There are several misconceptions about the Oath Keepers, an organization founded by Stewart Rhodes, who is a Yale-Law graduate, a disabled vet, and a former Ron Paul staff member. In its first conference, held in October 2009, Rhodes informed the attendees about the core mission of the Oath Keepers, which is to instruct and educate currently serving law enforcement and military officials, firefighters, and veterans, about the gravitas of their oath to defend the Constitution, and their duty to refuse illegal and inhumane orders such as detaining American citizens, conducting unlawful searches, confiscating people's property, and imposing police-state restrictions, as well as several other "Do Nots."
In his speech, Rhodes emphasized the fact that the list of ten orders that Oath Keepers will not obey, which are viewable here, is not the most important part of the organization. "Just keep your oath," Rhodes says, "and it's not to the ten orders we will not obey, that's a teaching tool, those are examples that we think, if you disagree, fine. Just be sincere in your defense. Know the constitution, and then have the personal integrity and honesty in dealing with each other and everybody else. It's your conduct that's going to matter." According to Rhodes, keeping your oath could mean the difference between life and death; freedom and slavery.
It remains to be seen if their deeds match their rhetoric, so far, it appears that they will. I am very glad that an organization like the Oath Keepers is around to remind law officials of their responsibility to protect the public's liberty and the law of the land. Increasing awareness about the potential for police-state measures in the days ahead and how We the People can be heard, is a better strategy to reclaim public liberty and defend the Constitution than staging gun fights in the woods, as some other, less trustworthy, organizations have in mind. Towards the end of his speech, Rhodes says of the Oath Keepers, "the bedrock is good will, its integrity, its honesty, and its civility. And we insist upon it." Let's hope so.
It is reasonable if you are unconvinced that the Oath Keepers are simply a high-minded, and heroic organization, whose only interest is to help defend the principles of liberty, the Constitution and the American people. I, too, am a skeptic. But I also believe in the goodness of Mankind, and from what I can tell, Rhodes and company don't seem like the gun-ho types. They tell a cautionary tale. And God bless them for stepping up, and raising the alarm, because this is not a time to sit still and pretend that the world will be alright if we just trust the authorities. Time and again, the authorities have let us down. We need men and women of character in the Police Academy and the Armed Forces, and not just in America, but all around the world, to remind the powers that be that the people are not the rebels, but the enforcers of law and order, and that freedom is not a word, but a treasure to be kept and enjoyed by all nations.
10 Reasons Why Progressives Should Support Oath Keepers
I've come up with 10 reasons why progressives, nay, all Americans, and men and women everywhere, should support the Oath Keepers, if not openly, then at least, quietly.
1. It is not a militia. In the article published in Mother Jones by Justine Sharrock called "Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason," Rhodes tells Sharrock that Oath Keepers is about refusing to use force against the American people, not using it against them. At the Oath Keepers site, it says "We are Not advocating or promoting the overthrow of any government whether local, state or national."
2. It defends the people's right to protest. One of their list of orders they will not obey is "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." Protest is essential in a healthy country, and any organization that seeks to strengthen that political resource which all people have should be looked at in good esteem.
3. Its founder, Stewart Rhodes, was a Bush critic. Unlike other recent critics of the US government, Rhodes is trans-partisan. He is not anti-Obama. He affirms that both the Republicans and Democrats have let the people down by not following the rule of law and keeping their oath when it has mattered most, in a time of war. At Yale Law School, he received Yale's Miller prize for best paper on the the Bill of Rights, for his paper "Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant Status," which criticized the Bush administration's policy of detention. He was also a former Ron Paul staff member, so he was on the libertarian bandwagon before Dr. Paul became mainstream, which shows that he has been ahead of the curve before, and makes him a patriotic trendsetter.
4. Its members are experienced military and law enforcement officials and veterans. The Oath Keepers are not a ragged bunch. Their members are men and women who have served their communities for many years with love and honor. They know something about sacrifice, and kinship. Plus, their long years of experience with people of every sort have given them an understanding of Mankind that other people can't say they possess. Also, their training as officers make them qualified to make the right judgments in particular situations. And perhaps the most important thing is that their service to law and order means that they are not rebels, as some mistakenly believe. It is not treason to defend the rule of law and public liberty, it is a police officer and a military official's responsibility. That's why putting on the uniform is such a high honor. If the police were just another gang on the block, which punished people for the benefit of the State and the country's oligarchy, then that means that we live by the law of the jungle, and not in a civilized society.
