This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=oath_keepers_1
The Oath Keepers, a newly formed far-right “patriot” organization whose membership is restricted to soldiers, police officers, firefighters, and military veterans (see March 2010), is formed at a pro-militia rally in Lexington, Massachusetts, the site of the first battle of the Revolutionary War. It is founded by Army veteran and lawyer Stewart Rhodes, who delivers a fiery speech at the rally. “You need to be alert and aware to the reality of how close we are to having our constitutional republic destroyed,” he tells the assemblage. “Every dictatorship in the history of mankind, whether it is fascist, communist, or whatever, has always set aside normal procedures of due process under times of emergency.… We can’t let that happen here. We need to wake up!” The crowd of listeners includes many well-known “patriot movement” members, including Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff who refused to enforce the federal Brady law (see November 30, 1993) in his jurisdiction; Mike Vanderboegh of the “Three Percenter” movement (see October 1995 and After); and others. Rhodes gives the rally his group’s “Orders We Will Not Obey,” a list of 10 orders he considers unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable, whether they are issued by commanding officers, policemen, or the president. When Rhodes finishes, Captain Larry Bailey, a retired Navy SEAL who leads a group called Gathering of Eagles, asks the crowd to raise their right hands and retake their oath—not to the president, but to the Constitution. (Sharrock 3/2010)
Posting the 'Orders' - On the Oath Keepers blog, Rhodes posts the “Orders We Will Not Obey” along with an introductory statement culled from the speech given by then-General George Washington before the Battle of Long Island: “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their Houses, and Farms, are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they consigned to a State of Wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them. The fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the Courage and Conduct of this army.” Rhodes writes: “Such a time is near at hand again. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the Courage and Conduct of this Army—and this Marine Corps, This Air Force, This Navy and the National Guard and police units of these sovereign states.” He calls the Oath Keepers “non-partisan,” and issues his list of orders they will refuse to obey, calling these “acts of war” against the American people “and thus acts of treason.” He cites Revolutionary War actions and precedents for each of his 10 statements.
“1. We will NOT obey any order to disarm the American people.” Rhodes explains that this means the government will not attempt to restrain gun ownership in any way, and states his group’s opposition to any bans on assault rifles or any attempts to enforce gun regulation or registration.
“2. We will NOT obey any order to conduct warrantless searches of the American people, their homes, vehicles, papers, or effects—such as warrantless house-to-house searches for weapons or persons.” Rhodes compares these to the Revolutionary War-era “writs of assistance,” carried out by British soldiers against American colonists without judicial orders. The Constitution proscribes warrantless searches, Rhodes says. “We expect that sweeping warrantless searches of homes and vehicles, under some pretext, will be the means used to attempt to disarm the people,” he writes, and says Oath Keepers will not follow such orders.
“3. We will NOT obey any order to detain American citizens as ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ or to subject them to trial by military tribunal.” Any such detentions (see June 26, 2002 and June 9, 2002) are unconstitutional, harking back to Revolutionary War-era admiralty courts and the British “star chambers.” Rhodes predicts that the federal government will attempt to detain its own citizens under international law.
“4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a ‘state of emergency’ on a state, or to enter with force into a state, without the express consent and invitation of that state’s legislature and governor.” Rhodes fears that “states of emergency” will be declared in the aftermath of a natural disaster such as a hurricane or a massive flood, or perhaps another 9/11-level terror attack, and then used to impose tyranny and martial law on the American populace.
“5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty and declares the national government to be in violation of the compact by which that state entered the Union.” As many as 20 individual states have either passed or considered what Rhodes calls “courageous resolutions affirming states rights and sovereignty” that take powers from the federal government and give them over to the states. The federal government may attempt to use force to retake these powers, Rhodes writes, especially if a state attempts to secede or declare itself of equal sovereignty with the federal government.
“6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.” One of Rhodes’s most strongly stated fears is what he believes will be the attempts of the federal government to build concentration camps and detain citizens.
“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 US soil against the American people to ‘keep the peace’ or to ‘maintain control’ during any emergency, or under any other pretext. We will consider such use of foreign troops against our people to be an invasion and an act of war.” Rhodes believes that the US government may use foreign troops, perhaps under the auspices of the United Nations, to conduct military operations against its own citizenry.
“9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies, under any emergency pretext whatsoever.”
“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.”
