Arizona Sheriff Mark Lamb builds his right-wing media brand as he considers a Senate run
The far-right sheriff has used books, reality TV, NFTs, and activist organizations to expand his name-recognition in advance of the 2024 elections
Watch any media appearance by Sheriff Mark Lamb of Pinal County, Arizona, and it becomes immediately clear that he has something to sell you.
“I’ve always been in sales and marketing,” Lamb said on the Sheepdog Nation podcast in 2019. “I considered myself a sales and marketing guy.”
“I understand the importance of branding who you are,” he told entrepreneur and YouTube streamer Brad Lea last May. “Whether you’re a salesman, whether you’re a politician, whether you’re a police officer, you can brand yourself.”
Lamb has taken his own advice. He has made himself the American sheriff.
Now, as Lamb considers a run for the Senate in 2024, his sizable presence on right-wing media and broader forays into self-help and childrens’ books, reality TV, and various philanthropic endeavors could become all the more important in building a statewide constituency. Lamb also has powerful allies at conservative institutions: He’s a fellow at Trump-aligned think tank the Claremont Institute and spoke at a rally organized by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigrant organization which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group. He has also worked with election denialist group True the Vote and expressed an affinity for QAnon conspiracy theories.
Despite his history as a salesman, Lamb isn’t a Harold Hill figure, sweeping into town to swindle the locals and hit the road before anyone catches on. He’s more like former President Donald Trump, a hard-right politician with a sense for branding and zero compunction about using his elected office to further his own personal and commercial ends.
Lamb gained notoriety early in his tenure as Pinal County sheriff by appearing on reality TV, another point of overlap with Trump. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, he ingratiated himself to right-wing media by refusing to enforce Arizona’s stay-at-home order, earning him praise on Fox News. (He later contracted COVID-19.)
Lamb was already tied to far-right movements such as the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association (CSPOA), an organization founded by former Oath Keepers board member Richard Mack that claims sheriffs are the highest law of the land, superseding any federal or state authority. The movement arose from the far-right “Posse Comitatus” movement in the 1970s and ‘80s, and its legal claims have been thoroughly debunked by legal experts.
Lamb told journalist Jessica Pishko in a profile for Politico that he was not a “constitutional sheriff,” but there are reasons not to take him at face value; as Pishko notes, he spoke at the CSPOA conference in 2020. He also appears on a list of signatories in a 2017 letter from CSPOA’s “Freedom Coalition” demanding the release of people they claim were incarcerated as a result of federal overreach.
“Sheriff Lamb is a Constitutional Sheriff and is one of the best sheriffs in America,” said Mack, the movement’s godfather, as reported by the SPLC.
Selling the American sheriff
All of Lamb’s outside projects seemingly serve the same purpose of glorifying the role of sheriffs in general and Lamb in particular. In May 2021, he launched the American Sheriff Network, a streaming service that puts the viewer “back in the front seat” and “inside Sheriff departments across America for exclusive access,” for $4.99 a month. “Imagine there’s someone there with a knife sticking it into your throat instead of me yelling at you — you are dead,” a trainer tells a batch of recruits in a promotional video. (Lamb is a partner in the production company behind the network, according to Pishko’s reporting, but a spokesperson wouldn’t say whether he received a salary or other compensation from the production.)
This new network serves to build on two other reality TV shows Lamb was heavily involved in, both from A&E. The first, Live PD, aired for four seasons from 2016 to 2020 and was similar to the notorious ride-along show Cops. Lamb appeared on 41 episodes in total, including 20 episodes of spin-off Live PD: Wanted, according to his IMDB page. The show was ultimately canceled during the nationwide protests following the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Following its cancellation, Lamb said in a statement to local news the “announcement is disappointing” and that the show “was a boost to our recruiting efforts.”
