Oath Keepers

Constitutional Refuseniks

Stewart Rhodes on his controversial group the Oath Keepers and the orders they won't obey.


When you run down the list of issues the Oath Keepers are worried about, it reads a lot like a bill of particulars from the American Civil Liberties Union. The Oath Keepers don't like warrantless searches. They're upset that the executive branch has claimed the power to classify American citizens as enemy combatants, detain them indefinitely, and try them before military tribunals. They worry that a large-scale terrorist attack similar to 9/11 could lead to the mass detention of Arabs or Muslims, just as Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. They worry about crackdowns on political speech, protest, and freedom of assembly. They are concerned about the Army 3rd Infantry's 1st Brigade Combat Team, a military unit that is training to deploy domestically in response to terrorist attacks or other national emergencies. And yet the group is a frequent target of the left.

Oath Keepers was founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate and a former staffer for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Rhodes, 44, considers himself a constitutionalist and a libertarian. His organization's mission: to persuade America's soldiers and cops to refuse to carry out orders that violate the Constitution. On its website, Oath Keepers lists 10 orders its members will always refuse, including commands to conduct warrantless searches, to disarm the public, blockade an American city, or do anything that infringes "on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances." According to Rhodes, the group has about 30,000 dues-paying members.

Unlike the ACLU, the Oath Keepers are staunch defenders of the Second Amendment. They worry about the forcible disarming of American citizens, as happened after Hurricane Katrina, and as they fear could happen again after another terrorist attack or major natural disaster. The Oath Keepers are also federalists, vowing to disobey orders that violate state sovereignty. Most of their members are conservative or libertarian. Some of them espouse conspiracy theories that doubt President Barack Obama's citizenship or blame the federal government for the September 11 attacks.

These latter positions have drawn suspicion and, at times, outright contempt from liberal groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which lumps Oath Keepers in with militias and hate groups. (The Oath Keepers also have been denounced by some prominent conservatives, including Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin.) Last year Mother Jones accused the organization of promoting treason.

Senior Editor Radley Balko spoke with Stewart Rhodes about these criticisms and more in January.

reason: What is the purpose of Oath Keepers?

Stewart Rhodes: The mission of Oath Keepers is to persuade the guys with the guns not to violate the Constitution. I look at it as constitutional triage. I worked for a congressman; I've worked with judges. And it seems clear to me that judges and politicians don't really care about our rights that the Constitution is supposed to protect. So I'm focusing on the guys with the guns, the ones who ultimately enforce the laws, on educating them about the Constitution. I think most of them are honorable people, but there's an ethos, especially in the officer corps in the military, that focuses on following orders. It's almost as if they're taking the oath to uphold the Constitution to mean that you should categorically defer to the president. Now I think civilian authority is important, but if the president asks the military to do something that isn't constitutional, their loyalty is to the Constitution, not the president. 

In the police context, some have the mistaken idea that you're always to enforce the law—leave it up to the politicians, lawyers, and judges to figure out what's right and what's wrong after the fact. That's not what the Founders intended, and that's not what the Constitution calls for. So the point of Oath Keepers is to remind the military and law enforcement that they are supposed to be thinking about the Constitution, and especially the Bill of Rights, and they need to be thinking about the lawfulness of the orders they're given. And they actually have a duty to refuse when it's unlawful or violates fundamental human rights. The military has learned this overseas, with the Nuremberg trials, with My Lai, with Abu Ghraib. And they get training in the laws of war, so they know when to refuse unlawful orders in the context of a foreign battlefield. 

But cops get very little training in the Bill of Rights. And when the military is used domestically—as we saw with Katrina, and as we're seeing more and more—they're also now butting up against the rights of American citizens. They need to know what those rights are, and how they can be sure they don't violate them. They're not getting that training either. And I find that disturbing. 

reason: Oath Keepers has been described as a militia group, a hate group, even as an organization that promotes treason. Do you advocate violence or overthrow of the government? 

Rhodes: Absolutely not.

reason: Is there any scenario under which you would encourage your members to respond to a government policy with violence? 

Rhodes: No. That's the strange thing about the criticism we get. The entire point of Oath Keepers is to advocate nonviolence. We're telling police and soldiers that if they're asked to do something unconstitutional, or asked to violate the rights of Americans, that they should put down their guns. We just saw this with the Tunisian military, by the way, when it refused orders to fire on protesters. 

reason: One example you've given is the government's disarming of New Orleans residents after Katrina. So your advice to those officers would not have been to forcibly oppose the disarmament but to simply refuse to participate in it? 

Rhodes: That's correct. In fact, that happened during Katrina. There was a sergeant in the National Guard from Utah, Joshua May, who was deployed to Louisiana after Katrina. His unit was initially deployed in a rural area and got along fine with the residents there. But he was then deployed to New Orleans, and he had heard about the gun confiscations. And so Sgt. May, on behalf of his entire unit, did a pre-emptive refusal. He sought out his commander and he told him, "If you give us orders to confiscate guns, we will refuse to enforce them." This was at least half the company. This went up the chain of command, and when it came back, they were told not to worry, that they wouldn't be asked to do that. Basically, Big Army blinked. There were no courts martial. No one was shot at dawn. 

reason: That sort of scenario seems less plausible in a police department. 

Rhodes: Not necessarily. A good example is our vice president, Dave Freeman. He was a Las Vegas Metro police officer for over 30 years. And as a rookie, right out of the gate, he was doing a patrol with a senior sergeant, and there were three black men on the main strip, two of them trying to prop up a drunk buddy. And it was clear they were just trying to get him home. A commander showed up on the scene and told his officers to arrest them for the noncrime of what was then crudely called "nigger on the strip." Freeman as a rookie turned to the sergeant and said, "I'm not going to do that." And they let them go. Now the commander called him later and yelled at him. But he wasn't disciplined or fired. And in fact they never asked him to make an arrest like that again. 

reason: OK, that was a single incident from 40 years ago. But cops today who report other officers for violating a citizen's rights generally don't fare very well. The Blue Wall of Silence is pretty tight. Do you see Oath Keepers at some point providing legal aid to police officers who may suffer professional repercussions for doing the right thing? 

Rhodes: Yes. We've already set up a legal defense team for that. We set it up after the case a few months ago where a newborn child was taken from its parents at the hospital by child protective services because the father was a member of our organization, which they wrongly called a militia. 

reason: Wasn't there also a history of abuse in that case?

Rhodes: It turns out it was a case of mistaken identity. They were attributing to the father abuse that had been committed by someone else. In the end, all the charges were dropped, and the child was returned to the parents. But we got involved because the father's membership in our organization was actually listed on the affidavit as one of the factors for taking the child away. If there were a history of abuse, the abuse should be the reason the parents lose custody. Membership in a political organization can never be a reason to take someone's children away. I don't care if it's Oath Keepers, the ACLU, the NRA, or anyone else. 

But to answer your question, yes, we'd do the same for a police officer. We actually have a state police officer—he's our state chapter president in Pennsylvania—who refused an order to arrest some protesters on a college campus. They told him to arrest them, and he refused. So they suspended him and sent him home. He has already won in court on the order. He was right that it was an unlawful order, so he has saved his career. So he's now fighting the suspension in civil court. 

It doesn't always turn out well. But when you take an oath you're not saying, "I'll abide by this oath only if it turns out well for me." You're saying that the oath is important enough that you'll abide by it no matter how things turn out. 

reason: You once worked for Rep. Ron Paul. Do you agree with him that the federal drug war is unconstitutional? 

Rhodes: Yes. 

reason: So are Oath Keepers encouraged to refuse to enforce federal drug laws? 

