A Reality Star Sheriff Could Swing A Senate Race To The Far Right

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For years, Mark Lamb has called himself “the American Sheriff.” But in 2020, Lamb let slip another nickname he’s picked up from his peers in law enforcement.

“Here in Arizona, a lot of these guys — endearingly, I hope — refer to me as Sheriff Hollywood,” Lamb said during an interview with Oliver North. As sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, since 2017, Lamb not only does the job, he plays the part.

Sporting a cowboy hat, tactical vest and a million-dollar grin that one local reporter in 2018 deemed “boyish,” Lamb has appeared on dozens of episodes of television, co-hosted “Live PD: Wanted,” opened the county’s jail to A&E cameras, traversed Arizona’s third-largest county with cameras in tow — staging proposals as traffic stops, buying bikes and suits for struggling young men — and even launched his own streaming network, American Sheriff, all while serving as the top law enforcement officer in the county.

But Lamb’s platinum teeth and Old West charm belie political views that put him squarely on the far right of American politics. And now, he is Arizona’s first major Republican contender for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Kyrsten Sinema.

Sinema may not make it to the general election, but she is laboring to present herself as an independent, moderate voice. Lamb, not so much.

He’s repeatedly referred to immigration at the southern border as an “invasion” and called for labeling drug cartels as terrorist groups “just like we did to ISIS.” As sheriff, he refused to enforce anti-COVID measures in his county — even saying at one anti-vaccine rally, “We’re going to find out who is willing to die for freedom.” He also teamed up with True the Vote, the conspiracy-theory-driven group that spent years fundraising on the lie that the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats.

On the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, Lamb blamed the mob in D.C. on Democrats, and on the Supreme Court not “hearing our voices.”

Lamb may still find willing ears in Arizona’s electorate, and his presence in the Senate would swing the relatively moderate caucus, at least compared to their House counterparts, sharply to the right.

It wouldn’t be the first time a tough-talking sheriff rose to national acclaim — just look at Trump pardon recipient Joe Arpaio, or Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), who rose to fame with straight-to-camera call-outs of local criminals.

Despite his penchant for incendiary comments, Lamb may run an image-conscious campaign full of law-and-order bona fides and tough talk about the border, said Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.

“The campaign will start with a lot of those platitudes,” Burghart said. “But those platitudes will quickly give way to the reality of promoting many of the same far-right politics that he’s already done as sheriff.”

Some Immigrants Have ‘Nothing To Give’

Before he was a Senate candidate, before he was a sheriff, before he ran a paintball business and a pest control company, Lamb was a worldly kid. Born in Hawaii, he spent time in the Philippines and Argentina, but perhaps his most formative experiences were in Panama, where his family “had the contract with the Panamanian government for all their scrap metal,” he told Arizona knifemaker Greg Medford in a 2021 interview.

He followed his dad’s government contracts around the world, “until he kind of snookered them a couple times and then they didn’t want him on those contracts anymore,” Lamb recalled. (“I don’t like government programs at all,” Lamb said in the same interview.)

Lamb opens his book “American Sheriff: Traditional Values in a Modern World,” with a scene from his time in Panama as a 17-year-old in 1989. Woken up by his mother, who’d alerted him to “bombing,” Lamb looked out from his family’s 10th-floor apartment to see tracer rounds and hear explosions and machine gun fire. The U.S. invasion of Panama — or “the invasion,” as Lamb calls it — had begun.

The future sheriff described standing guard over his building with a Winchester lever-action rifle and eating cold beans on Christmas — the ultimate cowboy origin story. The experience, he wrote, “reassured in me how blessed I was to be American and to live in a country where we lived in safety and peace.”

But Lamb’s time abroad has not softened his view of people from other countries who try to enter the U.S.

“It is really hard to separate immigration from human trafficking and drug trafficking,” he said in a county video in 2021. “The two virtually go hand-in-hand 100% of the time.”

He told Medford a few months later, “The majority of the people that come here, and I can tell you firsthand, those countries aren’t going to miss those people, because they were probably the poor people in those countries.” Such migrants, he added later, had “nothing to give.”

During an interview last October with Jack Posobiec — a far-right media personality who the Southern Poverty Law Center noted months prior had “extensive ties to white supremacists” — Lamb echoed the so-called “Great Replacement” theory, or the racist idea that Democrats are attempting to “replace” Americans (typically portrayed as white Americans) with immigrants.

“I heard a statistic: For every four children that are born in America, there are three illegals coming to this country per year,” Lamb said. “So basically, you’re whitewashing the demographic and what this country was, and you are in essence reinventing it.”

“Basically you’re whitewashing the demographic and what this country was, and you are in essence reinventing it.”

- Mark Lamb, discussing unauthorized immigrants

The hard-right rhetoric from Lamb may be a surprise to some voters, given that early in his career as sheriff, Lamb showed some hesitancy to join then-President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant crusade. Asked in January 2017 — soon after his and Trump’s inaugurations — if he supported Trump’s doomed proposal to build a massive border wall, Lamb demurred.

“I haven’t looked at the numbers, I’m not sure whether the wall’s the most feasible thing,” he told local outlet InMaricopa, noting that a wall across the entire border would entail construction on sovereign Native American land. The following year, Lamb said that while he supported building the wall, “it’s impossible to build a wall across that whole area.”

As his time in office ticked on, Lamb fell closer in line with the GOP leader.

“A wall absolutely will help,” he said on “Fox & Friends” in January 2019. Then, last month, Lamb told Fox Business this month that “we’ve gotta continue to build the wall,” naming it as one part of his border security policy.

‘A Towering Mormon Lawman’

More than any policy change, Lamb’s primary evolution as sheriff has been in his ambitions — and his presentation of himself to voters.

As Jessica Pishko, an independent journalist who profiled Lamb in Politico, observed in a recent Bolts article, Lamb began his career as sheriff, after his 2016 election win, wearing a polo shirt and nothing on his bald head. The cowboy hat came later.

The subsequent image shift coincided with his television persona: Beginning in 2017, the Pinal County Sheriff’s department appeared more than 50 times on “Live PD,” a “Cops”-style show. Lamb eventually accepted a paid co-hosting gig on an offshoot show, “Live PD: Wanted.”

The “Live PD” format included a mix of recorded and live broadcast police footage — and it was ratings gold for A&E. But the show was canceled during the racial justice protests that followed the police murder of George Floyd — and after the revelation that its cameras had filmed the in-custody death of Javier Ambler at the hands of Williamson County sheriff’s deputies, who held down and tased Ambler as he cried “save me.” Two now-former deputies were charged with manslaughter.

“Live PD’s” footage of the incident was destroyed, and Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and Assistant County Attorney Jason Nassour subsequently faced charges of conspiracy to tamper with evidence.

Lamb called the show’s cancellation “disappointing,” saying appearing on the show had helped the department’s recruiting and community relations. For another A&E program, “60 Days In,” Lamb opened up his county jail to six undercover faux-detainees who reported back on drug and gang activity. “LINES WILL BE CROSSED,” a title card at the end of the first episode reads. “WHO WILL BETRAY THEM ALL?”

Lamb also started giving border tours to members of Congress and frequently appeared on Fox News. The New York Post referred to him as “a real-life action figure” and “a towering Mormon lawman.”

Along the way, he picked up his share of detractors in Pinal County.

“I think he’s been focused more on power issues, and politicized his job too far,” said Susan Wortman, a Democratic retiree in Pinal, noting that Lamb had referred to vaccine mandates as “garbage.”

“He seems to be selective about what laws he chooses to enforce, and he’s more playing the sheriff in the national spotlight rather than serving his constituents.”

“He’s trying to impress as many people as he can,” said Tom Bean, another Pinal Democrat.

“He’s a publicity hog, he really will do anything to get on TV, and he’s there frequently.”

Burghart said his group took notice of Lamb when he started bringing politicians to the border and pursuing other made-for-TV stunts that were “perfectly crafted for increasing tensions around the immigration issue.” Lamb, Burghart said, is a useful bellwether for far-right policies that have become palatable for “mainstream” Republicans.

“He is very much both a mouthpiece for, and a creation of, the far-right movement in Arizona and nationally,” Burghart said.

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb embraces then-Arizona Republican Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, center, during a tour of the southern border on Nov. 4, 2022, in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb embraces then-Arizona Republican Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, center, during a tour of the southern border on Nov. 4, 2022, in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

Kevin Dietsch via Getty Images

As his profile grew, Lamb parried away accusations that he was distracted.

“I’m here a lot of time, I usually almost always put in 50-60 hours a week minimum,” he told Arizona’s Family in 2019, part of a story that detailed weekly flights to New York City for his co-hosting duties.

Eventually, Lamb started his own venture — while still serving as Pinal’s sheriff — called the American Sheriff Network, a streaming service where $4.99 a month buys “exclusive access” to sheriff’s departments across the country. Separately, Lamb is listed as the principal and owner of American Sheriff, LLC and president and chairman of the board of directors of American Sheriff Foundation, Inc. Another LLC, Fear Not Do Right, was initially registered to Lamb before his son Cade Lamb was listed as the principal member. The apparel company sells challenge coins depicting the sheriff double wielding revolvers, and a podcast of the same name hosted by Cade Lamb has featured Kari Lake, former Rep. Madison Cawthorn and Kyle Rittenhouse.

Mark Lamb has denied ever using taxpayer dollars for his personal ventures, but in his interview with Medford, he hinted that he was exploring his options for a career move.

“I don’t know what God has in store for me, but I’m a believer that you can’t catch water unless you put a bowl outside,” he said. The streaming service was doing well, he added, “but it’s not doing [well] to the point where I could make a decision to do that.”

“And so,” Lamb said, “I do Protect America Now.”

‘Donate $17.76’

Protect America Now, at its start, was seen as a new entrant into the so-called “Constitutional Sheriffs” movement, or the far-right concept that county sheriffs represent the supreme law of the land in their jurisdictions and, in some iterations, that they can interpret, enforce and ignore laws as they see fit.

The movement received a boost from calls for gun reform during the Obama administration (one of Lamb’s mottos is “God, Family, Freedom … and Guns!”), and more recently with vaccine mandates and other public health measures meant to respond to COVID-19.

Several sheriffs — Lamb among the loudest of them — pledged to not enforce stay-at-home orders, nor to mandate vaccine requirements for their departments. (Lamb subsequently tested positive for COVID at the White House in 2020, shortly before he and others were scheduled to meet with Donald Trump — after which, he later wrote, “The White House staff didn’t waste any time taking me out the back like a two-bit whore and putting me out on the street.”)

Lamb has resisted the “constitutional sheriff” moniker through a familiar aw-shucks strategy: “I will continue to uphold the Constitution and I will always fight to defend freedom and people’s right, and to hell with the people who don’t like that,” he wrote in “American Sheriff: Rules To Live By.”

Protect America Now, of which Lamb is a co-founder and the most prominent public face, gained most of its prominence thanks to a partnership with True the Vote, the grifter group behind the widely debunked 2020 election documentary “2000 Mules,” which baselessly asserted a complex, nationwide voter fraud network. (Lamb was an early proponent of the film, though he admitted during congressional testimony in February that he’d seen “zero evidence” of fraud materially affecting the results of the 2020 election.)

During an event for the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association in Las Vegas last summer, Catherine Engelbrecht, one of True the Vote’s leaders, appeared onstage and announced the partnership with that group and Protect America Now, followed by a request for money. Gregg Phillips, True the Vote’s other leader, said the money would go to grants for sheriff’s offices for surveillance equipment aimed at ballot drop boxes, artificial intelligence and a “fusion center” for information.

But aside from slight changes in the Protect America Now’s membership list, which runs a few dozen sheriffs long, there are multiple signs that Lamb’s latest venture has itself gone dormant. Visitors to the site will be prompted to “watch our new ad,” even though the spot was published on YouTube 18 months ago. The group’s social media accounts haven’t posted anything since last Veteran’s Day. Its “Media” page is full of articles ripped from The Hill and the New York Post.