Rhodes concludes: “The above list is not exhaustive but we do consider them to be clear tripwires—they form our ‘line in the sand’—and if we receive such orders, we will not obey them. Further, we will know that the time for another American Revolution is nigh. If you the people decide that you have no recourse, and such a revolution comes, at that time, not only will we NOT fire upon our fellow Americans who righteously resist such egregious violations of their God given rights, we will join them in fighting against those who dare attempt to enslave them.… The mission of Oath Keepers is to vastly increase their numbers. We are in a battle for the hearts and minds of our own troops. Help us win it.” (Stewart Rhodes 3/9/2009) Army spokesman Nathan Banks will remind the members that following through on their Oath Keepers pledge could mean serious repercussions. “You have every right to disobey an order if you think it is illegal,” Banks will say. “But you will face court-martial, and so help you God if you are wrong. Saying something isn’t constitutional isn’t going to fly.”
Associated with Tea Party Movement - After the 2009 rally, Rhodes’s organization will become closely affiliated with the tea party movement; on July 4, 2009, Rhodes will send speakers to administer his organization’s “oath” at over 30 tea party rallies across the nation. He will take part in the September 12, 2009 “9/12” march in Washington, DC (see September 12, 2009), and host rallies in Florida and other states. (Sharrock 3/2010)
Daniel Knight Hayden, an Oklahoma man who has declared himself affiliated with local tea party organizations and the “Oath Keeper” movement (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010), is arrested by FBI agents after posting a series of messages on Twitter threatening to unleash a violent attack on Oklahoma state government officials on April 15, “Tax Day.” On April 13, under the moniker “CitizenQuasar,” Hayden began posting a blizzard of “tweets” about his intention to be on the Oklahoma State Capitol steps on the 15th, at first as part of a peaceful tea party event, then escalating into harsher rhetoric, and eventually threats of violence. On April 14, he wrote: “Tea Parties: And Poot Gingrich wants to stand in the limelight. He is a NWO operative,” referring to former Republican House Speaker and tea party favorite Newt Gingrich, and accusing him of being an “operative” for the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990). Towards midnight of April 14, Hayden begins the following series of posts: “Maybe it’s time to die. Let’s see if I can video record the Highway Patrol at the entrance to the Oklahoma State Capitol.” “While trying to inform them of Oath Keepers” (and links to the Oath Keepers blog). “And post it on the internet. Since i live on this sorry f_cking state,that is as good a place as ANY to die and start a WAR. WEshallsee.” “I WISH I had someone to watch my back with MY camera.” “AND, no matter WHAT happens, to post it on the internet IMMEDIATELY, AND send it to Alex Jones!!!!!!!!!!!!” (referring to radio talk show host Alex Jones). “Damnit!” “Alas… WE SHALL see the TRUTH about this sorry f_cking state!!!!!!!” After a few more posts, Dyer begins posting direct threats of violence (later removed from the Twitter account, but presented in the FBI affidavit). “The WAR wWIL start on the stepes of the Oklahoma State Capitol. I will cast the first stone. In the meantime, I await the police.” “START THE KILLING NOW! I am wiling to be the FIRST DEATH! I Await the police. They will kill me in my home.” “After I am killed on the Capitol Steps like REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!” “I really don’ give a sh_t anymore. Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off the heads and throw the on the State Capitol steps.” Hayden is taken into custody before he can go to the Capitol building, and arrested for transmitting threats to kill or injure people using interstate communication tools over the Internet. FBI agent Michael Puskas confirms that Dyer posted under the moniker “CitizenQuasar,” and says Dyer also has MySpace and Blogger accounts under similar monikers. Wired magazine says it “appears to be [the] first criminal prosecution to stem from posts on the microblogging site,” and calls Dyer’s MySpace page “a breathtaking gallery of right-wing memes about the ‘New World Order,’ gun control as Nazi fascism, and Barack Obama’s covert use of television hypnosis, among many others.” Dyer will be arraigned on April 16 and ordered released to a halfway house, a move the Associated Press reports as suggesting “the magistrate judge does not consider him a genuine threat.” (Wired News 4/24/2009; Associated Press 4/26/2009) Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic, commenting on Hayden’s arrest, label him a “leftist” who intended to kill tea party protesters, a contention they say is proven by Hayden’s vows to seek revenge for the government’s execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). One poster writes: “Hayden appears to be one of those mixtures of far out ideologies. On one hand he seems to support nazism but accused Obama of using mind control.” (Free Republic 4/24/2009)
Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV), vying for the seat held by Harry Reid (D-NV), advocates armed insurrection to bring about conservative change in America, and implies that she is ready to use violence to defeat Reid in the race. Angle tells radio talk show host Lars Larson that she believes the US is ripe for an armed revolution, and if “this Congress keeps going the way it is,” Americans will implement “Second Amendment remedies.” The Second Amendment grants citizens the right to own firearms. Larson asks Angle where she stands on the Second Amendment, and she replies: “You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, ‘My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?’ I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.” Larson later says that he believes Angle means exactly what she says, particularly about supporting armed insurrection against Congress. “If it continues to do the things it’s doing, I think she’s leaving open that possibility,” Larson will say. “And I think the founders believed that the public should be able to do that when the government becomes out of control. It just matters what you define as going too far.” (Sargent 6/15/2010) At least one other time during the primary, Angle publicly advocates that Reid be “take[n] out” with “Second Amendment remedies” (see June 16, 2010). After winning the Nevada Republican primary for the Senate, Angle will retract her remarks (see June 30, 2010).