Rhodes: We try to focus on the sorts of issues that could fundamentally alter our constitutional system. So we're focused right now on the big picture stuff, the sorts of orders that could lead to the imposition of martial law, for example. So that's what our "Ten Orders We Will Not Obey" mostly address. But if a member asks, I'll tell them point blank that the drug war is unconstitutional. Under the concept of enumerated powers, most criminal law should be left to the states. 

reason: Oath Keepers seems to be primarily focused on the federal government. But state and local governments are certainly capable of violating the Constitution. Do you think the 14th Amendment allows the federal government to intervene if, say, a local sheriff is violating the rights of the residents of his county? 

Rhodes: I don't think it allows it; I think it compels it. But that's not incompatible with the idea that the states should be left alone to make and enforce their own criminal laws. They should be free to do that. But if a state or local government isn't respecting the Bill of Rights, then yes, the federal government should intervene and investigate. Take Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona. I think he's a terrible sheriff. And I think it's really unfortunate that he's held up as some kind of a hero in parts of the freedom community. He's a constitutional disaster, a Bill of Rights disaster. So yes, in that case, you have a sheriff who's violating due process and who's violating the Eighth Amendment. There's definitely a role for the federal government to come in and say no. 

But as long as they're respecting the Bill of Rights, it should be up to the people of each state, or each county, to determine what's legal and what isn't. Look at medical marijuana. It was just wrong of the Bush administration to say, "We don't care what the people of California want; we're going to step in and arrest this cancer patient, Angel Raich, under the Commerce Clause because she's violating federal law." That was terrible. We had made so much progress since the Lopez decision [the 1995 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the Gun-Free School Zones Act] in turning back some of the Commerce Clause insanity, and all of a sudden this takes us right back to Wickard [the 1942 decision that upheld federal crop quotas]. If Congress can regulate medical marijuana, it can regulate just about anything. But because it was a drug case, all the Republicans cheered the ruling, and you had Antonin Scalia going along with the liberals on the Court, and the result is an absurdly expansive interpretation of the Commerce Clause. 

reason: So you favor federal intervention to prevent civil rights abuses; you strongly criticize Joe Arpaio; you oppose military tribunals, indefinite detention, and warrantless searches; you're anti-war.…

Rhodes: Well, I'm opposed to unconstitutional wars. However, Oath Keepers stays neutral on Iraq or Afghanistan, although I think any soldier who chooses not to deploy on constitutional grounds should be allowed to make his case. It's not that the wars aren't important, but we want to reach as many active-duty troops as possible, so they don't violate our rights here at home. That's our priority. 

reason: But these are all positions you share with the left. Why do you think you've been characterized as far right wing? Is it the support for gun rights? Your membership does seem to be quite a bit more conservative than you are. It seems like many of them would disagree with you about Arpaio, for example. Is it just the timing of when you started Oath Keepers? 

Rhodes: To be honest, I don't think it would make a difference what I did or said. The attack from the leftist media and leftist groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center—I mean right out of the gate, before we had really even done anything, they tried to associate us with racists. I'm a quarter Mexican. I'm part Apache Indian. I'm hardly a poster child for white supremacy. I'd probably be killed if this country were run by white supremacists.

reason: I think I read on one critical site that you're also part Jewish. 

Rhodes: No, I'm not Jewish. But that's funny too. Because we don't tolerate anti-Semitism, there are some neo-Nazis who are certain that must mean I'm Jewish. You know, clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. 

But this is the problem. The critics don't actually challenge or criticize me for what I do or say. They criticize me for what they want me to have done or said. So they can criticize me. When I did that interview with Chris Matthews of MSNBC, he asked, "So how many men do you have ready to fight the government?" I said, "What are you talking about? We don't want to fight the government." He said, "Well, aren't your members armed?" 

Well, yeah. They're cops and soldiers. That's the whole point. We're trying to make sure that the guys with the guns know that they can't follow orders that tell them to use those guns the wrong way. I mean, to say our members have guns is such a disingenuous way to scare people about what we're actually trying to do.

In that Mother Jones article, the reporter, Justine Sharrock, could have spoken with anyone who held a leadership position in our organization. We could have set her up with someone who is typical of our membership. Instead, she finds this private, the scariest guy she could find, this guy who talks about using violence against his fellow soldiers, and who poses for her with his gun, even though we explicitly denounce violence as an organization. It was just irresponsible. But you know, we're trying to prevent the government from doing the things the Constitution prevents it from doing. And right now the Democrats are in control of the government. So I guess the liberal groups see us as an enemy. 

reason: There's one criticism of your group that's similar to those directed at the Tea Parties. You've said that Bush was just as hostile to the Constitution as Obama has been, indeed that most of the worst executive power grabs began under Bush. So why did Oath Keepers spring up only after Obama took office?

Rhodes: I just hadn't gotten the idea yet. I got the idea during the 2008 election campaign. I worked for Ron Paul during the primary, and when it became clear that he wasn't going to get the nomination, I started to think about what I wanted to do next. And that's when the idea came to me that I wanted to do something involving the military and the police. And that was no matter who became president. At the time we didn't know if it would be McCain, Obama, or Hillary Clinton. 

But it's true. All of this began or really started to get worse under Bush. That's when you had this wave of unconstitutional federal power. In particular, I was worried about this claim that the president could detain American citizens as unlawful enemy combatants. A president who would make that claim assumes powers that could be used in so many other ways too. I wrote a paper on that issue while I was at Yale Law School, during the Bush administration, which actually won the Yale Prize for best paper on the Bill of Rights. I was an outspoken critic of Bush then. I had a blog at the time that was very critical of Bush and his assumption of unconstitutional powers. I called the neocons in the Bush administration "national security New Dealers." They expanded the power of the federal government at least as much as the New Deal did, but they did it through the lens of national security. The warrantless spying was unconstitutional. The detention of José Padilla was unconstitutional. The detentions without trial were unconstitutional. Most of the new powers Bush claimed were unconstitutional. 

But now you have Obama, who has not only not renounced those powers but has expanded them. He also now claims the power to assassinate American citizens his administration deems enemy combatants with no oversight. That's just frightening. 

At this point I do really wish I had started Oath Keepers during the Bush administration. It would have been a good test. My guess is that I'd have started with a lot of liberals joining up, and you'd have seen conservatives and neocons howling that I'm a traitor. I think it's just human nature and the cycle of politics. When the left is in power, they forget about the Constitution because it limits what they can do. So they characterize people who stand by the Constitution as reactionary or dangerous. But when they were out of power, they were citing the Constitution all of the time. They were quoting Ben Franklin about sacrificing liberty for security. 

And it's the same for the right. The Republicans clamoring for the Constitution now had no respect for it when Bush was in power. They thought he could do no wrong. 

reason: Do you have any leftists or left-libertarians in your membership? 

Rhodes: We have some, but they're few and far between right now. I wish we had more. And I suspect that when we get a Republican president again, we'll get more members who identify with the left. I do think more and more people are understanding that neither party has any fidelity to the Constitution, and you are starting to see some honest liberals and some honest conservatives who are more willing to criticize their own side while in power. I think you saw a lot of that in the Ron Paul campaign, where he ran on a platform that was very critical of his own party's president. On the left, you're seeing it now with people like Glenn Greenwald. I hope there's more of that. 

reason: You've also been accused of associating with people who spread paranoia or conspiracy theories. So let me ask you straight up: Do you think President Obama was born in the United States? 

