Richard I. Mack, a member of the Oath Keepers board and former Arizona sheriff
There was a time in our nation’s history when the American people came together to rally against a domineering British monarchy. It was during this time that the Founding Fathers produced the Constitution of the United States of America. Intended to serve as the supreme law of the land, the Constitution would be an eternal reminder of the tyranny that Americans had to overcome during the country’s earliest years.
In the eyes of Americans, the Constitution has been a beacon of morality, virtue, and democratic principle. While many U.S. citizens still maintain this outlook, scores of others have decided to turn their backs on the text that once guaranteed them freedom and liberty.
Perhaps the most notable cause of concern is that the federal government and law enforcement officers – meant to act as the ultimate embodiment of constitutionality – have consistently demonstrated blatant disregard for the Constitution.
Stewart Rhodes, a former U.S. Army paratrooper and Yale Law School alumnus, recognized this growing inattention to the Constitution and determined it to be a potentially dangerous approach to governing. In response, Rhodes took it upon himself to establish Oath Keepers in March 2009.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization reaches out to active duty military, reserves, National Guard, law enforcement, fire fighters, and veterans who are committed to upholding and defending the Constitution.
There are 10 orders the Oath Keepers will not obey. These include disarming and detaining American citizens as combatants, imposing martial law, forcing Americans into detention camps, and infringing upon the right of the people to free speech.
“Article Six of the United States Constitution requires all government officials at every level – from the dogcatcher to the President – to take the same oath,” said Richard I. Mack, former sheriff of Graham County, Ariz., and Oath Keepers board member. “We’re required by the supreme law of the land to swear an oath of allegiance to the Constitution.”
Despite Oath Keepers’ seemingly genuine interest in restoring the authority of the Constitution, organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League have publicly denounced Oath Keepers as a threat to American society.
In its Fall 2009 intelligence report titled, “The Second Wave: Evidence Grows of Far-Right Militia Resurgence,”the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled Oath Keepers as “a particularly worrisome example of the Patriot revival.”
Mark Potok, a spokesman for the SPLC on issues of extremism, asserted that, while Oath Keepers promotes itself as a group whose mission is to uphold the Constitution, this is simply a façade.
“They say that they are merely upholding the Constitution and re-pledging their oaths to defend it,” Potok said. “We say the reality is [that] they are animated by very specific conspiratorial fears which are absolutely groundless. I think that’s obvious.”
Potok claimed that proof of this lies in the language of Oath Keepers’ ten orders. Aside from this, he was not able to specify any further evidence. The SPLC believes that the references Oath Keepers make to concentration camps and martial law irrefutably confirm that the group is based entirely upon false conspiracy theories.
“The core idea of virtually all militia groups and all patriot groups is that the evil federal government is involved in a plot to impose martial law on the United States, probably with the aid of foreign troops,” Potok said. “Those who resist will be thrown into concentration camps, which either have been or will be built by FEMA, and ultimately, the United States will take all weapons from citizens here and force this country into some kind of socialistic New World Order.”
Rhodes said that those who oppose Oath Keepers misleadingly characterize members of the group as conspiracy theorists. “It’s a smear tactic,” Rhodes said.
“Most of the things that are listed in our ten orders are reflections,” Rhodes explained. “They’re reflections of our Bill of Rights, and they’re also reflections of the history of the Twentieth century.”
Rhodes cited the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Gulag in Soviet Russia, concentration camps in Nazi Germany, the My Lai massacre, and, most recently, the confiscation of citizens’ firearms during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Potok said that he and the SPLC do not consider an unconstitutional federal government to be an imminent threat to the American people. Instead, the SPLC identifies Oath Keepers – an organization that wishes to uphold the principles of constitutionality – as the real menace to society.
“The basis for our concern is the fact that these men and women, who are given weapons by the rest of society in order to protect us, are animated by conspiracy theories that have absolutely no basis in reality. That’s a scary thing,” Potok said.
“Do we really want soldiers in the fields in Afghanistan and Iraq stopping every time they’re given an order to stop and make an independent decision on whether that order is constitutional or not? It seems obvious to me that we don’t,” he said.
This presents yet another paradox. Potok contends that troops should not be evaluating the constitutionality of orders, but, as men and women who have sworn to support and uphold the Constitution, it seems they have an obligation to do so.
If soldiers adopt the mentality that they should simply follow orders without questioning and testing their constitutionality, dangerous and unlawful things are bound to occur.
Any individual who is required to submit to a higher authority must be weary of becoming robotic and thoughtless in obeying orders.
Mack said,“I think the worst thing is to lie in bed and think, should I have done that to that person?”
An article published in 2010 by AlterNet, a left leaning online news & opinion website went so far as to classify Oath Keepers as “domestic terrorists waiting to happen.” Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center may dispute the intentions of Oath Keepers’ board of directors.
But, there is perhaps nothing more offensive to individuals who have put their lives on the line in order to serve their country to be called a source of domestic terrorism, simply for associating themselves with an organization that promotes itself as wanting to act in accordance with the Constitution and resist oppressive government.