Exclusive: Oath Keepers founder hopes to rally liberals when Dems fall from power
PART 2 OF 2
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes is officially non-partisan, though you wouldn’t know it by the group’s strongly right-leaning image, cultivated through advocacy by conservative political pundits and frequent Oath Keepers appearances at tea parties around the country.
But if you ask him, he’ll say that it won’t always be this way. One day relatively soon, Democrats will once again become the minority. When that happens, Rhodes said he plans to “switch” Oath Keepers’ political image and begin focusing on Democrats and progressives freshly eager to rhetorically target Republicans and their inevitable abuses of power.
Call it the hybridization of anti-partisan politics, at least partially internalized within the police and military structures of America.
“If you want to put a label on me, call me libertarian,” Rhodes said in an exclusive interview with RAW STORY. “But really, what I am is a ‘Bill of Rights-ist’. I’m a hardcore — call me a Bill of Rights extremist if you want to. I want to defend all the Bill of Rights for every American, I don’t care who they are.”
The statement is not unique for Rhodes, who is remarkably better at staying “on message” than many of his group’s unofficial members. He doesn’t like to make statements about the Iraq war because, as he said, “half” of those involved in Oath Keepers still think it was a justified cause. Similarly, Rhodes would not answer any questions about his views on the 9/11 Commission Report, suggesting that many Oath Keepers find the issue similarly divisive.
Instead, he likes to focus on historical precedent to justify his list of 10 orders Oath Keepers believe police and soldiers should never obey. Precedent like President Lincoln’s dramatic expansion of executive power during the Civil War, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the echoing significance of April 19 in American history and other nefarious moments of gross government over-reach.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a frequent target of Rhodes’ ire, strongly takes issue with the group’s fear of concentration camps on U.S. soil, noting that suspicions on the subject stem from “a conspiracy theory that goes back decades and was especially prevalent during the militia movement of the 1990s.” They argue that rhetoric about the coming “new world order” and vague threats of a crisis in which Americans will be rounded up and exterminated merely serves to radicalize already unstable individuals, even to the point of encouraging them to commit acts of violence.
“Ultimately, belief in FEMA detention camps requires one to conclude that nobody has ever escaped from one and told their story,” the SPLC wrote. “It means believing that not one camp worker has breathed a word about his or her job. It requires assuming that not one of AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 100 senators or 435 congressmen knows of the camps or, if they do, none is alarmed enough to call for hearings. It means believing that not a single ambitious journalist connected to a national media outlet has delved into this dastardly plan.”
Asked if he actually believes FEMA is constructing hundreds of detention camps on U.S. soil, Rhodes came back with a hypothetical of his own, positing a nuclear detonation over Cincinnati during the Bush administration. “Do you think he wouldn’t have declared martial law?” Rhodes asked, citing America’s internment camps during World War II as all the “historical precedent” needed to prepare opposition to such a frightful scenario.
Going even further down the conspiracy well, Rhodes refused to directly answer a question about whether he views the 9/11 Commission Report as an accurate and valid accounting of the tragic events. Instead, he offered another piece of historical precedent, in the form of a question: “Have you read the Northwoods document?”
“Operation Northwoods” was a plan approved by all of President Kennedy’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, which would have seen a string of false-flag terrorist events orchestrated against Americans. Their ultimate goal was to blame Cuban terrorists, thereby generating a groundswell of public support for war.
“[Northwoods] included the possible assassination of Cuban ÃƒÂ©migrÃƒÂ©s, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities,” ABC News reported in May, 2001, when the document first came to light.
“The plans had the written approval of all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and were presented to President Kennedy’s defense secretary, Robert McNamara, in March 1962,” the network added.
The declassified 15-page document is often cited by followers of the so-called “9/11 Truth Movement”, who say it proves the U.S. military industrial complex is not afraid to plot against Americans if it serves their financial and political interests. The full plan is available online, courtesy of The National Security Archive.
Investigative reporter James Bamford, the first journalist to stumble across the document, called Northwoods possibly “the most corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government.”
“And it really almost happened,” Rhodes said.
A few short years later, in 1964, the United States invaded Vietnam claiming that American destroyers had been attacked by North Vietnamese gunboats in the Gulf of Tonkin. That cover story resulted in a war that killed over 50,000 American soldiers and millions of civilians in Vietnam and Cambodia. However, the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a fabrication and historians would later come to blame the U.S. media for failing to question the government’s national security proclamations as the reason Americans were plunged headlong into war.
An amazingly parallel set of circumstances also drove President Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003; a war which had yet to end some seven years later.
