One of the things that happens major political parties and major media figures indulge in naked fearmongering is that -- surprise! -- a lot of people get fearful. Really fearful. Some of them become downright paranoid, and start believing in all kinds of looming conspiracies against them.
You can watch Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers' leader, at the recent CPAC conference being interviewed by the ever-friendly Bill Whittle and come away with the impression that, gosh, these are just folks who want to uphold the Constitution and apple pie. Paranoid, us?
As with all Patriot groups and their leaders, that's the schtick when the cameras are on. When the mask comes off, it becomes quite a different picture.
That's clear from reading Justine Sharrock's in-depth piece on the Oath Keepers for Mother Jones, a must-read. [Full disclosure: I am quoted in several places in this article.] As Sharrock makes clear, one of the more disturbing aspects of this group is that it has the effect of radicalizing the very people who are supposed to be upholding the law and protecting us from violent extremists:
There are scores of patriot groups, but what makes Oath Keepers unique is that its core membership consists of men and women in uniform, including soldiers, police, and veterans. At regular ceremonies in every state, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution—but then they go a step further, vowing to disobey "unconstitutional" orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government.
Moreover, recruiting from military and police veterans increases exponentially the lethal competence of these extremists. As we observed back in our first post on the Oath Keepers:
This is an example of why I've called the Iraq War "the Timothy McVeigh Finishing School": Inevitably, there are going to be competent killers either joining the far right from our military ranks -- especially if they've been recruited into those beliefs either before or during their service -- or enacting far-right "lone wolf scenarios," and they are going to have the ability to wreak a great deal of havoc.
... Remember, too, that there have already been concerns raised about concerns raised then by the FBI hold true in this situation as well:
Military experience—ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces—is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement. FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color.
... The prestige which the extremist movement bestows upon members with military experience grants them the potential for influence beyond their numbers. Most extremist groups have some members with military experience, and those with military experience often hold positions of authority within the groups to which they belong.
... Military experience—often regardless of its length or type—distinguishes one within the extremist movement. While those with military backgrounds constitute a small percentage of white supremacist extremists, FBI investigations indicate they frequently have higher profiles within the movement, including recruitment and leadership roles.
Rhodes and Whittle are eager to portray the core of the Oath Keepers' creeds -- the "ten orders" they "will not obey" -- as involving merely ordinary rights that everyone naturally would stand up for, and in a way, that's true. But only deeply paranoid people would believe there is any reason to be concerned that these rights violations might be looming.
Here they are:
- 1. We will NOT obey any order to disarm the American people.
- 2. We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people.
- 3. We will NOT obey orders to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to military tribunal.
- 4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state.
- 5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.
- 6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.
- 7. We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.
- 8. We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control."
- 9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.
- 10. We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.
It seems not to occur to Whittle to ask how many people believe the government is about to cordon off our cities and turn them into concentration camps. Evidently, because he too shares that fear.
It's widespread among the Oath Keepers, as Sharrock makes clear -- and highly selective. That is, it's relegated largely to liberal Democratic presidents, because Republicans are people they can trust:
Pray (who asked me to use his middle name rather than his first) and five fellow soldiers based at Fort Drum take this directive very seriously. In the belief that the government is already turning on its citizens, they are recruiting military buddies, stashing weapons, running drills, and outlining a plan of action. For years, they say, police and military have trained side by side in local anti-terrorism exercises around the nation. In September 2008, the Army began training the 3rd Infantry's 1st Brigade Combat Team to provide humanitarian aid following a domestic disaster or terror attack—and to help with crowd control and civil unrest if need be. (The ACLU has expressed concern about this deployment.) And some of Pray's comrades were guinea pigs for military-grade sonic weapons, only to see them used by Pittsburgh police against protesters last fall.
Most of the men's gripes revolve around policies that began under President Bush but didn't scare them so much at the time. "Too many conservatives relied on Bush's character and didn't pay attention," founder Rhodes told me. "Only now, with Obama, do they worry and see what has been done. I trusted Bush to only go after the terrorists. But what do you think can happen down the road when they say, 'I think you are a threat to the nation?'"
In Pray's estimate, it might not be long (months, perhaps a year) before President Obama finds some pretext—a pandemic, a natural disaster, a terror attack—to impose martial law, ban interstate travel, and begin detaining citizens en masse. One of his fellow Oath Keepers, a former infantryman, advised me to prepare a "bug out" bag with 39 items including gas masks, ammo, and water purification tablets, so that I'd be ready to go "when the shit hits the fan."
And yes, they're closely enmeshed with the Tea Party movement now:
Oath Keepers collaborates regularly with like-minded citizens groups; last Fourth of July, Rhodes dispatched speakers to administer the oath at more than 30 Tea Party rallies across America. At last fall's 9/12 march on Washington, he led a contingent of Oath Keepers from the Capitol steps down to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Afterward, Oath Keepers cohosted a banquet with the hawkish Gathering of Eagles. This February, a member of the group organized a Florida Freedom Rally featuring Joe the Plumber and conservative singer Lloyd Marcus. (Sample lyrics: Mr. President! Your stimulus is sure to bust / it's just a socialistic scheme / The only thing it will do / is kill the American Dream.)
And the paranoia knows few limits, as all kinds of conspiracy theories are encouraged:
Oath Keepers is officially nonpartisan, in part to make it easier for active-duty soldiers to participate, but its rightward bent is undeniable, and liberals are viewed with suspicion. At lunch, when I questioned my tablemates about the Obama-Hitler comparisons I'd heard at the conference, I got a step-by-step tutorial on how the president's socialized medicine agenda would beget a Nazi-style regime.
I learned that bringing guns to Tea Party protests was a reminder of our constitutional rights, was introduced to the notion that the founding fathers modeled their governing documents on the Bible, and debated whether being Muslim meant an inability to believe in and abide by—and thus be protected by—the Constitution. I was schooled on the treachery of the Federal Reserve and why America needs a gold standard, and at dinner one night, Nighta Davis, national organizer for the National 912 Project, explained how abortion-rights advocates are part of a eugenics program targeting Christians.
It's a long piece, but essential reading.