Rhodes: Oath Keepers doesn't get into all of that. I know some of our members think he isn't eligible to be president. Others think that's nonsense. I guess if he weren't constitutionally eligible you could have some chain-of-command problems. But for me that's all really beside the point. I care about how the structure of the federal government makes abuse possible. If Obama weren't in office, it would be someone else who had the potential to commit the same abuses. 

reason: What about the September 11 attacks? Do you think the government played any role in or had advance knowledge of the attacks? 

Rhodes: Again, that's just something we just stay out of. We have members who believe that, or at least believe there should be an investigation. And we have members who think those members are crazy. We certainly don't promote the idea. But from my standpoint, it's just not a topic that's relevant to what we're trying to do, so there's no point in taking a position. 

reason: Do you personally believe in either theory? 

Rhodes: Well, I'm talking to you as the head of the organization, and the organization doesn't take a position on either of those issues. So I don't think my personal views are relevant. It just doesn't make sense to take positions on issues that may alienate some of our members and that aren't relevant to our goal, which is educating police officers and soldiers on the importance of not following unconstitutional orders. 

reason: Let's talk about a conspiracy theory often batted around on the right that's more aligned with your mission. Do you think the Obama administration is secretly planning to set up detention camps through the Federal Emergency Management Agency? 

Rhodes: Well, something like that has already happened. Look at the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. That was done very quickly. All they had to do was string some wire up around old military barracks. So do I think there are detailed plans sitting in an office somewhere? I don't know, but that really doesn't matter. I'm concerned about the structures in place that could enable it to happen. So what I am concerned about is the creation of NORTHCOM, which for the first time in our history is a standing military command for the deployment of standing military troops domestically. That's very dangerous.

And there is reason to worry about FEMA. From its start in the Reagan administration, FEMA was never just about emergency relief. It was about continuity of government, about governing during a disaster. The structures put in place by people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Oliver North during the Reagan administration, they contemplate the executive branch taking over all three branches of government during an emergency. I think that's very dangerous. And we saw later the limitless power Cheney thought the executive should have to fight terrorism. FEMA has always been part of that. And you have things like Garden Plot, which are actual plans to impose martial law in the event of a civil disturbance. 

And remember that during the Bush years we saw prominent conservatives such as Michelle Malkin openly defend the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II as being necessary—as though that would make it constitutional—with an eye toward doing the same thing with Muslim Americans. Malkin even wrote a book called In Defense of Internment.

So it isn't really about whether President Obama has specific plans for that sort of thing. It's about questioning the constitutionality of the structures in place that could allow it to happen, no matter who is president. And for us, it's about making sure soldiers and police know that if they're ever ordered to carry out something like the Japanese internment camps again, their duty is not to follow orders but to respect the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens. 

reason: Is there any scenario under which you think the government would be justified in quarantining or involuntarily detaining American citizens? For example, what if there were a smallpox attack in a major urban area? 

Rhodes: I think it would be up to the state. Article 4, Section 4 of the Constitution, for example, allows for the marshaling of federal resources to help states quell an insurrection, but only at the invitation of the state's governor. So that's why this is one of our 10 rules. Our members who are in the military won't follow orders to enter a state without approval from that state's legislature or governor. So if there were an attack, and the state governor asked for federal assets to come in to help set up a quarantine, that would at least be constitutional. I think I'd still have problems with it. I just don't like the idea of blockading cities, under any circumstances. 

We saw some of that during Katrina, where you had troops and police officers who were preventing people from leaving the city. And that wasn't even a quarantine. Remember that? You had Shepard Smith of Fox telling the world, "They won't let these people cross. They won't let them go from there to here." Why was that? What possible reason could there have been for police officers and National Guard troops to not let people escape a flooding city? Were they afraid of what would happen if black people got out of New Orleans? That should never have happened. 

reason: On the Danziger Bridge, they shot the people who tried to get out. 

Rhodes: That's right. I don't want that to ever happen again. So I'd really prefer the default position in the mind of a soldier or police officer to be that you simply don't block people from leaving or moving freely. In limited circumstances, like a smallpox attack, then maybe you reconsider. But the starting point should always be to let people move freely. 

reason: What do you make of what we've seen in Tunisia and Egypt? 

Rhodes: I like it. What happened in Tunisia is an excellent example of the military doing the right thing. When Ben Ali ordered the senior military general to shoot the protesters, he refused, and the Tunisian military simply stood down and got out of the way. And without the military, the secret police were overwhelmed by the people, and the dictator was done. He fled for his life. Note that the Tunisian military did not remove the dictator in a coup, which would just lead to another dictator. But instead, they simply stood down and let the people of the nation decide their own fate. That was precisely the right thing to do, and I hope the military in Egypt does likewise. A military coup is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire, so we don't want to see that. But we do want to see the military refuse to be tools of oppression. When the military withdraws its support, a dictator is powerless, just as happened in Romania when Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989. Mubarak is a dictator, and there is never any excuse for propping up dictators. He needs to go, and he will, so long as the Egyptian military does the right thing. 

reason: The scenarios Oath Keepers are most worried about seem like those that are least likely to happen. If you're worried about constitutional rights, wouldn't you do more good to educate police officers about Bill of Rights violations like stop-and-frisk searches, SWAT raids for consensual drug crimes, civil asset forfeiture, and other ongoing, everyday abuses? 

Rhodes: You have to start somewhere. Certainly the long-term militarization of the police, which I know you've covered, is a disturbing problem. And I think the drug war in general has been destructive of freedom in America. One thing to remember is that the 10 orders Oath Keepers won't follow isn't a comprehensive list. There are countless possible unlawful orders I'd hope our members wouldn't follow. But when I was thinking about starting Oath Keepers, I tried to think of what sorts of policies the Bush administration could implement that would do long-term, irreversible damage to the Constitution, and what orders officials would have to give to the military to implement them. So I think when we're talking about where to start, you start with the most potentially damaging policies, things like internment camps, martial law, detaining American citizens without a trial.

It's part strategy too. These are also the issues where I think it's easiest to build a consensus. So we should start there. But the bigger idea is to get police and soldiers to at least start thinking about the Constitution, and that their first loyalty is to the Constitution and the rights of American citizens. Their first loyalty shouldn't be to their commanding officer. It isn't really about me coming down from the mountain with tablets inscribed with what orders you should and shouldn't obey. But there some core principles, things that should never happen, and things that the government should know we will never allow to happen. 

NEXT: John McCain: Corporate Welfare for Desert Ice Hockey, Si; Goldwater Institute, No

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  1. a lot of respect for these guys. good article, showing how the press reporting on them is so skewed

    1. Agreed, totally.

    2. I think they’re terrorists!

      (that’s sarcasm)

      1. Fuck you dunphy you dog-shooting fascist cop cunt. I hope you die of cancer.


        Please drop the pretentious ee cummings non-capitalization.

        (not sarcasm)

        1. there is actually a story behind this. i had to type for a while with one hand (line of duty knife wound), so i couldn’t capitalize. it kind of stuck with me, no pun intended

        2. I’ll be damned an ee cummings fan?
          But he is not the one who started with the lower case name thing. The press started it…because of his written style.

          My favorite “in-just”

    3. Please, Pretty please, repost this when you get to HuffPo.

      1. Wait, fucking what? The HuffPo?

        (search search…)

        Shit! Goddamn it Radley. (But congrats).

      2. You ain’t shittin’.

        So long as Radley doesn’t succumb to his new leftist masters at HuffPo, he could very possibly be the trojan horse we need in order to bring some to libertarianism.

        In my experience, it isn’t lust for state power that attracts your average Team Blue voter, but their HATRED of the religious, moral majority bullshit from Team Red.