Recently Left Hard-Right Independent American Party - Angle is a relatively recent convert to the Republican Party. For much of the 1990s, she belonged to the Independent American Party (IAP), a hard-right group that combines libertarianism—gun advocacy, tax repeal, and states’ rights—with Christian social conservatism and an avowed fear of what it calls the “North American Union,” a supposed union of Canada, Mexico, and the US. According to IAP members, Angle left the party in 1998 when she ran for the Nevada state assembly. IAP executive director Janine Hansen will tell a reporter: “It was because she wanted to run for office. And it was difficult for members of our party to get elected at that time. It was a strategic move on her part.” The IAP considers the Republican Party “corrupt and socialistic,” according to its Web site. IAP founder David Hansen drew national attention in 1992 by bringing a sign to a political rally that read, “If Guns Are Outlawed, How Can We Shoot the Liberals?” (Elliott 6/15/2010)
Supports Violent Militia - Angle is also a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right group that enjoins its members—which include many soldiers and police officers—to refuse to follow orders they consider unconstitutional, and warns that the government intends to turn American cities into “giant concentration camps” (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010). The organization has been cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a violent militia group that is actively recruiting members for an upcoming armed revolt. Angle’s husband Ted Angle will say in June 2010 that while he is not sure whether he or his wife are full-fledged members, both of them stand firmly behind its principles. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes will later say that because neither Angle nor her husband are members of a uniformed service, they can only be associate members, and he is not sure whether Sharron Angle is a member. Rhodes will also deny that Oath Keepers is a militia. “We are an education outfit,” he will say. (Elliott and McMorris-Santoro 6/9/2010)
Ex-Marine Charles Dyer is arrested on child rape and federal weapons charges. Dyer, a declared member of the “Oath Keepers” organization (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010), is charged with raping a seven-year-old girl at his home in Marlow, Oklahoma. When Stephens County deputies search his home, they find a Colt M-203 grenade launcher they believe was stolen from a California military base in 2006. Dyer’s arrest causes a split among members of the far-right “Patriot” movement, with militia members rallying behind Dyer and organizations such as the Oath Keepers distancing themselves from supporting him. Dyer was charged with making disloyal statements when, as an active-duty Marine, he posted what Mother Jones calls “incendiary videos on YouTube” under the moniker “July4Patriot.” Wearing a skull mask that partially obscured his face, he called for armed, violent resistance against the US government, railed against the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990), and invited viewers to join him at his Oklahoma home for military training, at what he said the government “will call… a terrorist training camp.” Dyer was acquitted and continued making video protests and exhortations without the mask, becoming popular among fringe militia elements. In one video made after his discharge from service, he announced his intention of becoming a “domestic terrorist.” Dyer has been a visible and outspoken member of the Oath Keepers since the organization’s first rally, and for a time he was considered an Oath Keeper spokesman, and with Oath Keeper leader Stewart Rhodes’s blessing represented the group at a July 4, 2010 tea party rally. He often featured Oath Keeper logos and materials on his YouTube videos, and wore an Oath Keeper sweatshirt on some of them. Following Dyer’s arrest, Rhodes removes Dyer’s postings and material from the Oath Keepers Web site, and denies Dyer had any official connection with the group. Rhodes insists that Dyer never paid his $30 dues to become a member, though the organization has always said it costs nothing to join, and says he asked Dyer to stop identifying himself as an Oath Keeper after he learned that Dyer was trying to recruit for an Oklahoma militia. A blogger for American Resistance Radio calls Rhodes “beyond cowardly” and labels Dyer the “1st POW of the 2nd American Revolution.” On the Oath Keepers site, a Marine from Arizona speculates that the charges against Dyer could be the start of a false campaign to arrest and detain American patriots. But if the allegations are true, he writes, “may he rot in hell.” (Booth 1/16/2010; Mother Jones 1/22/2010; Keller 1/22/2010; Roth 1/22/2010; Sharrock 3/2010)