5. It reaffirms the importance of the rule of law, moral conscience, and the Constitution in the public square, which has been lost for many years. Society should be governed not just by the law, but by the individual's moral conscience, because when it isn't, you get detention camps, gas chambers, mob violence, looting, assassinations, wide-scale crime and murder. One of the lessons the Oath Keepers teach is what can take place when a society is not governed by law, when authorities lose respect for public morality and liberty, when people no longer trust their government due to government corruption and wide-scale fraud. As President Eisenhower said, "The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law."
6. It provides a check on police and military abuse. The Black people of America know full-well about the reality of police brutality. If police officers maintain their oath to protect public liberties, defend the law, and serve the people rather than punish them and strip them of all dignity, then respect for the police will grow and the level of arrests and prisoners will go down, thus serving the community all around. Another important point is that individuals with guns generally tend to abuse their privilege, whether they serve in militias or wear a government uniform. An example of military abuse that Rhodes brings up frequently in his interviews is the Kent State shootings in May 4, 1970, when four unarmed College students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard. Their deaths are still remembered because it reveals that a person is not in the right just because he has a uniform on. What puts you, and keeps you, in the right, is your dedication to honor, respect for human life, and protection of the law and the people's liberties.
7. Its oath is not to a man. This is a point that needs emphasizing. Oath Keepers are not led by Stewart Rhodes. And likewise, members of the military should not be led by a Commander in Chief. What should lead them is their moral conscience, and their inner instinct for goodness. In America, the oath taken by public officials, and military and police officers is the to Constitution, not to a unitary executive, or a King. It is a sacred oath because a man's word, and a nation's word, is everything. Thomas Paine wrote, "The oath of allegiance in America is to the nation only. The putting any individual as a figure for a nation is improper. The happiness of a nation is the superior object, and therefore the intention of an oath of allegiance ought not to be obscured by being figuratively taken, to, or in the name of, any person."
8. It does not endorse aggressive behavior, whether in the form of violent acts or heated rhetoric. At their site, it says, "We are Not advocating or promoting violence towards any organization, group or person. We are determined to Keep our Oath to support and defend the Constitution." And just recently, the group pulled out of an open-carry rally, set to take place on Monday, April 19 in Virgina, for fears that the event would be too confrontational. In their statement, the group said: "The mission of Oath Keepers is not to confront the government. Instead, our mission is to reach out to people within government – to police, military, firefighters and first responders – to teach them about their obligations under the oath they took to defend the Constitution, to increase their knowledge of the Constitution, and to inspire them to defend it by refusing to obey unconstitutional, unlawful orders. That’s it."
9. Its mission strengthens the prospects for peace, as well as civil society and public liberty. To quote President Eisenhower again, "Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace." People have a right to raise their voices against an unresponsive and despotic government, and pursue legal avenues for a redress of grievances. At present, the US government is engaged in two unpopular and criminal wars in the Middle East, it is in the process of institutionalizing an unpopular health care bill, which only benefits the insurance companies and the private health-care corporations, and it has went against popular consent by bailing out failed Wall St. banks who have created the economic crisis and are still perpetuating crisis, thus prolonging the suffering of their victims. If people do eventually attend protests, the chances that police and military will be on hand to suppress the people are very high, so it is a good thing that an organization is sticking out its neck and telling the government that such practices against the people will not be done by all law officials; that there will be police officers and military officials who will resist any illegal orders to restrict free speech and will join the people in their protests. In my mind, that showcase of bravery and courage will benefit society and perhaps even save the people's liberties.
10. It is not militaristic. Regular citizens are just as welcomed, in fact, their membership is encouraged. The dangers of military rule by the current despotic government are very real, but rule by militias is also a potential threat to the people's liberties, so we must be vigilant against all men with guns. Force is not a good thing. Civilians must remain the principal voices in any free country. I am glad that the Oath Keepers are watchful of both a centralized military dictatorship, as well as other lower orders of military rule. Members of the Oath Keepers are not about showing off their military prowess, instead, they emphasize the partnership between civil society and law enforcement and military officials. They promise that the Oath Keepers will be a measure against violence, not a practitioner of it. I remain hopeful that their non-violent tune will continue, but if they turn violent, I will not support them anymore, and nor should you.