        Radley can be the guy to bring those fuckers back.

  2. In the police context, some have the mistaken idea that you’re always to enforce the law?leave it up to the politicians, lawyers, and judges to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong after the fact.

    I’m not sure how that’s a “mistaken” idea when pretty clearly the duty of a police officer is to enfore the law, not to determine whether or not a said law is consitituional. We really can’t expect every beat cop to be a Constitutional scholar.

    1. Do you know who else just followed orders?

      1. The waitress at the local diner?

        1. Certainly not my dog. However, she’ll at least consider suggestions if they come with a snack.

          1. Poor thing probably has skid marks too

      2. godwin’s law

        1. Golf clap for Edwin!

          1. Edwin deserves the clap.

        2. Why the hell are people ruining the joke today?

    2. no, but we can expect cops to have a basic knowledge of the constitution, just like EVERYBODY should have. i carry a copy of it with me in my cruiser. just for reference 🙂

      there is arguable stuff, and there is inarguable stuff – like the disarming of citizens ex post Katrina. that was simply unconstitutional

    3. Just because you put on a badge doesn’t relieve you of moral responsibility.

      1. quite the opposite. it means you have a higher moral responsibility

        1. dunphy, you’re on a roll! “Higher moral responsibility” – quite so.

          Just like HR people in my company are expected to exhibit MORE integrity than the average employee due to their access to privileged and personal information. Cops and military personnal have an EXTRA burden to understand the law and their limits within it.

          1. one of the easiest ways to do this is to use the power of NOT arresting. iow, if you have ANY question whatsoever… don’t arrest. there are very few situations where arrest is legally mandated (mostly certain domestic violence offenses). writing a report violates nobody’s rights. a prosecutor can cite from a report vs. a custodial arrest, but only the former is a constitutional issue.

            1. hmm didn’t know that before, great point! Glad to see cops standing up for what’s right

              1. Glad to see cops one lone cop standing up for what’s right.


                1. i think plenty, nay… most do. they don’t make the pages of reason, though. radley isn’t going to write an article on the metric assloads of cops who do something right. his articles are about the ones who don’t.

          2. Cops and military personnal have an EXTRA burden to understand the law and their limits within it.

            That’s why when I was in the Army I gave all the soldiers in my squad pocket copies of the Constitution, and would stress that our oath was to uphold the Constitution first, then to obey the President and officers. During Sergeants’ Time I would usually try to work in a few minutes to go over any questions regarding lawful vs. unlawful orders.

        2. I seem to recall you spending hours explaining why you had no moral responsibility a week ago, mister dunphy.

          I welcome this change.

          1. no, i said i had no moral duty not to enforce STATE drug laws. here’s a hint… they are neither illegal nor unconstitutional. nobody, including the oath keepers or balko claims they are.

            i have never enforced a federal drug law. EVER

            note the distinction


            not also the consistency

            1. I don’t really see how constitutional and moral are equivalent. Enforcing laws that primarily help prisons and police departments while hurting millions of citizens seems pretty immoral to me.

              1. and as i said, enforcing drug laws is a TINY part of my job. i enforce the laws I have to and then get back to doing real police work.

                i don’t believe i have a duty, moral or otherwise to refuse to enforce any drug laws.

                state drug laws are illegal, but they are imo bad policy. there are many other laws i also think are bad policy.

                i don’t believe i am the “decider” that gets to decide that i can ignore enforcement of all laws i disagree with.

                i don’t think violating the seperation of powers is a moral duty

                1. should be “state drug laws are NOT illegal but they are imo bad policy”

    4. If a cop can’t understand the plain meaning behind the Constitution, then he is probably too dim to do anything but pick up cans on the side of the road.

      1. Constitutions are hard!

    5. “We really can’t expect every beat cop to be a Constitutional scholar.”

      Yes we can, it’s not that long of a document.

      1. Constitutional scholar is a red herring. No one really expects cops to be scholars, a basic understanding of the Constitution isn’t too much to ask.

        1. In a world where “interstate commerce” includes non-commercial intrastate actions, words have no meaning.

          1. Raich pretty much determined that interstate commerce = anything…

            1. Wickard v. Filburn determined it long before Raich. When producing something and consuming it on your own farm is “interstate commerce”, anything is.

              The only real limit on Congress’ power today is self-imposed. The 9th and 10th Amendments were defanged by the 16th and 17th.

              1. raich was even lamer than wickard. in wickard, the object of production at least was USED in interstate commerce. in raich, the object (mj) isn’t even legally used in interstate commerce (since it’s federal C-I), so it’s even lamer

    6. So, cops do not swear to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic?

    7. Actually the Constitution is far shorter than any most municipal codes, much less state or federal. It’s really easy to look at the Constitution and determine if a law is Constitutional or not.

      Moreover everyone in the military has sworn an oath to protect the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey all lawful orders. They not only have an obligation to be a ‘Constitutional scholar’ they swore to that effect.

      1. it’s not QUITE that simple, in that the constitution is written such that even intelligent people , well meaning people, with good legal background can come to different conclusions.

        certainly a term like “Unreasonable search and seizure” has much more grey, than a penal code like larceny where it’s pretty easy (in most cases) to determine what is and isn’t larceny. in the latter case, the cop will usually refer the person to civil court, iow it may not meet criminal standards, but it’s still actionable civilly.

        also note that every cop who works in a state (vs. the feds) is subject also to their state constitutions’ restrictions, which can be much more restrictive, but not less so.

        for example, my state recognizes a “right to privacy” thus i am more restricted in my search and seizure latitude than a federal officer would be.

        1. Well I didn’t say simpler I said shorter🙂

          Still in many cases state and municipal codes are pretty obtuse.

          The point remains, even a beat cop is at least morally obligated to at least question when he’s asked to do something that seems to conflict with the Constitution and we’re better off for every one that does.

    8. “I’m not sure how that’s a “mistaken” idea when pretty clearly the duty of a police officer is to enfore the law, not to determine whether or not a said law is consitituional. We really can’t expect every beat cop to be a Constitutional scholar.”

      While it is the job of a police officer to enforce the laws of this nation, it is still important for the individual police officers to know the constitution, otherwise it becomes just that much easier for a cop to violate our basic rights…and if you consider it hard to know and understand The Bill of Rights and the rest of the Amendments of our constitution, then you probably have never read them. The first ten really aren’t that hard to understand

  3. I’ve never understood rejection of gun laws by liberals. “Liberalization” of gun laws means more open access to firearms.

    Same with conservatives on environmental issues: conservation of the environment (I know of a few prominent conservatives who believe in the latter).

    Back to the article: I’m with these guys for the most part — though I do get the feeling that the impetus for it was because we elected a black prez.

      1. I know it’s simply terminology that plays into it but I do think both sides show major inconsistency in their philosophies.

        After going to the Oath Keepers site, I’m upgrading my support from “the most part” to “fully” in agreement.

    1. “because we elected a black prez”
      pretty much summed it up

      1. I’m with these guys for the most part — though I do get the feeling that the impetus for it was because we elected a black prez.

        Why don’t you read the fucking article because this bullshit is specifically addressed.

        1. I read it, man, —relax.

    2. Liberals are bullies who use government to push people around.

      Of course they don’t want open access to firearms.

      That’s like a bully arming his victim.

      1. You’d probably consider me a liberal in that I disagree significantly with almost every stated “compassionate” (HA) or “social” conservative principle. I also deplore the Reagan gun ban and the GCAs and the NFA. (At least Clinton’s had an expiration date, no?). Indeed, I own several rifles that I would prefer to have in select fire but am not really able to obtain due to a law that Reagan signed.