The New York Times publishes a large front-page story on America’s “tea party” movement. The report is written by staff reporter David Barstow, who researched the story for five months, first joining a bus tour by the Tea Party Express (see August 28, 2009) and then staying for the month of October in and around Spokane, Washington, to interview tea party members and others, such as white supremacist militia members, who have some affiliation with tea party organizations. The first person he mentions is a retiree named Pam Stout, who once worked for federal housing programs and is now aghast at the government’s handling of the economic crisis. She told Barstow that one day “she awoke to see Washington as a threat, a place where crisis is manipulated—even manufactured—by both parties to grab power.” She went to a tea party rally, then a meeting of the Sandpoint Tea Party Patriots, where she surprised herself by nominating herself for president. Under her leadership, the Sandpoint group joined a coalition, Friends for Liberty, that includes representatives from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project (see March 13, 2009 and After), the extremist, anti-Communist John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), and the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010), a far-right militia organization. Stout told Barstow that her family worries that she has become enmeshed in a group of conspiracy theorists and ad hoc revolutionaries, but she said she has never felt more engaged. (Barstow 2/15/2010; Marx 2/18/2010)
Increasing Tilt towards Anti-Government Militia Ideology - Barstow writes that many tea party members are like Stout, with an inclination to conservative anti-government politics, but also with a fear of eventual government tyranny that has driven them to join the movement. “These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the tea party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement,” he writes, “a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates, and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve. Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show.” Many tea partiers hold former President Bush and President Obama in equal contempt, holding them jointly responsible for deliberately undermining the Constitution and the free market system “for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites” (see February 4-8, 2010). Coalition groups like Friends of Liberty are “forming hybrid entities of tea parties and groups rooted in the Patriot ethos. A fear of government tyranny is one of the most common ideological threads running through virtually all tea party organizations.”
Targeting Republicans as Well as Democrats - Barstow continues: “These coalitions are not content with simply making the Republican Party more conservative. They have a larger goal—a political reordering that would drastically shrink the federal government and sweep away not just Mr. Obama, but much of the Republican establishment, starting with Senator John McCain” and other Republicans whom they consider part of the “government conspiracy” to destroy democracy. While tea parties routinely target Democrats in elections, they are also targeting more moderate Republicans, especially those who support ideas or legislation that they feel is part of the “conspiracy.” Republicans who supported the government bailouts of large corporations are being targeted, as are those who support global warming legislation or who have shown any impetus to work with the White House or with Congressional Democrats (see January 29, 2010). Barstow notes that the tea party movement is anything but homogenous and rigidly organized: “It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure.” Some groups are “essentially appendages of the local Republican Party,” but many are not. However, many of the beliefs espoused by individual tea partiers tend to be reflected in most groups. Not all believe that Obama wants to impose a dictatorship, with or without McCain’s help, but many do. The frustration expressed by Stout in the economy and the government’s response to it is echoed throughout tea party groups in every state.