The group’s “Take Action” page refers to David Chipman, Ed Gonzalez and Chris Magnus as current nominees for positions in Joe Biden’s administration — even though those first two nominations were officially withdrawn in September 2021 and June 2022, respectively, and Magnus had been confirmed to and resigned from his post by November last year.

Like Lamb’s campaign, Protect America Now didn’t respond to HuffPost’s questions. HuffPost’s request for comment to the group, sent through a form on Protect America Now’s website, produced an automated response referring to a sweepstakes for a Sig Sauer rifle, the winner of which was said to have been chosen on October 11, 2021.

Nonetheless, the website still blares at every new visitor: “Donate $17.76 each month and help us win this battle for the soul of America.”

Lamb’s fundraising has, at times, earned scrutiny: In 2020, The Arizona Republic reported that tax filings for Lamb’s charity, the American Sheriff Foundation, left $18,000 unaccounted for, and that Lamb had said he hadn’t seen the tax filing, despite being listed as the signatory. The sheriff said he would provide the paper more documentation of the group’s balance sheet, but never did, the Republic reported.

Mark Lamb speaks during Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamon's town hall event at the Combs Performing Art Center in San Tan Valley, Arizona, on July 7, 2022.
Mark Lamb speaks during Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamon's town hall event at the Combs Performing Art Center in San Tan Valley, Arizona, on July 7, 2022.

Bill Clark via Getty Images

Lamb In The Senate

Lamb’s Senate campaign page starts with a tragedy: In a campaign video, the candidate explains how his son Cooper Lamb and his son’s infant child were killed in a car crash last December. The son’s fiancée also died of her injuries several days after the crash.

Cooper Lamb struggled with drug use during his life, Mark Lamb said in the ad, and even “spent time in my jail from issues stemming from fentanyl use.” (Cooper Lamb had been arrested on a DUI charge and was separately behind the wheel during a violent crash that left a bicyclist severely injured.)

“I know what deadly drugs, and the criminals peddling them, are doing to families and communities,” Mark Lamb says, as the ad’s music swells and he condemns political correctness and calls for using military force against drug cartels.

His forward-facing campaign may follow that script, but the candidate himself, by all appearances, will still be throwing red meat into the right-wing media’s deepest echo chambers.

Recently, he appeared at a family book event with Kirk Cameron, the anti-LGBTQ+ actor who has said his children’s book “As You Grow” is an attempt to “fight back” against “toxic ideas like transgenderism, CRT and the ’1619 project.’”

Lamb has his own LGBTQ+ campaign in the works as well; in January, during an appearance on the “X22 Report” — one of several QAnon-aligned programs that Lamb has appeared on, according to a Media Matters tally — he referred to “this very corrupt society where we are trying to normalize pedophilia in many places.” During a Fox News appearance, Lamb lamented, “Today, we’re seeing one book after another that is confusing our kids about gender, or about sex or sexual contact — these things should not be taught to our children.”

And late last month, on Friday, Lamb was interviewed by Stew Peters — the creator of the scandalously false anti-vaccine film “Died Suddenly” who spoke at a white nationalist conference last year — and defended Andrew Lester, the 84-year-old homeowner facing felony charges for shooting Black teenager Ralph Yarl after he mistakenly knocked on Lester’s door.

“The law says he can stand his ground,” Lamb said of Lester, after dodging a question from Peters on whether the media was trying to foment a race war.

“We’re behind you,” Peters concluded the interview, urging viewers to support Lamb’s campaign.

“God bless,” Lamb and his host told each other.

Then, Peters cut to an advertisement for an anti-vaccine website in which a deep-voiced narrator warned of a “vaccine Holocaust” and decried that “gay people are taking doggy style to the extreme.”

“Stay informed on pure-blood survival,” the ad beckoned viewers, using a niche shorthand for unvaccinated people.

In a truck far away, Mark Lamb continued his bid for the U.S. Senate.

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