        I’m pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, anti-aggressive war, and pro-gun. Of course, the way I see it, the conservatives are the one that want to regulate what you can put in your bodies: drugs, alcohol, other people’s sex parts. Of course, nearly 100% of the debt would have been avoided if we merely had three fewer Republican presidents. I suppose if you dropped me in 1905 I’d be Republican, because Teddy Roosevelt sounds like the exact opposite of today’s Republican.

        1. sorry, but the legislative history is that dems are at least as bad as the repubs when it comes to the war on drugs, and when it comes to other shit like food, etc. they are worse (transfat bans, happy meal bans, smoking bans, etc.)

          fuck, in my state the leftwing nannies have made online poker a C felony!

          i will grant you that the right is generally worse on the sex thing although SOME far leftists are worse when it comes to pr0n etc. e.g the mackinnon faction

          1. Political tags such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, conservative, and so forth are never basic criteria.
            The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism.
            But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.

            R.A. Heinlein

          2. Left-wingers made online poker a felony in your state? Odd, it’s clearly an issue for interstate commerce, where right-winger Jon Kyl of Arizona has been the leader in banning it.

    3. “I do get the feeling that the impetus for it was because we elected a black prez.”

      Where did all the war protesters go?

      Is it because we have a black prez?

      When the war protesters magically reappear after a white Republican is elected, will it be because of skin color?

      There was a rise in militias during Clinton’s term that faded somewhat during Bush’s term.

      Was that because of skin color?

      Gimme a break.

      1. You’ve never had a conversation with anyone regarding the Black Prez?

        (All paraphrased):
        “He’ll take away rights from Whites and ignore Black criminals”

        “Street gangs will be emboldened now”

        “Hip-hop culture…” blah-blah.

        The war protesters have a Dem in charge, that’s why they ain’t a-protestin’.

        PR advice to the Oath-Keepers: drop “-Keepers” from the name and get rid of the ‘thug-life’ lettering.

        1. “You’ve never had a conversation with anyone regarding the Black Prez?”

          Not like that. I’ve never heard those things except when someone like Olberf?hrer or Maddcow is setting up a straw man to be knocked down.

          “The war protesters have a Dem in charge, that’s why they ain’t a-protestin’.”

          And the wars are still going on plus one.

          Therefor they are not war protesters.

          They’re idiots.

        2. All ‘paraphrased’ because they didn’t happen.

    4. “though I do get the feeling that the impetus for it was because we elected a black prez.”

      What is it that gives you this feeling? I am curious.

      1. Rhodes seemed to be a bit wishy-washy on certain questions.

        The timing of the group is a bit suspicious, though he seemed to explain it honestly.

        1. Even if it formed under Bush, the rolls rapidly expanded on Obama’s watch, or so the devils advocates would argue.

        2. That’s when I became interested in libertarianism. I’d been voting Republican for a long time. As the Bush administration became more psychotically dysfunctional, and his fellow republicans more complicit, it provided the necessary contrast for me to better see the republican party for what it is.

          Sorry I was late to the party, but I brought chips!

    5. .. though I do get the feeling that the impetus for it was because we elected a black prez.

      You’re projecting again.

    6. The essential flaw in part B of your argument is that you’re conflating conservation with environmentalism. One is NOT the other.

      1. damn good point. many leftie environmentalists for example HATE hunters. hunters, as a rule, tend to be conservationists and have done a lot to help protect wildlife

  4. Radley, EXCELLENT article that helped me learn a lot more about the Oath Keepers than I knew before reading it. Good questions and followup.

    Thanks as always for what you do (and for NOT throwing in a gratuitous nut punch).

  5. Obviously, if a cop was ordered to open fire on a peaceful crowd or something drastic like that he would have a moral obligation to refuse but a lot of Constitutional issues are not so black-and-white.

    I’m just saying, for pragmatic reasons if you’re going to have a police force they’re going to have to follow orders. If the orders are illegal, then punish the person who issued them, not the ones who carried them out.

    1. The students at Kent State would like to have a word with you…

      1. Kent State students were shot by Ohio National Guard, not the police

        1. yup. neil young turned in his Friends of the Ohio National Guard” (FONG) membership card the next day

    2. in 20+ yrs of police work, i’ve never been issued a unconstitutional order. it’s certainly going to be rare. but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. if it’s clearly unconstitutional – disobey it. period. it’s that simple

      1. So, you have never arrested another for possession of marijuana? How about possession with the intent to distribute the same?

        Have you ever arrested any person for engaging in any consensual drug / sex related activity?

        Have you ever participated in a SWAT raid where the objective was to search a home for drugs or weapons or just to serve a warrant?

        The constitution does not authorize any of the above.

        1. “The constitution does not authorize any of the above.”

          The constitution doesn’t authorize the feds to do any of the above, you mean.

          1. correct. i spend less than 2% of my time enforcing ANY drug laws, but when i do they are state laws.

            often, they are very bad policy , but they are not unconstitutional or illegal.

            i am not mandated to make misdemeanor mj cases, and many beat cops routinely ignore misdemeanor MJ cases.

            felony cases, i have little discretion. i disagree with many of those laws, but i am duty bound to enforce them.

            they are NOT illegal or unconstitutional. they are bad policy, like many otehr laws

            1. No, any state law prohibiting the use and sale of drugs is unconstitutional as well.

              For example, there is no language in the original Massachusetts constitution which gave the legislature the power to proscribe any drugs.

              In fact, none of the original constitutions gave the state in question the power to proscribe maryjane.

              Moreover, as robc points out, the ninth amendment prohibits states from proscribing the use and sale of drugs.

              1. Not true. It depends completely on the State Constitution. I’m not familiar with the Mass Constitution so you may be right in that case.

                9A doesn’t override State Law and 10A makes that quite explicit.

                That said, I think drug laws are a horrible idea. But State drug laws legitimacy are completely dependent on the Constitution of the State in question.

              2. that is, to put it mildly, a very debatable point – and that’s giving your argument a lot of credit.

                not to make an argument from authoritah (well kind of…) but you are hard pressed to find any respected legal scholar who claims that states cannot criminalize possession of various and sundry drugs w.in their borders.

                regardless, that’s a bunny trail i am not hopping down.

        2. Sorry, Mike, but state laws prohibiting drugs are generally considered constitutional. Sadly, the federal and, as far as I know, state constitutions do not prohibit bad or stupid laws from being passed and enforced. If he was enforcing federal drug laws, you would have a point.

          1. Amendment 9.

            1. In combination with 14, of course.

              1. Doesn’t fly. State laws validly enacted is ‘due process’ unless it conflicts with an enumerated right.

                Believe me, I would love your construction if the Feds obeyed the Constitution. But the logical result of your construction we be the complete denial of all state authority. I don’t think you want that.

                If all powers not given to the Feds were, by virtue of 9A
                + 14A, given to the people solely, then States go poof; there is no more legitimate State authority whatsoever which puts us in a worse situation as a practical matter. As a legal matter the first century of jurisprudence made fairly clear this was not the intent.

                1. this is a pretty darn good analysis. in brief, the states have the same authoritah to criminalize drugs as they do to criminalize murder (the latter being an authoritah few would argue with).

                  note there is no federal law against murder, and the US, as a democratic republic (theoretically) places far more limits on FEDERAL power to criminalize behaviors that don’t have a specific federal nexus.

                  bank robbery, for instance is a federal crime because they are federally insured, etc. but garden variety robbery is not

                  of course, commerce clause chicanery (see: raich) has twisted this concept, but it’s still the way it’s SUPPOSED to be

                  states have relatively broad latitude to criminalize anything , as long as the law does not infringe on rights recognized under the state and federal constitution

    3. Wait, so we can expect 17 year old buck privates in the US Army to recognize and refuse unlawful orders, but we can’t expect the same from cops? I’m sorry, but do you realize how retarded that sounds?