Turning to Radical Ideologies and Conspiracy Theorists - One of the tea partiers’ favorite thinkers is Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck (see March 29, 2009). Beck’s often-revisionist, often-inaccurate opinions led many tea partiers to read the Federalist Papers (or, more often, right-wing blogs about the Federalist Papers), conspiracist “exposes” of the Federal Reserve, and the novels of Ayn Rand and George Orwell. Online resources tailored for tea party organizations provide a wealth of what Barstow calls “radical critiques of Washington.” Two of the primary sites are ResistNet.com and InfoWars, both of which combine far-right ideology with a plethora of conspiracy theories covering everything from 9/11 and the Federal Reserve to the New World Order (see September 11, 1990). Some tea partiers are joining with militia groups, or forming their own, and making stockpiles of food, gold, and weaponry to prepare for the end of civilization. Many tea party leaders say they believe that a return to a strict adherence to constitutional law would solve most of the nation’s problems, but many of them espouse a radical view of the Constitution, such as that delineated by radical Constitutional revisionist W. Cleon Skousen (first popularized among the tea party community by Beck—see 1963). Many want to completely do away with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the federal income tax, and most government agencies, all of which they say violate the Constitution. Some go even farther, advocating secession, states “nullfying” federal laws, and the formation of citizen militias. The tea parties in the Pacific Northwest, Barstow writes, have been shaped by influences such as libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and by the sometimes-violent anti-government activism of northern Idaho (see Early 1970s, 1980-1982, 1983-1995, and February 15, 1995). The 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992), which occurred in nearby Idaho, is a touchstone for many tea partiers, just as it was for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see August 21-31, 1992). Many, but not all, tea party members and groups embrace the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is not a natural American citizen. A favorite news blog, WorldNetDaily, routinely electrifies the movement by warning of new White House plans to build massive internment camps and stuff them with tea party members, or of plans to send waves of United Nations troops throughout the nation to confiscate Americans’ guns. ResistNet regularly warns that Obama is trying to convert Interpol, the international police organization, into his own personal police force, and advises tea partiers to “grab their guns.” Tea partiers like Mary Johnson of New Mexico points to the Bush-era wiretapping scandal as proof that the government can, and is, preparing to bring democracy to an end. As the groups’ fear and contempt for the federal government grows, Barstow writes, they turn more frequently to “fringe” groups such as white supremacist, anti-government militias. In Indiana, a militia coalition called Defenders of Liberty is networking with tea party groups and other “Patriot” organizations throughout the state. Darin Stevens, the leader of the Spokane 9/12 project, told Barstow that before tuning in to Beck’s show, he had paid almost no attention to politics. After the recession hit and his personal financial structure started to collapse, he began watching Beck. “I had no clue that my country was being taken from me,” he explains. He began the Spokane chapter of Beck’s 9/12 project, and was astounded that 110 people attended the first meeting. Stevens now belongs to the Oath Keepers as well as the 9/12 Project. Spokane tea partier Leah Southwell became a convert after stumbling on Paul’s speeches on YouTube. Southwell turned from being a successful Mary Kay makeup sales representative to being a self-described member of “the uprising.” Southwell, through Paul, is now fully supportive of the Patriot ideology, and holds as evident truth a number of conspiracy theories involving the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations. “The more you know, the madder you are,” she told Barstow. “I mean when you finally learn what the Federal Reserve is!” Southwell is now a local official with the John Birch Society. She says that the affiliation between organizations like the JBS and the tea parties will continue to grow: “Most of these people [tea partiers] are just waking up.” Former car salesman Richard Mack, a longtime militia supporter who co-wrote Ruby Ridge survivor Randy Weaver’s memoirs, is a favorite speaker at tea party events. “People just do not trust any of this,” Mack told Barstow. “It’s not just the fringe people anymore. These are just ordinary people—teachers, bankers, housewives.”
Amorphous Structure - Local tea party groups often join, in one degree or another, one of several competing national tea party organizations such as ResistNet or the Tea Party Express, most of which are organized, staffed, and funded by conservative lobbying groups such as FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009) or Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After). Some tea party groups have been joined by, or in some cases overrun by, other groups, from “birthers” to militias, supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, pro-gun groups, and the sovereign states movement. Many coalitions such as Friends of Liberty were formed in opposition to what leaders called the endless “hijack attempts” by state and county Republican Parties. Dann Selle of the Official Tea Party of Spokane told Barstow, “We had to stand our ground, I’ll be blunt.”
Support from Elected Politicians - Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and a possible 2012 Republican candidate for president, has joined with Texas tea parties in supporting the state’s secession from the United States. Nevada Republican Joe Heck, who ran for Congress in 2008, attacked both parties for moving the nation towards “socialist tyranny” and solicited tea party support at a rally in Las Vegas. Indiana Republican Richard Behney, running for the US Senate, told tea party supporters that if the 2010 elections did not turn out to his liking: “I’m cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I’m serious about that, and I bet you are, too.” (Barstow 2/15/2010)
The progressive news magazine Mother Jones publishes a detailed examination of the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009), one of the fastest-growing “patriot” groups on the far right. The group was founded in April 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a lawyer who once served as an aide to libertarian US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). According to author Justine Sharrock, it has become “a hub in the sprawling anti-Obama movement that includes Tea Partiers, Birthers, and 912ers.” (Sharrock is referring to the burgeoning “tea party” movement, the people who believe President Obama is not an American citizen (see August 1, 2008 and After and October 8-10, 2008), and the “9/12” organization formed by lobbying organization FreedomWorks and Fox News host Glenn Beck—see March 13, 2009 and After.) Beck, MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan (see May 28, 2009, June 20, 2009, and July 16, 2009), and CNN host Lou Dobbs have publicly praised the organization. In December 2009, a grassroots summit organized by the Oath Keepers drew lawmakers such as US Representatives Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Paul Broun (R-GA). Sharrock’s profile is based on research and interviews with Rhodes, other Oath Keeper leaders, and ordinary members such as Private Lee Pray, who is stationed at Fort Drum, New York.
