By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
As an Army officer and an elected official I have pledged to support and defend the Constitution as the bedrock of the American rule of law. I never imagined that anarchists would swear to the same oath, but The Oath Keepers do just that. They revere the Second Amendment and show up at protests brandishing assault weapons and predicting civil war.
The Oath Keepers is an umbrella organization of radical-right militias that claim to support and defend the Constitution; but they are anarchists pretending to be patriots. They promote Donald Trump’s demagoguery, and they oppose all who enforce legal restrictions on their right to bear arms at public protests as part of a corrupt deep state.
The militias of the Oath Keepers include the Boogaloos and Proud Boys. They resemble the white supremacists of the KKK who terrorized blacks in the JIm Crow South, and the brownshirts who supported Hitler’s Nazis. They make the Second Amendment the greatest commandment of the Constitution and have pledged to use force against any gun restrictions.
The radical-right militias of the Oath Keepers aren’t the only threat to the Constitution. Antifa (for antifascists) includes radical leftist groups who have used violence at public protests. These radical-right and radical-left groups come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, but they share an expectation of civil war and use force to promote their radical politics.
Militant anarchists represent a formidable threat of domestic terrorism, and those militias on the right are especially dangerous since they have supporters in law enforcement and the military. Their greatest danger is compromising the loyalty of those in the military and law enforcement who are the last bastion of defense for the Constitution and its rule of law.
The U.S. military is a paradox of an authoritarian regime within a libertarian democracy, but its military laws, values and strict chain of command provide accountability that resists corruption by local militias. Local law enforcement agencies are more susceptible to corruption by local militias since they lack centralized rules of engagement on the use of lethal force.
The U.S. military has fought militias to promote democracy and the rule of law overseas. It’s a sad irony that home-grown militias now pose a threat to U.S. democracy and its rule of law, and even more ironic that those militias seek to subvert the law enforcement agencies that are needed to support and defend the Constitution and its rule of law against anarchy.
The Second Amendment was passed as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, and provides: A well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. The Constitution also provides the legal foundation for the military and law enforcement agencies to provide for national security and public safety. Today brandishing weapons at public events is a threat to public safety and should be banned.
Stewart Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in 2009. “It’s a pro-Trump militant group that has recruited thousands of police, soldiers and veterans. Rhodes has been talking about civil war since 2009. He once cast himself as a revolutionary but now sees his role as defending the president. He had put out a call for his followers to protect the country against what he called an “insurrection” to undermine Donald Trump.
Rhodes’s warnings of conflict only grew louder. When a teenager was charged with shooting and killing two people at protests over police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Rhodes called him “a Hero, a Patriot” on Twitter. And when a Trump supporter was killed later that week in Portland, Oregon, Rhodes declared [on his blog post] that there was no going back. “Civil war is here, right now,” he wrote.
Rhodes’ blog post was both a manifesto and a recruiting pitch based on the oath that soldiers take when they enlist, to “support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Law enforcement officers swear a similar oath, and Rhodes wrote that both groups could refuse orders, including those related to gun control, that would enable tyranny. And, if necessary, they could fight.
Rhodes kept the nature of the Oath Keepers officially nonpartisan. It was not a militia “per se.” “We don’t ask current-serving law enforcement and military to sign up on any kind of membership list,” he said in a radio interview. But eventually he did create such a list with members’ names, home and email addresses, phone numbers, and service histories, along with answers to a question about how they could help the Oath Keepers. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center provided the entries for nearly 25,000 people to the author of The Atlantic article.
Rhodes established the Oath Keepers as a registered nonprofit with a board of directors; members did relief work after hurricanes and spoke at local Republican events. They could walk into police stations or stand outside military bases with leaflets; they could meet with sheriffs and petition lawmakers.
When Trump warned of civil war, Rhodes voiced his assent. “This is the truth,” he wrote. “This is where we are.” Rhodes wrote a creed listing 10 types of orders that members vow to resist. Gun-control laws are first among them. Then come libertarian concerns such as subjecting American citizens to military tribunals and warrantless search and seizure. After those come more conspiratorial fears—blockades of cities, foreign troops on U.S. soil, putting Americans in detention camps. Here Rhodes was drawing from the “New World Order” theory, a worldview that is central to the Patriot movement—and that can be traced back to what the historian Richard Hofstadter, writing in the 1960s, called the paranoid style in American politics. It linked fears of globalism, a deep distrust of elites, and the idea that a ballooning federal government could become tyrannical.
In 2016, when Trump had warned of election fraud, Rhodes put out a call for members to quietly monitor polling stations. When Trump warned of an invasion by undocumented immigrants, Rhodes traveled to the southern border with an Oath Keepers patrol. He sent members to “protect” Trump supporters from the protesters at his rallies and appeared in the VIP section at one of them, standing in the front row in a black Oath Keepers shirt. When Trump warned of the potential for civil war at the start of the impeachment inquiry last fall, Rhodes voiced his assent on Twitter. “This is the truth,” he wrote. “This is where we are.” But membership in the group was often fleeting. The Oath Keepers did not have 25,000 soldiers at the ready. But the files showed that Rhodes had tapped into a deep current of anxiety, one that could cause a surprisingly large contingent of people with real police and military experience to consider armed political violence.