    4. Re: Meta_Man,

      Obviously, if a cop was ordered to open fire on a peaceful crowd or something drastic like that he would have a moral obligation to refuse but a lot of Constitutional issues are not so black-and-white.

      The language in the Constitution is not particularly ambiguous. What exactly are you referring to?

      I’m just saying, for pragmatic reasons if you’re going to have a police force they’re going to have to follow orders.

      Well, then the answer is not to have them, if by “orders” you mean “whatever the current tyrant happens to want.”

      1. But we have to have a police force of some sort. Because a certain percentage of people will not always follow laws voluntarily.

        1. Re: Meta_Man,

          Because a certain percentage of people will not always follow laws voluntarily.

          That’s the reason behind signs like: “This Is Private Property, Trespassers Will Be Violated.”

          Police only does two things well: Leeching from the taxpayer and doing some forensics (that is, when you as a victim would not care anymore.)

    5. Like the Nazis that sent people to the gas chambers and shot people unarmed civilians… just following orders.

  6. I’m sorry, but do you realize how retarded that sounds?

    What it sounds like is relevant how?

  7. Another Balko piece on the “Oathkeepers” about “illegal orders,” and another interview where the word “torture,” or even the term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” does not come up once. NOT ONCE.

    You touch on everything from the Utah National Guard to FEMA and you don’t even mention the biggest stain on America’s national honor in the past fifty years?

    And this crew always wonders why it’s being mistaken for being nothing but Republicans with Bongs.

    Balko is better than this. Or should be.

    1. Somebody need sto RTFA. It’s not about soldiers, it’s not about Gitmo or Abu Ghraib – it’s about the Oath Keepers and what they do (hint: work with POLICE), in interview form. There, I just did the work for you.

      1. Somebody needs to RTF third sentence of the second paragraph, Kristen.

        Just for that, you get an ugly-@ssed emoticon: %-/

      2. He’s got a point. I’d like to know the Oath Keepers stance on folks w/ guns (CIA, SOF, etc) and “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Just genuinely curious.

    2. Because someone didn’t bring up the left’s favorite dead horses they must be Republicans.

      Great logic.

      1. (1) It’s very much a live horse, and (2) being something is different from being easily mistaken for something.

        1. Are you a complete idiot or are you just easily mistaken for one?

          1. Oh, I’m just easily mistaken for one.

            True idiots, on the other hand, do things like resorting to plurium interrogationum.

            1. Point out a fallacy with a fallacy.

              That’s funny.

              1. We think waterboarding should be safe, legal, and rare.

            2. Your email address is shouty.

              1. …and your weblink is broken.

    3. Jesus. Spare me the “you’re better than this” condescension.

      The reason torture didn’t come up is because Rhodes’ group focuses on domestic cops and the military, not the CIA. And his group’s mission deals with the constitutional rights of citizens and residents captured on U.S. soil, not foreign nationals captured overseas.

      Given his politics, I would imagine that Rhodes also opposes CIA torture, as do I. But that isn’t the focus of Oath Keepers, so there was no reason for it to come up in the interview.

      I’m not sure where the hell the “Republicans with bongs” jab comes from. I guess you missed the parts of the interview that addressed indefinite detention, designation of enemy combatants, the criticism of Arpaio, and the explicit criticism of Bush.

      But then, I suppose if you’re silly enough to conclude in the first place that my failure to ask Rhodes about torture was due to some unspoken agreement between us not to tarnish the reputation of Republicans, this reply isn’t going to convince you otherwise.

      1. Mr. Balko, respectfully and as a loyal reader, I submit to you — in response to the above — that America’s abusive and inhumane treatment of prisoners in the War on Terror did not begin with Afghans in Gitmo, or Arabs in CIA black sites, or Iraqis in Abu Graib.

        It began with a US citizen, John Walker Lindh, dubbed the “American Taliban.” I will spare you a detailed account of his ordeal, but you will likely recall a scrawny injured prisoner strapped naked to a stretcher with “Sh!thead” scrawled across his blindfold while a smiling U.S. soldier poses alongside for the camera.

        You have written about the Oathkeepers before, and I have little doubt you will do so again. You will then have occasion to verify whether their position on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of captives held at the mercy of U.S. Government forces — here or abroad, citizen or foreigner, by CIA or SOF or LAPD — is consistent with that of such lefty wimps as John McCain and General David Petreaus.

        Or, you can choose to bypass the topic yet again, so that, once more, you have adequate time to talk about topics of much greater relevance to the Oathkeepers’ stated mission — topics like their abiding neutrality on “Loose Change” Truthers and the latest iterations of “Birtherism.”

        I say all this in the context of my larger opinion that, with theagitator.com, you are likely the single most important journalist working in America today, and that if there is any justice you will win a columnist position at the Times, the Post, or the Journal.

        As an ardent admirer of the great bulk of your work, I intend only to offer an honest critique, pointed as it is, and if you reject it, I accept your rejection.

        1. Really? Lindh is your guy?

          The only reason his treatment was unconstitutional – He committed TREASON on several occasions and he is still breathing.

          1. So you think “shithead” blindfolds on bound, naked injured prisoners is the way American soldiers should behave?

            1. I think blindfolded and standing in front of a firing squad is how traitors should be treated.

              An American soldier gave up his bunk for that shithead after he helped kill AMerican soldiers then was recaptured.

              1. You.

                The question is not execution of an individual duly convicted of the crime of treason.

                The question was about the handling of persons taken into custody in battle.

                The question, to reiterate:

                “So you think “shithead” blindfolds on bound, naked injured prisoners is the way American soldiers should behave?”

                [ ] Yes
                [ ] No

                Check one.

                1. NO.

                  I handled many EPW’s in ’91.

                  Prisoner of War is a voluntary condition. If you fail to comply with commands, try to escape, or otherwise continue to fight, you will be killed.

                  We were too nice to this POS and should have shot him.

        2. Danny maybe you could ask for an article on John Walker instead of expecting that everyone should make everything about Walker. I don’t think anyone believes he’s guilty of treason and it’s a real shame he’s gotten such a raw deal but back off.

          1. Walker is just one salient example of the question of Bush/Cheney torture policy, which is at the core of relevance to the topic of “illegal orders,” much more so than birtherism or trutherism.

        3. what part of relevancy don’t you understand? Why not attempt to persuade Balko to bring up Jersey Shores while you are at it?

          The focus of the discussion was the mission statement of the oathkeepers, the reason for their formation and the misconceptions of their organization; all were covered thoroughly in the article. You seem to think by not answering or asking that which you personally are very concerned about that a great disservice was made.

          For most people who read the article it’s pretty easy to assume which side Rhodes would come down on, on that issue. But it isn’t necessary for him to decry every single Bush atrocity in one single interview.

          1. Bush/Cheney torture policy is at the core of relevance to the topic of “illegal orders,” much more so than birtherism or trutherism.

    4. God Damn that is just stupid.

    5. I was under the impression that the guys doing the waterboarding were CIA, not Army; spies, not soldiers. Fraud, bribery, extortion, breaking and entering, theft, murder – a spy’s whole job is to commit crimes against foreigners on behalf of their government (and not get caught doing it, which is where they failed). The Oath Keepers’ focus is convincing individual soldiers and police officers to obey the supreme law of the land. Spies, by definition, can’t obey the law and do their job. The question there is whether having spies at all is constitutional.