Group Made Up of Uniformed Citizens - What sets the group apart from others on the far-right fringe is that its membership is restricted to US citizens in uniform—soldiers, police officers, and veterans. At its ceremonies, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution, but then go a step further, vowing to disobey “unconstitutional” orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government. Pray says he knows of five fellow Oath Keepers at Fort Drum.
Preparing for Tyranny, Martial Law - He and other members are actively recruiting, arguing that under Obama, the US government is turning increasingly tyrannical and must be opposed, violently if need be. Pray says that many Oath Keepers had problems with some government policies under President Bush, but those reservations have grown with Obama’s ascension to power. Rhodes tells Sharrock: “Too many conservatives relied on Bush’s character and didn’t pay attention. Only now, with Obama, do they worry and see what has been done. Maybe you said, ‘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?’” Pray, like many members, believes it will be a year at most before Obama declares martial law, perhaps under the pretext of a natural disaster or another 9/11-level terror attack, and begin detaining citizens en masse and banning interstate travel. Another Oath Keeper advises Sharrock to prepare a “bug out” bag with 39 items including gas masks, ammunition, and water purification tablets, so that she will be prepared “when the sh_t hits the fan.” Pray and his friends have a “fortified bunker” at one of their member’s parents’ home in rural Idaho, where they have stashed survival gear, generators, food, and plenty of weapons. If need be, they say, they will attack their fellow soldiers. Pray describes himself as both a “birther” and a “truther,” believing that Obama is an illegitimate president installed by a government that launched the 9/11 attacks on its own soil to drive the country further down the road towards tyranny. Pray has suffered demotion for a drinking problem, and was denied deployment to Iraq when he injured his knees in a fall. Right now his job involves operating and maintaining heavy equipment on base, and he is listed currently as “undeployable.” He and his fellow Oath Keepers on base spend their free time researching what they call the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990) and conspiracies about detention camps. Pray is one of the few active-duty members who will agree to have his name made public; Rhodes encourages active-duty soldiers and police officers to hide their membership in the group, saying a group with large numbers of anonymous members can instill in its adversaries the fear of the unknown—a “great force multiplier,” he calls it. Pray worries that the CIA is monitoring his phone calls and insists that unmarked black cars follow him when he drives. A fellow Fort Drum Oath Keeper who only allows his first name of Brandon to be used, and who is also “undeployable” due to his own injuries, says that the off-limits areas of Fort Drum contain concentration camps. Sharrock notes that the soldiers’ behavior might be considered “paranoid,” but writes, “Then again, when you’re an active-duty soldier contemplating treason, some level of paranoia is probably sensible.”
Stewart Rhodes - Rhodes, a Yale graduate and constitutional lawyer, is working on a book currently titled We the Enemy: How Applying the Laws of War to the American People in the War on Terror Threatens to Destroy Our Constitutional Republic. He is an Army veteran who was honorably discharged after injuring his spine in a parachute jump, and worked for a time supervising interns in Ron Paul’s Congressional office. He briefly practiced law in Montana, has worked as a sculptor and a firearms instructor, and writes a gun-rights column for SWAT magazine. He describes himself as a libertarian, a staunch constitutionalist, and a devout Christian. He decided to abandon electoral politics in 2008 after Paul’s presidential bid failed, and turned instead to grassroots organizing. In college, he became fascinated with the idea that had German soldiers and police refused to follow orders in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler could have been stopped. In early 2008, he read a letter in SWAT magazine declaring that “the Constitution and our Bill of Rights are gravely endangered” and that service members, veterans, and police “is where they will be saved, if they are to be saved at all!” Rhodes responded with a column predicting a future President Hillary (“Hitlery”) Clinton turning the US into a despotism while dressed in her “Chairman Mao signature pantsuit.” He asked readers if they intended to follow this “dominatrix-in-chief,” hold militia members as enemy combatants, disarm citizens, and shoot all resisters. If “a police state comes to America, it will ultimately be by your hands,” he wrote. You had better “resolve to not let it happen on your watch.” Shortly thereafter, he set up a blog he called “Oath Keepers,” asking for testimonials from soldiers and veterans, and began gaining popularity. Military officers offered assistance. A Marine Corps veteran invited Rhodes to speak at a local tea party event. Paul campaigners provided strategic advice. In March 2009, Rhodes attended a rally staged by a pro-militia group, and in front of the crowd of some 400 participants, officially launched the Oath Keepers movement (see March 9, 2009). Buchanan and Beck have praised Rhodes, with Buchanan predicting that he “is headed for cable stardom.” Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars.com has repeatedly featured Rhodes and the Oath Keepers on his radio talk show.