The premise of the other program, 60 Days In, is even more disturbing. Several contestants volunteer to go to jail and live as an inmate for about two months, with the stated goal of gathering intelligence for the department in charge of the facility and exposing security weaknesses. Each season revolves around a different jail, with Lamb and his colleagues starring in season 5, which aired in early 2019. “There were some tense situations and it gets a little dicey in the end, but in the end it worked out,” Lamb said during a promotional appearance.
“It’s funny to see how the participants slide into that inmate mentality real quick,” Lamb added, before later concluding, “In the end, they all brought back very valuable information.”
Lamb’s self-promotion doesn’t end there. He recently participated in a documentary-style series called Border Battle produced by conservative youth group Turning Point USA. He’s published two books about applying the lessons he’s learned as a sheriff to everyday life. (His wife, Janel Lamb, has also published a book called The Sheriff’s Wife: Holding it all together behind the scenes in politics.) He owns an apparel company called Fear Not Do Right, which sells an American Sheriff challenge coin adorned with Lamb’s name. (Kyle Rittenhouse was recently featured on the Fear Not Do Right podcast hosted by Lamb’s son Cade.) He also released a challenge coin NFT to commemorate “those who represent something great — something bigger than themselves.” (Notably, “when you purchase your Sheriff Lamb Challenge Coin NFT at the $100 level or above, you’ll also receive the physical challenge coin from Sheriff Lamb himself.”) He promotes at least one of these products in virtually every single media appearance he makes.
Just this year, Lamb released a book for parents who are “tired of all the woke nonsense,” as he described it in a promotional video. Wearing his trademark cowboy hat and bulletproof vest with “Sheriff” across the front, Lamb then made clear exactly what types of children’s books he opposed. “Are you tired of all those authors and publishers that continue to put out books that are pervasive and teaching our children and our grandchildren inappropriate things?” he asked over images of three books with the titles My Princess Boy, Antiracist Baby, and Pink is for Boys.
Lamb also promoted the book in an interview for FoxNews.com, taking the opportunity to perpetuate the right-wing myth that teachers and parents who support LGBTQ people are harming children. “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,” he told Fox. “Those types of things should be left to the parents to discuss in most cases."
Lamb’s title was published by Brave Books, a right-wing publishing house that has released children’s books by a litany of conservative media figures including Kirk Cameron, neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec, Dana Loesch, and QAnon adherent and former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn.
Protect America Now and the American Sheriff Foundation
Lamb has branched into the charity and nonprofits worlds, as well. He’s the founder of American Sheriff Foundation, which he created in February 2018, the same year he began appearing regularly on Live PD. According to The Arizona Republic, the foundation’s first year’s tax filings were largely blank, didn’t specify how “a single penny” of the $50,000 it had taken in was used, and failed to account for an at least $18,000 discrepancy between what the foundation spent and its remaining assets at the end of the year.
The Arizona Republic noted that one of Lamb’s associates in establishing the foundation was Chandler Pierce, a co-founder of Fear Not Do Right who additionally has a consulting firm called Top Team Consulting. According to campaign finance disclosures, Lamb paid Pierce’s firm $1,200 in September 2019, and $1,500 in July 2020 for consulting services.
Lamb is also making money off speaker fees on the right-wing lecture circuit. According to campaign finance disclosures, Lamb was paid $2,750 to speak at a July 2021 event for election denier Laurel Imer, who was then running in a Republican primary for an open House seat in Colorado. Imer was endorsed by Trump’s top coup architect John Eastman, white supremacist former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and a host of other election deniers and right-wing personalities.
In 2021, Lamb founded Protect America Now, an organization “committed to breaking through the ‘Fake News’ and educating Americans about how our Sheriffs and the law enforcement community are standing for our Constitution and law and order.” The group is considered to be closely associated with Mack’s CSPOA, and is an outgrowth of the constitutional sheriff’s movement.