    6. Re: Danny,

      Another Balko piece on the “Oathkeepers” about “illegal orders,” and another interview where the word “torture,” or even the term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” does not come up once. NOT ONCE.

      The blogosphere is wide open for your own articles on the subject. Quit it with your childish tantrum.

      1. I’m inhibited by the worry that my blog would be half as pathetic as yours.

        1. Re: Danny,

          I’m inhibited by the worry that my blog would be half as pathetic as yours.

          What a lame excuse! Be a man – for a change!

        2. I think you are setting your sights too high.

  8. Any TSA agents in Oath Keepers?

    1. They aren’t soldiers and they aren’t police..so..good question.

    2. LOL, remember you need to have a gun to be in Oath Keepers.

  9. If the orders are illegal, then punish the person who issued them, not the ones who carried them out.

    So, you think the Nuremberg defense is valid?

    What a sad day it is that the notion that police should refuse to engage in illegal activity is controversial. In any circles.

    Sure, there are marginal cases and hard cases, but to argue that the police may not refuse obviously illegal orders is just, well, bizarre.

    1. i would have to check to be sure, but i’m pretty sure our general orders manual specifically state that we are to refuse to obey any illegal order

      that might have been my previous agency, but i do recall reading it in one of my dept manuals

      1. at the risk of sounding like a huge ass, you might want to check into that

        1. it’s largely irrelevant. i wouldn’t obey one, regardless of whether my GO’s specifically tell em not to.

  10. in 20+ yrs of police work, i’ve never been issued a unconstitutional order.

    If your definition of Constitutional is “SCOTUS says its OK” (which is defensible), this might just be possible, given the way SCOTUS has gutted civil liberties.

    1. again, i am very rarely even issued orders to arrest or do anything else. i can go days or weeks in the field without even seeing a supervisor.

      in general, any seasoned cop uses arrests sparingly. if there is ANY doubt, don’t arrest

      the only crimes i am MANDATED to arrest by law for are certain domestic violence offenses

      1. What a coincidence, the same offenses that strip one of their 2nd Amendment rights. Friggin Lautenberg…

        1. not to mention ex-post facto. there were a whole bunch of cops who lost their jobs YEARS after pleading guilty to very minor domestic violence crimes (like a shove or something) when the new law was passed making them ineligible to carry a firearm. years after the pleading. it wasn’t CONSIDERED ex-post facto, since it wasn’t a “criminal sanction”

          1. And a single tear rolls down my cheek for those officers who suffered the ultimate humiliation: being treated like everyone else.

            1. the point is it’s an injustice for everybody, not just cops./ it is especially an injustice for anybody whose job requires a firearm

              1. Meh. Cops shouldn’t break the law.

                1. and this is related to expost facto sanctions how?

              2. Kind of a job-limiter for the military too. from my experience.

    2. Anyone who defines constitutional that way doesnt understand the constitution.

      1. it’s certainly the definition of de jure constitutional, but it’s not the definition of de facto constitutional

        note the distinction

  11. To the fear that this has the flavor of treason, the response would be along the lines of the “if you have nothing to hide….” logic.

    If you are the President, or a General or in some other command position, if you don’t issue unconstitutional orders, then you needn’t worry your orders won’t be followed.

  12. Asking a cop to not violate the Constitution is like asking a scorpion not to sting.

    1. Get over here!

  13. “And yet the group is a frequent target of the left.”

    Strange. Given that most of the horrendous evils of last century had left or center-left tendencies, you would think that leftists would absolutely loathe any potential roadblock to their exercise of power. Oh, they do? Well, I guess that makes perfect sense.

    1. Oh come now. Politics is a circle, and the crazy left and the crazy right meet each other. Fascistic communism, Fascistic nationalism, blah blah. Ultimately it’s the government telling you what to do, or removing your ability to do what you want. Constantly grasping for “left v right” is not useful.

  14. Nice article. I think Oath Keepers is wise to stick to the area they’re covering because that is a great future threat to Americans — unfortunately I don’t think they’ll be using many American troops in-country; they’ll be mixed in with Czech, Romanian or the like. People with no loyalties here.

    “PR advice to the Oath-Keepers: drop “-Keepers” from the name and get rid of the ‘thug-life’ lettering.”
    This advice is right on the money. Please consider at least a design change!

  15. christ, the ignorance here is astounding

    nobody, not balko or the oathkeepers are claiming STATE marijuana laws are unconstitutional. i don’t enforce FEDERAL laws.

    do you grok the difference?

    state marijuana laws are BAD policy

    they are NOT unconstitutional or illegal

    1. Who says?

      Examine the original constitutions of each state. How many gave their legislature the power to proscribe the use and sale of marijuana?

      Moreover, as robc pointed out above, the 9th amendment prohibits states from enacting such laws.

      On top of that, the federal constitution guarantees to each citizen, of every state, a republican government. One of the hallmarks of republican governance is “hands off” and “don’t tread on me” with respect to just about everthing under the sun.

      1. No victimless crimes.

      2. who says?

        pretty much ANY legal scholar. to put it briefly, the belief that states cannot constitutionally criminalize drugs is an exceptional minority position, EVEN among libertarian legal scholars.

        1. Sure, many legal scholars would agree with your opinion.

          However, that does not square with the fact that no state’s original constitution gave its legislature the authority to proscribe the use of marijuana or cocaine.

          Thus, if the original state constitution did not explicitly and unambiguously grant its legislature the power to proscribe marijuana or cocaine, upon what basis do you asseverate that the states can constitutionally prohibit the use and sale of mj and cocaine?

          I note that you have chosen to ignore this point and the 9th amendment and the guarantee of a republican government.

          Thus, an oathkeeper, if he or she is to be true to their oath, must never arrest another for possessing or distributing mj.

          1. most constitutions don’t give the authority to criminalize murder either.

            i think you are missing the point.

  16. Good article.

    I don’t worry too much about the military – the old NCO’s know the Constitution and are not going ignore it.

    Local cops less so.

    Federal cops – I don’t trust the alphabet agencies in the least.

    1. Is that a Constitution in your pants? Come with me.

    2. A lot of the new NCOs know it too.

  17. I find it both funny and sad that any person or group that acts according to principle is automatically routed to the “wacko” bin by the conventional “wisdom”. Gumby is practically a patron saint nowadays.

  18. He sounds reasonable but he seems to have skirted the issue on border security. He is anti-Arpaio but does he support enforcing Article IV, Section 4 of the constitution? To wit:

    “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”

    In my mind we have certainly had an invasion on our Southern border. We are spending billions more because of illegal aliens using programs intended for US citizens.

    I guess that is where all of the Libertarian BS about adhering to the Constitution falls apart. They are about as “open borders” as you can get. They claim to be fiscal hawks but refuse to address the massive financial losses caused by non-citizens entering the US illegally.

    1. in?va?sion noun \in-?v?-zh?n\

      1: an act of invading; incursion of an army for conquest or plunder

      Words have definitions.

      1. Yes words have definitions:

        Army:any body of persons organized for any purpose: an army of census takers.

        Such as Mexican nationals given training material and in some cases armed military support to cross the southern border of the United States.

        Since the Mexican Government provides training material it would indicate that the Government of Mexico supports its citizens in unlawfully entering into the United States. The unlawful entry into the United States by an organized and trained group with the full support of that groups Government would not only be an invasion but an act of war.

        So yes words have meaning. Some of the words that come to mind, Militia, sovereignty, Authorized Entry.

        The very fact that there exists a border patrol is indication that the illegal entry into our country is not welcome.