Attracts Attention of Anti-Hate Organizations - The Oath Keepers has come to the attention of anti-hate organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which have cited the group in their reports on rising anti-government extremism. Rhodes has accused the SPLC of trying “to lump us in with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and of course make the insinuation that we’re the next McVeigh,” referring to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Author David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing groups, tells Sharrock that it would be a mistake to term them another amalgamation of “right-wing crackpots” or “extremist nimrods,” as other press outlets have done. “[T]he reality is a lot of them are fairly intelligent, well-educated people who have complex worldviews that are thoroughly thought out,” Neiwert says. Neiwert and Sharrock tie Rhodes’s message to the much earlier views expressed by members of the now-defunct Posse Comitatus (see 1969), and note that the last reemergence of this brand of rhetoric took place during the last time a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was in the White House. Today, groups like the Oath Keepers use the Internet, particularly Facebook and YouTube, and cable news networks, to connect with like-minded citizens around the world. “The underlying sentiment is an attack on government dating back to the New Deal and before,” Neiwert says. “Ron Paul has been a significant conduit in recent years, but nothing like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann [R-MN] and Sarah Palin (see October 10, 2008)—all of whom share that innate animus.” While Rhodes and most Oath Keepers say they will only begin active disobedience under the delineated circumstances laid out by the group, some members have gone down their own paths of violence. Oath Keeper Daniel Knight Hayden set off a controversy last April 15 with a barrage of messages on Twitter stating his intention to “START THE KILLING NOW!” by engaging in a gun battle at the Oklahoma State Capitol and urging other Oath Keepers to join him (see April 14-15, 2009). Rhodes denounced Hayden, but Neiwert notes that Rhodes’s inflammatory and inciteful rhetoric can have what he calls “an unhinging effect” on people inclined toward violent action. “It puts them in a state of mind of fearfulness and paranoia, creating so much anger and hatred that eventually that stuff boils over.” In January, ex-Marine and Oath Keeper spokesman Charles Dyer, who beat a treason charge for advocating armed resistance to the government, was arrested on charges of raping a 7-year-old girl, and authorities found stolen military weaponry at his home; some militia groups have hailed Dyer as “the first POW of the second American Revolution,” but Rhodes removed information about him from the organization’s Web sites and now denies he was ever a member (see January 21, 2010). Rhodes says he and his Web staff are “overwhelmed” with the need to delete messages encouraging racism and violence from their blog, and recently he shut down one Internet forum because of members’ attempts to use it to recruit for militia organizations. Chip Berlet of the watchdog group Political Research Associates and an expert on far-right movements equates Rhodes’s rhetoric to yelling fire in a crowded theater. “Promoting these conspiracy theories is very dangerous right now because there are people who will assume that a hero will stop at nothing.” What will happen, he adds, “is not just disobeying orders but harming and killing.” Rhodes acknowledges that to follow through on his rhetoric could be risky, and reminds Sharrock that freedom “is not neat or tidy, it’s messy.”
Gold Standards, Muslim Rights, and Treasonous Federal Institutions - During a recent meeting at a North Las Vegas casino, Sharrock took part in discussions of whether Muslim citizens had rights under the Constitution, why the Federal Reserve was a treasonous institution, why the government should be run under Biblical law and a gold standard, and how abortion-rights advocates are part of a eugenics plan targeting Christians. The group takes no official stance on the US’s war on terror or its foreign engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a recent Oath Keeper member who promoted his dual membership in the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) on the Oath Keepers blog had his post removed by Rhodes, who called the IVAW a “totalitarian” and “communist” organization.