Many experts have warned that Lamb is on the leading edge of a movement looking to drastically expand the power of sheriffs in particular and law enforcement more generally. Last month, two Illinois sheriffs who are members of Lamb’s group announced they will refuse to enforce the state’s new gun control law banning the sale and manufacturing of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle and Logan County Sheriff Mark Landers are among the more than 90 Illinois sheriffs — out of the state’s 102 counties — who have signed a letter opposing the law.
Police and sheriff’s departments already often operate with considerable autonomy in cities and counties throughout the United States, and Protect America Now is one of the groups trying to further insulate law enforcement from civilian oversight and control.
True the Vote, election denial, and QAnon connections
Protect America Now currently lists 75 sheriffs among its ranks and has partnered with True the Vote, an election denialist organization that spreads conspiracy theories about voting systems in the U.S. and even sought to reverse the results of the 2020 election and Arizona’s 2022 midterms. That partnership included True the Vote’s offer to give Lamb and the other sheriffs at Protect America Now its research into supposed voting irregularities. Lamb wrote a “Sheriff’s Toolkit” for True the Vote to distribute to other sheriffs premised on the false idea that voter fraud is rampant in the United States, and attended a True the Vote event called “The Pit” that advanced conspiracy theories about election integrity.
True the Vote founder and election conspiracy theorist Catherine Engelbrecht recently praised Lamb during a January livestream on the social media platform Locals, saying he “became the model, frankly, for how to — ways to serve.”
“I think one of the most ingenious things he did was he reached out to the election administrator in Pinal [County] and said, ‘Hey, can you shoot the livestream of the dropboxes over to our office and then we’ll watch it,” she continued. “I mean, that’s great.” Engelbrecht added that she hoped that “as we continue to talk about the role that sheriffs can play, I think that’s just going to get stronger.”
Lamb was an early adopter of Dinesh D’Souza’s election denialist film 2,000 Mules, which relied almost exclusively on True the Vote’s discredited work. In an appearance last May on business and lifestyle influencer Brad Lea’s podcast, Lamb said there was “no question” there was fraud in the 2020 election.
“This was the most unsecure election, and there’s a movie coming out called 2,000 Mules, and you’re going to see how unsecure it was,” Lamb said, seven days before the film’s premiere.
Two months later, at a rally for gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake that was also attended by Trump, Lamb reiterated his message before a cheering crowd.
“I just teamed up with True the Vote,” Lamb said. “We are going to make sure that we have election integrity this year. Sheriffs are going to enforce the law — this is about the rule of law.”
“We will not let happen what happened in 2020,” he continued.
Lamb supported a full slate of election deniers in Arizona, including Lake, running for governor; Mark Finchem, running for secretary of state; Blake Masters, running for Senate; and Abe Hamadeh, running for attorney general. All four candidates lost.
Lamb’s election denialism also includes supporting the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“I guarantee you [the rioters] are very loving, Christian people,” Lamb told Pishko in her Politico profile of him. “They just happen to support President Trump a lot.”
But Lamb’s penchant for conspiracy theories doesn’t end with election denial — he also has multiple connections with QAnon, a movement convinced that elite liberals are running pedophile rings inside the halls of power. He once signed a book for a popular QAnon influencer with the QAnon slogan “where we go one, we go all,” abbreviated as WWG1WGA.
Lamb’s claims about the prevalence of human trafficking — specifically as it relates to sex trafficking of children — need to be understood in that context.
On January 21, Lamb appeared on far-right streaming show X22 Report, a major QAnon-aligned outlet, to discuss alleged child trafficking.
“I follow the show,” Lamb said at the outset, “so this is a treat for me.”
Lamb then described what he saw as the threats children and parents face using language reminiscent of the “Satanic Panic” era, updated for the age of QAnon.
“Trust me, folks, I don't want to get into the details but there are a ton of predators out there that are just waiting for your children to slip up, or get into the right chat room, or play on the right video game and they will groom and take them, you know, unfortunately, take advantage of it sometimes,” Lamb said. He then praised an organization called Vets for Child Rescue, which he has worked with in the past. “It's a great group, a group of ex-military guys led by Craig ‘Sawman’ Sawyer, and they're all trying to protect our children, and I and I love and respect that.”