Anti-partisan forces aligning
Instead of wading into the popular opinion battles of the day in an effort to marshal support for single-issue causes, Rhodes seems to aim his advocacy at the stronghold of party loyalty. His stated goal for Oath Keepers tea party participation: “deprogram” the conservatives of the neoconservative “bullshit” many came to accept during the Bush years. Appearing to be a staunch Obama critic is one very fast way to engender affection among such a crowd, many of whom might flatly object to libertarian politics if presented on their face.
And when that well dries up, leaving progressives to once again march in the streets, “Then, we’ll just switch to probably talking to them,” Rhodes said.
Such a twist would certainly seem to be in the group’s interest, although it’s unclear how their many conservative members would react if Mr. Rhodes were frequently in the media damning a white Republican instead of a black Democrat.
However, one thing is certain: progressives share a great deal in common with Oath Keepers politics, even though many fail to realize it. Whereas one group demands police and soldiers not harm Americans, the other calls upon the same individuals to stop the killing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As Democrats are to Republicans in the American empire, progressive and conservative activists are just two sides of the same coin, with each sharing more actual commonality than division: a truth abundantly clear to a growing cross-section of U.S. voters.
But why no democratic activism today? Aren’t progressives upset with Obama as well? “I’ll talk to almost anybody, let’s put it that way,” he insisted. “If FreedomWorks was holding a convention and they wanted to invite me to come speak about the importance of the oath and following the Constitution, I’d probably go speak. That doesn’t mean I’m a lackey for Dick Armey.”
He said that were a liberal group to reach out with such an invitation, he’d speak with them as well. “But when they [have in the past], it’s someone like Alan Colmes who basically calls me a terrorist on the air,” Rhodes scoffed.
When one Web-savvy progressive operating under the moniker “Paleoliberal” dipped a toe into the Oath Keepers forum earlier this year to query members about their thoughts on the USA Patriot Act, a series terse responses was expected. Instead, much of the replies were completely in-line with the opinions shared by most of the GOP’s political opposition. Members called it “satanic,” a “port hole to hell” that must be closed and a “nightmare” that has sped the destruction of American civil liberties.
“Progressives are missing an incredible opportunity if we don’t marshall this opposition, now, while we have the chance to repeal this monstrosity,” Paleoliberal concluded, though many respondents adamantly objected to the suggestion that they align with such a group.
The USA Patriot Act, passed in the fearful days following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was extended for one more year at the end of November by President Obama, who made no allowance for additional privacy protections, even over the objections of congressional Democrats who sought to limit its broad spying permissions. The American Civil Liberties Union said the extension marked a stark reversal for President Obama, but in truth he has always supported the measure, albeit with some modification.
But, if he really were an anti-partisan activist, why would Rhodes repost material from right-wing birther conspiracy site World Net Daily? Or feature videos hyping events organized by the very same “old party hacks” he claims to so despise?
Because, the Yale-educated former Ron Paul organizer added, “conservatives who had been drinking the Kool-Aid during the Bush years, their minds have opened back up. They care about the constitution because they’re not in power. […] I have a chance to reach them.”
He sees the group’s focus on conservatives as the key to their anti-partisan crusade, but Republicans won’t give up their constituency so easily.
“The old party hacks have tried to steer [the tea parties] back to ‘just vote GOP,'” he said. “[…] It’s been a struggle, it’s been a struggle across the country among the local tea party groups. We go to a lot of them and I see this internal struggle to try to find their identity and autonomy. I’ve seen [Dick Armey’s] FreedomWorks and other organizations try to come in and take them over. And actually, they’ve been successful. It’s part of a battle. I’m not gonna give up the turf to them. I’m gonna take part in the fight.”
Just don’t tell them Rhodes once praised Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), the longest-serving federal representative in U.S. history.
Yet, Rhodes is still known to many on the left as a “right-wing extremist,” even though it was the the Bush years which truly catalyzed him.
“Republicans always seem to take the power, then Democrats use it,” he said. “They each ratchet it up in their own ways, then turn it over to the other side.”
“I look at [politics] as the people versus the power elites, because basically an oligarchy is now running our country,” Rhodes added. “It’s a weird marriage between Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, the Federal Reserve and their constituency in Washington.”
The only way to defeat it, according to the emerging anti-partisan philosophy, is to build bridges between opposing political movements and coalesce around a broader common cause.
“And this — this is just the beginning,” he concluded.
Perhaps the biggest remaining question is, will liberals accept the Oath Keepers after three to seven years of flexing right-wing rhetoric?
That remains to be seen.