From the day it was formed in 2009, the Oath Keepers has known what the federal government is up to—and has dedicated itself to vanquishing the evil.
The group’s core belief, after all, is that there is a conspiracy by the government and global elites to demolish American liberties. That’s why its 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey” include vows not to help disarm the American people, or try them before military tribunals, or “subjugate” any state, or turn U.S. cities “into giant concentration camps,” or force citizens into “detention camps.”
That’s why Oath Keepers boss Stewart Rhodes described President Barack Obama as the “blood dancing domestic Enemy-In-Chief.” That’s why Rhodes called then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “Herr Hitlery.”
The group is a classic anti-government “Patriot” organization—part of the militia movement that has long warned of government’s use of black helicopters to spy on its citizens, secret weather machines to wreck farmer’s livelihoods, the Federal Reserve chicanery to rip off America’s hard-working citizens, and more.
But now, in the Age of Donald Trump, not so much.
The Oath Keepers calls itself “nonpartisan,” but that is a very skimpy fig leaf indeed. In fact, the group—which claims to be principally made up of tens of thousands of present and former law enforcement and military personnel — always has skewed heavily to the political right. Now, the outfit that roared about the evils of Obama and Clinton has been reduced to admiring murmurs about Trump.
Rhodes and his Oath Keepers are not alone. As the administration that is the furthest to the right in living memory picks up speed, the silence—accompanied by adulation—from the tough-talking Patriot groups is remarkable. Right-wing radicals like those who inhabit the so-called “three percent” movement—a nod to the claim that only three percent of American colonists were real patriots who fought the British—seem to have largely forgotten their “antigovernment” views.
Consider the Oath Keepers.
Back in 2016, Rhodes wrote a foaming-mouth piece in the aftermath of the jihadist mass murder in Orlando, Fla. He claimed that “this wave of Islamist terror attacks will be part of a ‘perfect storm’ of intentionally orchestrated … chaos-inducing economic devastation, social and political disruption and violence, and the use of intentionally undefended borders and mass illegal and ‘refugee’ immigration as weapons of destabilization (and to provide cover for and facilitate more violence and terrorism by multiple proxy agents of the elites, including the cartels, gangs, well funded Marxists and racist agitators—such as La Raza and Black Lives Matter—and radical Islamist cells and individuals).”
But even before Trump’s election, it was becoming clear that the New York billionaire—despite his penchant for the gold-plated life of “the elites”—had the support of that and other Patriot organizations. After Trump complained that the election would be “rigged” by his enemies, Rhodes urged members to “blend in” with voters at polling places on Election Day and engage in “incognito intelligence gathering and crime spotting.” He said that he feared “criminal vote fraud on an industrial scale,” and was “most concerned” about “voter fraud by leftists.”
The Oath Keepers also showed up at Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration in what Rhodes called “Operation Defend J20.” He vowed “to protect peaceable American patriots who are now being threatened with assault and other acts of violence by radical leftist groups” and also to keep an eye out “for jihadist terrorists.”
A leading Oath Keepers blogger who goes by the name “Navy Jack” had written a blog post just a few days earlier that was headlined “Communists Intend to Overthrow the United States Before Inauguration Day.” Other Oath Keepers chimed in, with one saying he was willing to “put down” some “commies.”
Remarkably, Edwin Vieira, a constitutional lawyer and leading voice in the Oath Keepers, suggested in that same thread that a “perfect remedy” existed in a federal statute that allows the use of the armed forces and National Guard to put down “unlawful obstructions” or “rebellion against” the United States.
Of course, that’s the very kind of thing the Oath Keepers is supposed to be against. The “Orders We Will Not Obey” includes this as No. 4: “We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a ‘state of emergency’ on a state, or enter with force into a state, without the express consent and invitation of that state’s legislature and governor.” Except, apparently, when the president is Donald Trump.
Or consider a few headlines on the Oath Keepers’ “nonpartisan” website: “Morons React to Trump Winning”; “Trump’s Planned Wall is Essential to Protect America and Americans”; “Five Reasons Trump is Right to Cut NPR, PBS”; and “Oath Keepers Participate in Trump Rally to Support the Constitution March 25, 2017.” Others accused Obama “holdouts” in the Trump administration of “hiding Hillary emails,” claimed Trump “never” pushed for the Michael Flynn/Russia investigation to be dropped, and detailed many Trump appointments.
At the same time, the militia movement has been changing.
Most dramatically, the movement that was initially obsessively centered on conspiracy theories about the federal government has increasingly taken on a whole new ideology — Muslim-bashing. The Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and many other Patriot groups have added Islam to their enemies list.
The bottom line is that President Trump is extremely close to many of the core positions taken by the Patriot movement. He is an anti-globalist and an economic nationalist. He resents anything that smacks of “political correctness.” He sees the media as the enemy of the people. He opposes immigration, and sees foreign countries as deviously undermining American interests. He dislikes “the left,” Muslims, Black Lives Matter, and federal control of public lands.
He is, many Patriots feel, one of them.
Experience shows that when political leaders like President Trump take up the issues of the radical right, groups in that milieu tend to wither. With their core ideas co-opted by the politicians, participants often leave the groups and go home, convinced that their concerns are being addressed by those at the very top.
Even Stewart Rhodes sees that. He told Mother Jones immediately after the election that he worried, in the magazine’s paraphrase, that “the far-right could become complacent, and that militia activity could drop off as a result.”
That might seem reassuring. But it’s not.
The truth is that the Patriot groups do appear to be growing quieter—but not because they’ve realized their ideas and conspiracy theories are disconnected from reality. The sad fact is many of their attitudes and issues, as radical as they are, have found a welcoming home in the White House of Donald Trump.