The smear that gay and trans people are “grooming” children has reemerged as a widespread talking point in conservative media, while Lamb has previously praised Sawyer, a former Navy SEAL who The Daily Beast reported “frequently interacts with pro-Q personalities, and shares a wealth of Q-adjacent material,” even as he has been “openly critical of Q on Twitter, although not of all its claims.”
Earlier in the X22 Report interview, Lamb claimed “drag shows” are “designed to to break the moral compass that exists in each and every one of us, and so it’s easier for them to really push that evil and corrupt agenda” — a comment that puts his later, conspiratorial remarks in an important context.
“In this very corrupt society where we are trying to normalize pedophilia in many places, don't think that the cartels are not more than willing to meet the needs and the appetite to the American people with that,” Lamb said.
The issue of human trafficking and slavery is one that Lamb returns to often. In the X22 Report interview, Lamb claimed that “slavery is becoming more prolific in this country than probably it's ever been.”
Months earlier, he’d said nearly the same thing on The Charlie Kirk Show. “This is an uncomfortable topic for a lot of Americans, but I will tell you slavery has never been more prolific in America,” Lamb told Kirk on October 12. “The cartels are enslaving people every day.”
In his simplistic analysis, the moral of the story is often that further militarization of the border is the only solution.
“You need to do a hard shutdown on the border,” Lamb said on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast on May 26, 2021. “Nobody else comes in, you cannot let anybody else in.”
Law enforcement has a long history of making exaggerated claims about human trafficking in general, including sex trafficking involving children. Regarding the border specifically, forcing migrants underground makes them more vulnerable to exploitation at all levels of their journey, including if they are able to successfully cross into the United States and find work.
Lamb has also embraced a version of the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory. When asked by the host of X22 Report why President Joe Biden supposedly opened the border, Lamb said, “It's a benefit to their agenda.”
“Biden said in 2020 he wanted to reinvent America,” he continued. “They wanted to reinvent America, but to me that set off alarms.”
Lamb made similar comments in an October appearance on neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec’s show, where he made the racist subtext more overt.
“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.”
The Claremont Institute, FAIR, Thin Blue Line, and other extremist connections
Lamb has also been embraced by conservative organizations that provide the would-be intellectual and policy framework for the MAGA movement.
In 2021, Trump-aligned think tank the Claremont Institute established a Sheriffs Fellowship program, with Lamb as one of the eight inaugural recipients. Pishko obtained the curriculum for the weeklong course, which she wrote “reveals a program that presented for the sheriffs two sets of people in America: those communities sheriffs should police as freely and brutally as they see fit, and those ‘real’ Americans who should be considered virtually above the law.”
The first day was focused on policing and heavily featured the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald, a lawyer who has written dozens of articles arguing that law enforcement in America does not have an implicit or explicit racism problem. The supplemental readings for this section included articles and books by Mac Donald with titles like War on Cops, The Diversity Delusion, “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism,” and “Black Lies Matter.” One assigned reading included Mac Donald’s argument that Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd may not have been “a product of racial animus at all,” but rather was possibly due to “poor training and an unfit temperament.”
Lamb responded to Pishko’s article in a short post channeling familiar conservative grievances on The American Mind, one of Claremont’s various publications.
“Elite ‘progressives’” want to “replace the bedrock principle of equality with the idea of ‘equity,’ colorblind justice with never-ending (and, for them, quite profitable) racial grievance,” Lamb wrote. “Worst of all, they want to eliminate our settled and fair laws and replace them with the tyranny of power politics.”
“I don’t accept these revisions to the American way of life and neither should you,” he added.
Lamb is also connected with the anti-immigrant group FAIR. He was a guest on the organization’s podcast in February 2019, and spoke at a rally they organized in July 2021.
