Sheriff Mark Dannels uses frequent right-wing media appearances to demonize immigrants and push falsehoods about the border

Dannels is an adherent of the far-right “Constitutional Sheriff” movement

Sheriff Mark Dannels of Cochise County, Arizona, is set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to address a hearing titled “The Biden Border Crisis: Part 1.” Dannels regularly appears on right-wing media to accuse immigrants of bringing drugs and cartel violence to the United States, suggesting his role at the GOP-controlled hearing will be to offer an eyewitness account of supposed chaos at the border.

Dannels has become a frequent guest on Fox News, having appeared on the network at least 37 times since May 8, 2018, with nearly one-third of those appearances coming in the second half of 2022. He has also been a guest on far-right shows hosted by former Trump administration officials, such as Steve Bannon’s War Room and Sebastian Gorka’s America First

Dannels is chair of the Border Security Committee at the National Sheriff’s Association, a title that confers legitimacy and expertise on him to consumers of conservative media. But Dannels is often misleading and tells outright falsehoods in his media hits, as he did last year when he inflated the number of migrants who had crossed the border, fueling the perception of a crisis and adding to anti-immigrant sentiment.

According to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, Dannels is an adherent of the far-right “constitutional sheriffs” movement, which claims sheriffs are the highest legitimate legal authority in the country. (Legal scholars say the movement’s reading of the law is baseless.) He also spoke at a 2019 event for the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), an organization founded by former Sheriff Richard Mack with origins in the far-right “posse comitatus” movement of the 1970s. 

Dannels is also linked to anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He spoke at one of the organization’s events in June 2021, and attended a FAIR event in Washington, D.C., in 2022, praising the group for “doing what you have to do for the country.” 

In July 2019, Dannels was pictured smiling alongside then-Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who The Washington Post had already characterized as “the U.S. congressman most openly affiliated with white nationalism.”

Mark Dannels Steve King smiling

Citation From Steve King's Twitter account, posted July 31, 2019

In October, Dannels praised then-Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey for building an illegal, makeshift wall along the border out of shipping containers. “My governor, Gov. Ducey, our state lawmakers — if it wasn't for them, we'd be in big trouble down here,” Dannels said. “They're standing up, united shoulder to shoulder with us to make our state, our county safer for our community absent the federal government.” (The Department of Justice sued Ducey for the unauthorized construction, causing the governor to agree to dismantle the wall rather than face a possible judicial injunction.)

In late December, Dannels joined guest host Tulsi Gabbard on Tucker Carlson Tonight to characterize unauthorized immigrants as a threat to public safety. “This intellectual avoidance with intended consequences — which is an open border by design, by President Biden, by the leadership within Congress — has placed my citizens in my county at risk,” he said.

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Citation From the December 28, 2022, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

Dannels was back on Fox News in January to conflate migrants with organized crime and to blame them for overdose deaths in the United States.

“The question becomes how worried should every American be that the cartel violence will soon hit their own community?” Fox & Friends First co-host Todd Piro asked Dannels.

“Well, it’s already there, there’s no doubt about it,” Dannels responded. He then referred to the “the drug deaths that are going on throughout America,” equating migration with mass drug smuggling. In fact, most fentanyl seized by authorities arrives at official U.S. ports of entry, often being transported by U.S. citizens — not from migrants or asylum-seekers crossing the border. 

Dannels right-wing media presence extends beyond Fox News. During an appearance on Steve Bannon’s War Room in October 2021, Dannels conflated border crossing with physical violence to discuss “get-aways,” referring to migrants who are observed but not apprehended.

“Get-aways are people that can’t give up,” Dannels said. “It means they have a criminal past, they’re aggravated felons, they’ve been deported, or whatever the case may be.” 

The reality is that the number of migrants with prior convictions for homicide, sexual violence, or gang activity are fractions of a percent of those arrested at the border, according to Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council. There are also any number of reasons why migrants might flee U.S. border authorities separate from having a criminal record; Border Patrol has a history of brutal treatment of migrants in its custody, including sexual and physical abuse

Conservative pundits often invoke the threat of terrorism when discussing the border. Dannels is no exception. On March 30, 2021, Gorka ended his interview with Dannels with the open question, “Can it get worse?”

“I think it can,” Dannels responded before insinuating that migrants were a risk to “national security,” then imploring listeners that “we all have to remember 9/11.” 

That kind of fact-free fearmongering about the supposed dangers of migrants at the border is a mainstay of right-wing media; Fox News’ top border reporter Bill Melugin frequently frames “got-aways” as potential terrorists, simultaneously playing to viewers’ existing fears while helping to manufacture new ones. It also helps to explain why Dannels is invited to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, which recently came under Republican control following the 2022 midterms. 

The committee is now headed by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a hardline conservative who has pledged to pursue a host of right-wing priorities, including investigations into the supposed “weaponization” of the Department of Justice and FBI, as well as Hunter Biden’s business affairs. Jordan has also floated the idea of impeaching Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for the federal government’s perceived mishandling of the southern border.  

Dannels’ appearances on Fox News and other right-wing outlets show that he knows his way around the GOP’s border grievances, and he likely won’t even have to update his talking points for Wednesday’s hearing.