Expanding Membership - Rhodes says the group has at least one chapter in each of the 50 states, and claims the group has some 29,000 members, not counting the ones who keep their membership off the computer lists. Volunteers are preparing a large “outreach” to soldiers serving overseas. The organization has worked hard to become a staple of tea party events, and tells tea partiers that bringing guns to those events reminds participants of their constitutional rights. The organization has made strong connections with groups such as the Constitution Party and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and national figures such as Ralph Reed, the former director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, and Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. Elected officials such as Broun, Gingrey, Bachmann, and Steve King (R-IA) have expressed their interest in sponsoring legislation crafted by Oath Keeper leaders. (Sharrock 3/2010)
Darren Huff, a former US Navy officer from Georgia who belongs to a far-right militia group called the “Oath Keepers” (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010), drives to Madisonville, Tennessee, as part of a group of militia members with the intention of “tak[ing] over” the Madisonville courthouse and freeing Walter Fitzpatrick, who was jailed when he tried to enforce a “citizen’s arrest” on a judicial official for failing to convene an investigation into President Obama’s citizenship (see April 1-5, 2010). The Oath Keepers are a group of former military and law enforcement officials who often advise current military and law enforcement personnel not to obey orders from higher authorities on the grounds that those orders do not satisfy constitutional mandates. Huff drives to Tennessee with a Colt .45 and an AK-47, but is intercepted by state troopers acting on an alert from the FBI. The troopers tell reporters that Huff acknowledges being armed, and states his intention to go to the Madisonville courthouse, take over the facility, and arrest county officials, whom he calls “domestic enemies of the United States engaged in treason,” and turn them over to the state police. According to a witness interviewed by the FBI, Huff is only one member of “eight or nine militia groups” whose intent is to go to Madisonville to “take over the city.” The witness, a bank manager, says Huff told him he’d see Huff’s actions on the news. Madisonville law enforcement officials report witnessing numerous individuals carrying both openly displayed and concealed firearms in the area around the courthouse. The troopers permit Huff to proceed to the courthouse, though Huff attempts no arrests and no violence ensues. The next day, Huff tells a radio audience that his encounter with the troopers was “not entirely confrontational.… We were kind of a little bit more on a friendly level, even some Christian conversation came in, which I was glad for.” He tells his listeners that he showed great restraint by not performing a citizen’s arrest on the troopers, and adds that because the first attempt to free Fitzpatrick was unsuccessful, he and other militia members intend to mount a second “rescue effort” within one to two weeks. Instead, Huff is arrested by the FBI, who listened to the broadcast and determined that he has the means and the intent to cause violence. Carl Swensson, who like Fitzpatrick is a member of the right-wing, anti-government group “American Grand Jury” (AGJ), recounts the entire series of incidents on his Web site, and demands others get involved “to help the citizen’s [sic] of the United States regain our Constitutional Republic by peaceful means.” (WBIR-TV 5/4/2010; Roth 5/6/2010; Neiwert 5/6/2010)
Several prospective contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 participate in a debate in Greenville, South Carolina. The debate is presaged by a “Freedom Rally,” co-sponsored by local tea party groups, the local chapter of the far-right, implicitly racist John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), and a far-right militia organization, the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009). The rally features speakers such as Judge Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who lost his job after refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building, and Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC). “The change we’ve done in South Carolina can be done across the country,” Haley tells a crowd of some 200 members. “We need to change the person in the White House.” Other speakers talk about issues such as defending traditional marriage and making gold and silver legal tender in South Carolina. The JBS has been considered so extreme that until 2010, mainstream Republicans refused to countenance its involvement in their political events and campaigns (see April 19, 2010). Former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), former Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM), and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and radio talk show host Herman Cain take part in the debate. Paul and Johnson are libertarians; during the debate, Paul argues for the legalization of heroin, Johnson calls for the legalization of marijuana, and both call for the US to end its military involvement in Afghanistan. (Serrie 5/5/2011; Legum 5/5/2011; Tumulty and Henderson 5/5/2011) Many credit Paul with bringing the JBS back into “favor” with the Republican Party (see July 22, 2007 and August 4, 2008). Fox News host Glenn Beck has also praised the JBS in his broadcasts (see November 9-11, 2010 and After).
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike