary crisis over the muted video footage of me. The video of me will be slipped in between pictures of fentanyl pills, flashing police lights, and footage from Ukraine (yes, that happens). Footage of a cabin at my ranch in the U.S. taken during an interview was edited into a story and described as a “torture house for the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico.” My children were laughing their heads off at that one.

I love podcasts where nothing is edited. I have been allowed to explain property rights as the basis of market action and the error of the public good arguments used by the state and the unintended negative consequences of central planning. Not so in quick soundbite mainstream media. I explain anyway, but it is edited out. Quite often a dramatic narrator in “post production” will make a point or ask a question and then dub in a comment from me as if it is an answer to that reporter’s out-of-sequence question.  Newspaper reporters do the same thing. I have gotten used to it and try to blast the tyrants while staying positive about everyday people at the same time.

Left vs Right

Most people like freedom. But, the ones who contact the state for action are often making a push from the left or from the right. Those people often love me on certain topics and hate me on others. Why? Because I don’t want the state involved in the lives of anyone and I don’t have the full bandwagon of beliefs from either side. Let private property rights dictate outcomes. Ron Paul often says he wants to support all the freedoms, not just the ones promoted by one side or the other. What a good point. On one side, you have to believe in mandated masks, minimum wage, and electric cars. On the other side, you have to believe in spying on Americans, a bigger drug war, and laws against filming cops.  I can’t remember which side in the Uni-Party takes the lead in wanting Assange and Ulbricht to rot in prison or dropping more bombs around the world.

Little Things That Made Me Happy

I will wrap up this article by mentioning some little things that gave me happiness during my almost two years so far as a voluntarist sheriff.

1) Truck convoy. When Arizona politicians threatened to seize trucks in the nationwide Freedom Truck Convoy passing through Arizona on the way to D.C., I coordinated with the convoy orchestrators and escorted them through the state of Arizona to ensure unhindered passage.

2) Opposing insane mandates on the public.

3) Standing up for prisoners who, despite their “offense” or security classification, were forced into solitary confinement, forced to undergo PCR tests, and forced to wear masks by the tyrannical CDC “guidelines” for correctional institutions and corresponding despotism by local officials.

4) Ross Ulbricht Letter to Biden. I was honored to speak on various occasions with Lyn Ulbricht and to draft a letter as a law enforcement agency head with Lyn to the President asking him to commute her son’s double life plus 40-year sentence or to pardon him. It hasn’t worked, but it made me happy to be involved. I still have been unable to visit Ross who is locked down in a federal facility only a short drive from my house although I do try to send him books and correspond with him. I don’t know if he gets anything I send him.

5) Being on Tom Woods’s podcast and many other great freedom podcasts.

6) Opposing Annexation. During my time as sheriff, I won a local fight with government tyrants via an arduous expensive personal campaign to oppose the annexation of my family’s ranch land and other land that would have tripled the size of the city which is the county seat.

7) Friendship and encouragement from my wife and family and from local voluntarists and far away freedom loving friends that I rarely see.

8) Attendance at Freedomfest and other liberty events.

9) Books. My silent friends. Primarily by Austrian Economists and revisionist historians; a never-ending source of moral encouragement that is always nearby. Thank you Lew and the Mises Institute for making these available.



Reprinted from for September 12, 2022

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