Protect and Serve

The Oath Keepers' extremism in the defense of liberty


Mother Jones says they represent "the Age of Treason." Bill O'Reilly believes they're "pretty extreme." When Rob Waters of the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote about the group, he called on the government to "ensure that the armed forces are not inadvertently training future domestic terrorists."

They're talking about the Oath Keepers, a coalition of current and former military, police, and other public officials. And what treasonous, terrorist tactic have these extremists adopted? They have pledged not to obey unconstitutional commands.

Search the group's founding document and the closest thing you will find to a call to violence is the statement that, should a dictatorship be imposed and a popular uprising break out, its members will not only refuse to fire on the dissenters but will "join them in fighting against those who dare attempt to enslave them." And even then the "fighting" needn't necessarily be armed. (They also say they aren't "advocating or promoting violence towards any organization, group or person.") Otherwise, the manifesto is a call to stand down, not to rise up. Not every Oath Keeper would appreciate the comparison, but the group has more in common with those dissidents of the '60s who refused to go to war than with any paramilitary cell.

If you wanted to find a theoretical discussion of Oath Keepers' plans, you wouldn't turn to a text on terrorism or guerrilla warfare. You would open the second book of Gene Sharp's three-volume classic on civil disobedience, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, and turn to the section headlined "Action by Government Personnel." In "an essentially nonviolent struggle," Sharp writes, "a mutiny may express itself entirely through the refusal to carry out usual functions of forcing the regime's will on the populace or waging war against a foreign enemy." In addition, "police or others may selectively refuse certain orders on a scale too limited to be described accurately as mutiny." The examples he offers range from the British occupation of India, where a regiment refused to fire on a peaceful protest, to the Nazi occupation of Norway, where policemen frequently flouted the Germans' orders.

In the current case, there are ten commands the Oath Keepers have forsworn. Those who join the group must refuse…

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