“It’s not just about guns,” Rhodes said. But guns were at the heart of it. Liberals, Rhodes told me, want to see “a narrow majority trampling on our rights. The only way to do that is to disarm us first.” Rhodes had been using liberals’ “drumbeat of anti-cop sentiment” in his outreach to police. “That’s what we tell them: ‘Come on, guys. They hate your guts.’”
Like Trump, Rhodes relentlessly demonizes Black Lives Matter activists as “Marxists”—a foreign enemy. And he dwells on imagined threats from undocumented immigrants and Muslims that fit his ideas about a globalist push to undermine Western values.
When protests erupted in Kenosha many of the demonstrators brought guns, and vigilante groups quickly formed on the other side. There was a confrontation near a gas station, and a teenager allegedly opened fire and killed two people. A man affiliated with antifa allegedly gunned down a Trump supporter in Portland later that week, and Rhodes declared that “the first shot has been fired.” See
On the Second arrest of a ‘Boogaloo boy’ suspect made after violent Columbia demonstrations, see https://www.postandcourier.com/news/second-arrest-of-a-boogaloo-boy-suspect-made-after-violent-columbia-demonstrations/article_9e4fdf5c-a76f-11ea-8217-ef9830925b24.html.
On Charges: Boogaloo Bois fired on Minneapolis police precinct, see
Leftist antifascist groups known as Antifa are the polar opposite of the radical-right Boogaloo Bois and Proud Boys of Oath Keepers, but both Antifa and Oath Keepers are anarchists preparing for a civil war. “Trump is vowing to designate the Antifa movement as a terrorist organization. But its supporters believe that they are protecting their communities—and that confronting fascists with violence can be justified. To date, one American has been killed by someone professing an antifascist agenda; right-wing extremists, by comparison, have been responsible for more than three hundred and twenty deaths in the past quarter century. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, during the Trump Administration right-wing terrorists have carried out about a hundred and forty attacks, left-wing terrorists a dozen.The only known plot to “overthrow” the government in recent months was hatched by right-wing militia members, who, according to the F.B.I., planned to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. In June during a rally at Michigan’s capitol, a speaker yelled, “We are here demanding peace as these terrorist organizations want to burn down our cities!” In response to such right-wing events, some leftists have mobilized under the name Antifa, following a tradition with specific principles, among them a willingness to engage in violence.
The election of President Barack Obama galvanized the so-called Patriot Movement, composed of hundreds of far-right groups and armed militias hostile to Muslims, immigrants, and the L.G.B.T.Q. community. The Patriot Movement depicted the federal government as corrupted by un-American forces inimical to white Christians. Despite this troubling ferment, antifascism remained a backwater of leftist activism throughout the Obama Administration, as progressives focussed on the rise of the Tea Party.
Then came Donald Trump, buoyed by a wave of white nationalism. In 2017, many Americans were stunned when throngs of white supremacists carried torches and Nazi flags through Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Blood and soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!” Antifascists, however, were prepared. Hundreds of them travelled to Charlottesville, in fidelity to the “We go where they go” credo. Clashes culminated in a neo-Nazi plowing his car through a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman. The former K.K.K. Grand Wizard David Duke told a reporter, “We are determined to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.” Later, Trump said that there had been “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville. Duke praised his “honesty” and “courage.”
Antifascist doctrine does not allow for avoiding confrontations: “They will not pass” is another precept, deriving from the Spanish Civil War. In the summer of 2018, several activists in Portland created PopMob, short for Popular Mobilization, which aimed to enlist a more diverse, and less militant, league of protesters to counter Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys.” When an Antifa demonstrator asserted that “The pandemic had revealed the alarming depth of the government’s ineptitude” and was asked what’s the alternative,he said: “Anarchism.” And one simple way to get us closer to that is defunding the police,”
The animating conviction that America’s economic, governmental, and judicial institutions are irremediable distinguishes Portland protesters from others around the country. Many of them view inequality not as a failure of the system but as the status quo that the system was designed to preserve; accordingly, the only solution is [anarchy] to dismantle it entirely and build something new.
In Minneapolis, marchers chanted, “No justice, no peace!” In Portland, they cry, “No cops! No prisons! Total abolition!” Occasionally you hear “Death to America!” The night after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, at the Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse protesters smashed the glass doors and cut down a flag that ha
d been lowered to half-mast. The flag was brought to the police headquarters, doused with hand sanitizer, and set ablaze. On a boarded-up window, a white man in black bloc spray-painted, “THE ONLY WAR IS CLASS WAR.” Popular chants at the protests include “A.C.A.B.—All Cops Are Bastards!” See https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/11/02/trump-antifa-movement-portland? utm source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm_mailing=TNY_Daily.