Audio Clips

11 April 2011

The Oathkeepers: Treasonous Radicals?

Reason recently posted an interview with Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oathkeepers, about his organization and why it gets such nasty press, particularly from progressives who would seem to love the positions that the Oathkeepers take. They stand against warrantless searches, detainment of enemy combatants indefinitely, cracking down on First Amendment rights, unconstitutional wars and a continuing laundry list of things that would put them in good-standing with the ACLU and other left-leaning organizations. And yet, they get creamed in the media. Here are some excerpts.

reason: What is the purpose of Oath Keepers?

Stewart Rhodes: The mission of Oath Keepers is to persuade the guys with the guns not to violate the Constitution. I look at it as constitutional triage. I worked for a congressman; I've worked with judges. And it seems clear to me that judges and politicians don't really care about our rights that the Constitution is supposed to protect. So I'm focusing on the guys with the guns, the ones who ultimately enforce the laws, on educating them about the Constitution. I think most of them are honorable people, but there's an ethos, especially in the officer corps in the military, that focuses on following orders. It's almost as if they're taking the oath to uphold the Constitution to mean that you should categorically defer to the president. Now I think civilian authority is important, but if the president asks the military to do something that isn't constitutional, their loyalty is to the Constitution, not the president.

reason: Oath Keepers seems to be primarily focused on the federal government. But state and local governments are certainly capable of violating the Constitution. Do you think the 14th Amendment allows the federal government to intervene if, say, a local sheriff is violating the rights of the residents of his county?

Rhodes: I don't think it allows it; I think it compels it. But that's not incompatible with the idea that the states should be left alone to make and enforce their own criminal laws. They should be free to do that. But if a state or local government isn't respecting the Bill of Rights, then yes, the federal government should intervene and investigate. Take Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona. I think he's a terrible sheriff. And I think it's really unfortunate that he's held up as some kind of a hero in parts of the freedom community. He's a constitutional disaster, a Bill of Rights disaster. So yes, in that case, you have a sheriff who's violating due process and who's violating the Eighth Amendment. There's definitely a role for the federal government to come in and say no.

reason: So you favor federal intervention to prevent civil rights abuses; you strongly criticize Joe Arpaio; you oppose military tribunals, indefinite detention, and warrantless searches; you're anti-war.…

Rhodes: Well, I'm opposed to unconstitutional wars. However, Oath Keepers stays neutral on Iraq or Afghanistan, although I think any soldier who chooses not to deploy on constitutional grounds should be allowed to make his case. It's not that the wars aren't important, but we want to reach as many active-duty troops as possible, so they don't violate our rights here at home. That's our priority.

reason: But these are all positions you share with the left. Why do you think you've been characterized as far right wing? Is it the support for gun rights? Your membership does seem to be quite a bit more conservative than you are. It seems like many of them would disagree with you about Arpaio, for example. Is it just the timing of when you started Oath Keepers?....

Rhodes:The critics don't actually challenge or criticize me for what I do or say. They criticize me for what they want me to have done or said. So they can criticize me. When I did that interview with Chris Matthews of MSNBC, he asked, "So how many men do you have ready to fight the government?" I said, "What are you talking about? We don't want to fight the government." He said, "Well, aren't your members armed?"

Well, yeah. They're cops and soldiers. That's the whole point. We're trying to make sure that the guys with the guns know that they can't follow orders that tell them to use those guns the wrong way. I mean, to say our members have guns is such a disingenuous way to scare people about what we're actually trying to do.

In that Mother Jones article, the reporter, Justine Sharrock, could have spoken with anyone who held a leadership position in our organization. We could have set her up with someone who is typical of our membership. Instead, she finds this private, the scariest guy she could find, this guy who talks about using violence against his fellow soldiers, and who poses for her with his gun, even though we explicitly denounce violence as an organization. It was just irresponsible. But you know, we're trying to prevent the government from doing the things the Constitution prevents it from doing. And right now the Democrats are in control of the government. So I guess the liberal groups see us as an enemy.

Interesting interview, go check it out.

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