“This administration is undermining the rule of law, they are aiding and abetting the cartels,” Lamb said. He then highlighted “the angel moms and dads over here who have lost loved ones to people who are here in this country illegally,” repeating a common anti-immigrant trope that Trump has also used to cast migrants as threats to public safety. (Many of the stories that he invoked originated on Breitbart, which Bannon had run until leaving for the Trump campaign.)
Lamb also has a strong affinity for “thin blue line” imagery, the primary symbol of the so-called Blue Lives Matter counter-movement to Black Lives Matter. His personal Instagram account is littered with the symbol — flags, photos of flags, digital images of flags, shirts, blankets, and even a cornhole set — unsubtly signaling solidarity with a conservative movement based on a hostility to curbing the power of law enforcement.
Lamb’s brand finds a home on right-wing media
Lamb is a creature of right-wing media, and his political future likely rests on being able to balance the perception that he’s a dispassionate public safety expert simply enforcing the rule of law, and signaling to those on the right that he is a fellow traveler in their movement.
Lamb’s personal Twitter feed is almost nothing but reposts of his media hits. He will seemingly agree to be on almost any conservative news program or podcast — from Fox News to its competitors, to prominent conservative podcasts, to a bizarre livestream supporting Imer, Lamb appears to be always willing to sell himself to a new audience.
In December, he appeared on Fox & Friends to criticize Biden’s southern border policy, a common theme, and falsely suggested undocumented migrants are to blame for fentanyl that crosses the southern border.
“We are allowing unprecedented amounts of people, unprecedented amounts of fentanyl to come into this country,” Lamb said. “Slavery is increasing every day in this country and it is all happening right at the southern border.”
Further signaling how keyed-in he is to right-wing narratives, Lamb also called Biden “the big guy,” a phrase conservative pundits frequently use as a wink-and-nod to reference Hunter Biden’s laptop. He ended that segment by directing viewers to his YouTube and Facebook pages to see his deputies interacting with migrants — similar to the footage his American Sheriff Network puts out.
Lamb returned to the network the following month to criticize Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to the southern border, and plug his new children’s book in the process. “Truth is what really matters, and this is another effort to continue to hide the truth,” Lamb said. “We've become desensitized to it though, the lies, the corruption.”
“You know, I partnered with Brave Books recently to write a children's book so that we can start teaching children to be critical thinkers again, how to look for the truth,” he continued, before decrying the “effort by Kamala Harris to continue to hide the truth.”
For Lamb, conservative media isn’t just a place to sell books. Right-wing pundits are already hyping the sheriff’s political future. During a discussion in December about Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) leaving the Democratic Party, Charlie Kirk and his colleague, election denier Tyler Bowyer, said Lamb could win her seat in 2024.
“Sheriff Lamb — who’s my second cousin actually, interestingly enough — yeah, long time great dude, everyone loves him, could raise a ton of money,” Bowyer said. “He could win.”
Bannon also had nothing but praise for Lamb during the at least two appearances he made on War Room in the run-up to the 2022 midterms.
“You’re one of the true, great young leaders in this country,” Bannon told Lamb as he ended an interview last November.
Marketing the American sheriff as the American senator?
Taken as a whole, Lamb’s strong connections to right-wing movements, organizations, and media operations suggest that he may be able to build a political base that extends beyond Pinal County. If he does decide to make a Senate run, branding himself as the American sheriff will certainly be at the forefront of any campaign.
Marketing “helped me in politics, that’s how I beat my guy,” Lamb said on the Street Cop Training podcast in August. “He would do political stuff, and I would just look and say, ‘How do I beat him with marketing principles?'”
“And then I would just market,” Lamb concluded. “And so I marketed myself and was able to win that election.”
Lamb is expected to announce his decision about whether or not to run in the coming months. There’s no word yet on what branded merchandise will be available if he does.