Finding Keepers – Why Armed Men Vowing To Defend The Constitution Keep Cropping Up
The Economist, that bastion of Globalism has written an article about Oath Keepers. It is not ostensibly a hatchett job, but I would suggest to you that it is written, insidiously, to promote the meme that Oath Keepers is a ‘fringe group’ of ‘anti-government nut-jobs, which clearly defines The Economist itself. They are anti-Constitution, anti-free enterprise, preferring Crony Capitalism to Free Enterprise, and hell bent on creating a One World Government. – Shorty Dawkins, Associate Editor
WHEN anti-federal activists occupied a nature reserve in Burns, Oregon last month, members of the Oath Keepers, an association of current and former soldiers, police officers and other all-action types, grabbed their weapons and flocked to the high-desert town. The group’s leader, an Ivy League-educated lawyer and ex-serviceman called Elmer Stewart Rhodes, opposed the occupation but felt his men could end the stand-off. When one of the occupiers was killed on January 26th, Oath Keepers rushed to evacuate women and children from the scene, fearing an attack by the Feds.
Beyond the group’s main objective of defending the constitution, Mr Rhodes believes Oath Keepers have a duty to protect those unwilling or unable to protect themselves. “When we hear gunfire, we run towards it,” says Mr Rhodes on the phone from his home in Kalispell, a logging town in Montana. In November 2014, when protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri after a grand-jury decision not to indict a white policeman for shooting an unarmed black teenager, Oath Keepers hurried there, climbed onto its rooftops and patrolled back and forth, cradling rifles. “If we hadn’t guarded the buildings, they would have burned to the ground. Fact,” says Mr Rhodes. After an attack on a military recruiting centre in Tennessee last July, armed Oath Keepers stood guard outside similar offices across America.
The Oath Keepers’ size (there are thought to be around 30,000 members) is unusual, but its existence is not. According to Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Centre, an advocacy group, the number of what it calls “patriot groups” has grown from 149 in 2008 to 998 in 2015. As well as having a deep mistrust of government, most also subscribe to outlandish conspiracy theories. The Oath Keepers’ website suggests that George Soros, a financier and philanthropist, and the Council on Foreign Relations are exploiting the refugee crisis for their own gain. Other groups believe a shadowy elite is plotting to rule the world through one tyrannical government.
Mr Lenz attributes the rise in patriot groups to the election of Barack Obama, which spurred those with extreme anxieties about likely government expansion and extra gun controls to band together. After waning for a few years, the number of groups then jumped by 14% from 2014 to 2015—an increase Mr Lenz chalks up to a confrontation in 2014, when the father of two ranchers involved in the Oregon stand-off faced down government officials on public land in Nevada.
Brian Levin of California State University at San Bernardino thinks deeper forces are at work. Scepticism of centralised government is baked into America, he argues. Now, with the country’s future as a hegemon uncertain and confidence in its institutions eroded, that doubt has intensified. A recent poll by the Pew Research Centre found that only 19% of Americans trust the government in Washington most or all of the time, compared with 73% when they began asking the question in 1958. This inspires more people to support maverick politicians, and motivates others to opt out of the system entirely.
Beyond the fringe
It was such disenchantment that prompted Mr Rhodes to start the Oath Keepers. An eloquent if gruff Renaissance man, he has worked as a professional sculptor, once crafting a Minuteman for a Las Vegas hotel, and was a paratrooper before enrolling at Yale Law School. There he is remembered for taking his Bill of Rights class to a shooting range and winning an award for his paper on that document.
Mr Rhodes’s studies overlapped with the September 11th attacks, and he observed the government’s response with horror. He still gets angry when he talks about the Patriot Act and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v Rumsfeld (2004), which held that the constitution does not prevent the government from treating its own citizens as unlawful combatants. “It’s called the treason clause, and it’s right there in front of your face!” he bellows. He is also troubled by many things that worry progressive civil-libertarians: the government’s surveillance of its own citizens, warrantless searches, belligerent police. “I definitely think we’ve crossed the Rubicon. We’re going down the same road as Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.”
Mr Rhodes worked on Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign for the Republican nomination. When Mr Paul ended his bid, he abandoned mainstream politics and started the Oath Keepers. He hoped that by reminding its members to obey the constitution above all else, he and they would help “put the brakes on” creeping authoritarianism.
When police officers and military servicemen enroll in their respective forces, they pledge to “defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. Mr Rhodes believes that oath should be kept under all circumstances, even if it means flouting the demands of a higher-up. He uses William Calley, a lieutenant in the Vietnam war who claimed he was merely following orders when he killed 22 unarmed civilians at My Lai, to illustrate what can go wrong when individuals stray from that creed. He praises Hugh Thompson, who intervened before more civilians were massacred, as an exemplar.
Mr Rhodes may be typical only of a fairly small fringe. But even there, concern about political polarisation seems widespread. “When Bush was in power I could get liberals to listen to me,” he explains. “It has a flipside. I can talk to Republicans now because they hate and fear Obama because he’s a nasty Democrat. But once Trump’s elected—God forbid—I think they’ll all go back to sleep. And then you’ll see liberals going ‘Oh my God! He’s violating the Bill of Rights’.”