Lessons from Law Enforcement


Jason Van Tatenhove

The Southern Poverty Law Center has again, shown what caring, decent human beings they really are. On the same day that investigative journalist and founder of the III%, Mike Vanderboegh, passed away after an exhaustive battle with cancer, they released yet another hit piece. They seem to be ramping up their efforts, and this latest, hate-filled, attack on a figure who has just passed. This new video demonstrates to what lengths they will go to discredit, misinform, and divide a huge segment of the US population, specifically those of us that hold conservative and libertarian views. They are masters of propaganda, as I had alluded to in my reaction article earlier this week. Their video was geared towards “educating” law enforcement about the inherent dangers of those who would dare to speak up about abuses of power and overreach. Again, I would like to state, there is an outright attempt to divide us, and it is working. We must do everything we can to try and stop this. If we do not, it will be all of us that continues to suffer, each day, as this plan moves forward. Everyday, our world looks more like a Matt Bracken novel. I understand that, as we all lose loved ones to systematic violence and overreach, it is a natural human reaction to respond with violence, and we are seeing that happen with the rioting and burning of each new city this summer. I have to believe there is a better way.


To be completely honest with you, before my tenure with the Oath Keepers, my interaction with Law Enforcement was limited to an uncle who was career police officer that I never really knew, and a couple members of the MMA fight team I was apart of in Colorado. All of these individuals I considered my friends. I have, to this day, never been arrested. I tend to try and stay out of trouble as best I can. That changed quickly when I started working with the Oath Keepers. I have since been deputized twice and consider quite a few active and retired LEOs (Law Enforcement Officer) close, personal friends.


Sheriff Denny Peyman was one of the first I really got to know and I can’t help but to think that nationally, things would be different if every LEO handled escalation of force and arrest the way he did.  It was during my coverage of Bundy Ranch that I first met Sheriff Denny Peyman. Denny had flown out from Kentucky to see, first hand, what was happening with the Bundy family at the ranch during that now infamous demonstration. He seemed to me to be a folk hero to me, at the time. Down to earth and human, he was the type of man that, if I found myself being arrested, I would hope it would be by a man like this. After things seemed to settle down in the wild-lands of Nevada, I found myself flying out to Jackson County, Kentucky. During my time at Bundy Ranch I had an opportunity to interview and get to know Sheriff Peyman. He had arrested the top elected official in his county on corruption charges along with the county treasurer. I couldn’t believe it when he first told me the story of how he walked tall into the county court house and preformed the arrest during a meeting of the local county government. He relayed to me the the attempts at bribery that were conveyed to him from the back of his squad car, and how he actually stood up and did the right thing. Sheriff Peyman seemed to have split his adult life between his two true callings, helping to bring peace and order to his community as a peace officer, and also as a missionary, helping with so many of the issues that dire poverty tends to bring to any community. I believe that it was this love and empathy for his fellow man that led him to truly want to help serve and protect his community.

I followed Sheriff Peyman on several arrests. We drove around in his “new squad car.” This car was later described by Sheriff Richard Mack as the worst police car in the entire country. It was a 90’s era matte black Mustang that had been confiscated by the county from a young drug offender after it had been hit by a snow plow. It was dented, beat up, and ill-equipped for the transport of any citizen. I literally had to hold the passenger side door shut while making a left turn going any faster that 15 miles per hour. You see, after Sheriff Peyman had arrested the corrupt politicians in his county, the system sprang into action to help protect their own. This is a major part of the problems we are now seeing as a nation.  They not only stripped him of all funding, they also set up their own “county security force” that did the job that was already being performed, for the first time in a generation, with integrity, at least that’s how it was described to me by a local I interviewed about the Sheriff. After losing just about everything, he was down to a skeleton staff and had an upcoming election. I spent close to four weeks there in the hollows of Jackson County, where there is one of the largest addiction and unemployment rates in the entire country. Where you see the burned out trailers and houses that are a result of family vendetta, usually sparked by presuming the inhabitants were working with the authorities.


I witnessed, first hand, how the Sheriff handled arrests in this environment. Being outnumbered, out-gunned, and out-financed by those that still held true to traditions that made an episode of Justified look like a children’s show. Sheriff Peyman could get a young man who had eluded the local FBI for months to meet with him and come in under his protection. I believe he was successful due to his respect system. Before we went out to go pick up this young man, who had already been in trouble with the law, and was becoming more erratic and even violent with his mother, whom he now lived with, Sheriff Peyman explained to me how he liked to handle arrests in a small community like Jackson County. He explained it as a 6 level respect system. He was going to do his best to treat you (if you were the one he was arresting that day) much like he would treat you if you were family. He’s going to (at first) offer to treat you with respect. He will call and offer to come meet you. He’s going to give you a chance to clean up and say goodbye to your family. He is not going to treat you with violence or even handcuff you in front of your kids. That is, if you are going to show him the same respect. Now the Sheriff has a job to do and he is going to get it done eventually. How that happens is entirely up to the person he has the issue with. If you don’t go along and you show him disrespect, then that 6 step system kicks into place. Each step uses a little more force, the 6th step ends with a coroner’s report. The rest run the range of the steps. It seemed, from my experience, to work very well. Back to the young man who had alluded the local Bureau for months. They finally had asked if Sheriff Peyman would help to bring this young man in. It seems every time they tried to arrest him at his house, he was no where to be found. I accompanied Sheriff Peyman as he went to pick up this young man. He was polite and respectful. He relayed to me that he felt safer being arrested by Sheriff Peyman, that it was like being arrested by family. Unfortunately, the way that Sheriff Peyman does things is close to an isolated case. He was voted out of office and things quickly returned to the way they were before his tenure. Today Sheriff Peyman is working to revitalize the Kentucky economy working with what is now the largest hemp farm in the US.


As I watch the latest city burn, Milwaukee, after a young man was fatally shot while being chased by police, I have to wonder if there is a better way we should be doing things across our country? For every “justified” homicide by the police, how many were incidents could have been de-escalated incidents that ended peacefully, rather than having deadly force immediately jumped to? I think of those I have personally known now that have been victims of police escalation and government overreach. It is more than I care to admit. Yet I know many more men and women are on the front lines of our communities who want to do the right thing. I fear that if we do not curb this behavior by those entrusted by we the people, to stand for truth and justice, we will have much more violence in store for us as a nation. Unless we begin to revamp the training and policing practices that have brought us here, I fear we will continue to be divided until we have a dirty civil war right here amongst us, in the very neighborhoods we call home. This may already be the case for many of us. How many Joe Robertson’s will die behind bars? How many nameless young will be shot in the streets from both sides of the blue line. The only thing I am left with is to continue to try and create inroads to our first responder communities, to try and be a force for unification of our American communities. But at the same time to get my body, mind, and spirit ready for the battles that undoubtedly lay before us if we continue down this path. With that being said I am off to the martial arts gym. I pray that we will all have the strength to correct where we have gone off track.


*Please note that Denny is now on our National Board of Directors.

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About Author

Stewart Rhodes

Stewart is the founder and National President of Oath Keepers. He served as a U.S. Army paratrooper until disabled in a rough terrain parachuting accident during a night jump. He is a former firearms instructor, former member of Rep. Ron Paul’s DC staff, and served as a volunteer firefighter in Montana. Stewart previously wrote the monthly Enemy at the Gates column for S.W.A.T. Magazine. Stewart graduated from Yale Law School in 2004, where his paper “Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant Status” won Yale’s Miller prize for best paper on the Bill of Rights. He assisted teaching U.S. military history at Yale, was a Yale Research Scholar, and is writing a book on the dangers of applying the laws of war to the American people.