    2. Fiscal losses, as a result of government programs that shouldn’t exist anyway.

    3. SOME libertarians (myself and ron paul included) are strong opponents of open border policy. contrary to what some here proclaim, protecting o our borders is not inconsistent with libertarianism

      1. Sure it is. Unless you can enforce the borders without the initiation of force, it is not libertarianism.

        Libertarianism is first, and foremost, a philosophy which espouses individual liberty and the non-coercion principle. It is not a philosophy designed to be compatible with devotion to the nation state.

        1. Libertarianism isn’t just a philosophy defined by its most extreme and intellectually rigid applications, it’s also a tendency in other philosophies.

          Moreover, it’s really just a label applied to a cluster of individual humans’ socio-ethical worldviews that happen to be very similar to one another.

          However, almost every libertarian differs from others on at least one point here or there. And many non-libertarians may share some beliefs with libertarians. Like any statistical question, it’s about “how much deviation”, not “yes/no”.

        2. Those crossing illegally are the ones that initiated the use of force. Protecting the borders is no different in principle that protecting one’s property from trespassers.

  19. Nobody really buys much of this, do they? While I’m sure there is a miniscule fraction of a percentage of cops that might feel this way, almost all couldn’t care less.

    Remember, cops are unionized civil servants. If they refuse to do their job, they stop getting paid, and risk their pensions and free benefits for life. What’s more, cops generally love pushing people around and couldn’t be happier about the prospect of a police state.

    No, this article is about as pie in the sky as it gets. When the SHTF, 99.9% of cops will do exactly what the people who sign their paychecks tell them to do, and with relish.

    1. i’ll give this a .0002 on the troll-o-meter scale, with an extra .0001 point for broad brush ignorant bigotry.

      1. When you can’t argue the facts, impugn their motives.

        1. referring to the bigotry wasn’t impugning motives. it was impugning content.

    2. ^^THIS^^

      I’ve dealt with cops in emergency situations (Hurricane Andrew where a curfew was issued), and I got a shotgun pulled on me as a 16 year old standing in my own fucking front yard because it was goddamn hot inside, as well as likely toxic from all of the mold which was growing indoors.

      Cops can kiss my ass, and while, when they’re off duty, they seem to say the right things, I’ve yet seen them act in accordance when the badge is on.

      1. your experience differs from mine. even when i was held at gunpoint (armed robbery suspect), i was always treated with respect. well, actually the one time i mouthed off i got (verbal) what-for, so i guess attitude means a lot

  20. Radley, I must say your optimistic subject-matter is most disconcerting.

  21. actually, i think i have an anecdote that might qualify for an ‘unlawful order’ that i disobeyed. just thought of it.

    about 10 yrs ago, i went to a domestic type call. in brief, investigation revealed that the two brothers involved had yelled and screamed at each other, and been acting like drunk fools. one brother did repeatedly threaten to kill his brother, chop his head off, bla bla

    the recipient of the “threat” said he was not in fear of his brother, and in fact he frequently made such idle threats when drunk but didn’t carry them out.

    in brief, this doesn’t qualify as a “true threat” under case law since the threat must be one that the recipient is actually in fear of, AND the fear must be one that a reasonable person would feel knowing what the recipient knew about the threatener.

    thus, it did not qualify as a violation of the RCW we call “harassment” which is our criminal threats statute.

    i wrote a brief informational report and our DV unit sgt. bounced the report back to me and ordered me to cite the brother for Harassment.

    i refused. i told my sgt. that i was not going to sign a criminal cite (which are signed under the penalties of perjury btw and where the signer is stating that the facts are true), since it was NOT a criminal threat and I would be perjuring myself.

    what the DV sgt. wanted was me to cite the guy so we could “CYA” (everybody was scared of DV laws that had been tightened up recently) and let the prosecutor issue the decline.

    i told the sgt. i was more than happy to forward my report to the prosecutors (who don’t NEED a signed cite since technically they are the ones who charge anyway…) but i would not sign a citation. one of HIS detectives could of course cite but i would be a great defense witness, since i would be testifying that I didn’t cite because… it wasn’t a crime

    that sgt. to this day hates me, but so what.

  22. has anyone who likes these people heard of the bill of rights and the constitution? evidently, rights and justice and logic and sanity doesn’t mean much to you

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  25. it did not qualify as a violation of the RCW we call “harassment” which is our criminal threats statute.

  26. Great article. I love the idea of individuals speaking up for the Bill of Rights everywhere, all of the time. That’s the only way that we are ever going to save it.

  27. Certainly all those who have framed written constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and consequently the theory of every such government must be, that an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void.

    . . .

    “Thus, the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the constitution is void, and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.” ~ Marbury v. Madison (emphasis added)

  28. I wish the OKs well, but the reality is no one gives a damn about the Constitution anymore. As a result, the government is broken beyond repair. If Ron Paul runs, I’ll vote for him, but, in truth, I’m just waiting for the dollar to crash.

    I’m pretty much an anarchist now.

  29. While I appreciate the Oath Keepers efforts (even worked to have one elected as county sheriff in the last election, he lost narrowly), it would seem things have gone a little too far to turn around now.

  30. Radicalism in principle is always a virtue. I’ll give you an example:

    If a police officer pulls me over, points a gun at me, beats me, pulls me onto the ground out of my vehicle, and proceeds to search it without a warrant/due process, I’ll pull the revolver out of my sock and empty the drum into his chest.

    Police officers are civilians that are granted a very explicit, small number of powers in the line of duty. Any police officer that violates supreme law to enforce local, state, or post-constitutional federal law has voided his authority, and can rightfully be opposed and resisted by force, deadly if necessary.

    This is something no police officer I’ve ever spoken to seems to want to admit. I’m Soviet-born, and I know precisely the effects of unlimited power on peace officers. I certainly won’t be a victim of their bravado, should it ever come to such a thing.

  31. Great aricle! Cops are to serve and protect. They seem to have gone to vex and fleece!

  32. I want my FREEDOM more than I want protection from our “big brother”.

  33. I like the idea of educating Law Enforcement of their constitutional duty. However, I see some presumptions on Rhodes part: There was no military or national guard involved with holding back people on the bridge in New Orleans; that was all Gretna PD keeping “undesirables” out of their town…a totally illegal and likely racist act. And the Federal military that was used was a total bluff, the 82 Airborne had no ammo! They were there with a phoney show of force until outside state and federal law got on scene and the LAPD and the fed black swat types were the worst abusers and the ones collecting guns along with NOPD. I know because I was there with fire dept assets. That whole situation still needs to be disected and studied but the ruling classes with support from the media keep it swept under the moral “rug” of this nations history.

  34. This Oath Keeper organization is not at all anything new in American history.

    The reason the Civil War started at Ft Sumter, is because it was one of the very few US Army installations in seceding states that didn’t go Oath Keeper. The US had forts and arsenals all through seceding states, but in the vast majority of them, so many soldiers and officers interpreted the Constitution as the Oath Keepers do, that the garrisons of these places, the units stationed there, simply melted away in the face of state forces that the Oath Keeper way said had the right to eject the US Army from their states.

    It’s all well and good to say that the Oath Keepers are nonviolent, that what they urge the US Army to do if there is an insurrection of Red State forces is not to fight against the Union, but simply to lay down their arms and refuse to fight on either side. What that means is that the Red states win the war, because there is no force left to uphold the Union, because the US Army has been subverted by these Red State sympathizers.

    Ft Sumter had to be taken by force by the insurrectionists, because it was one of the few places where the US Army of 1861 did its duty and held to the Union. The ideology on offer here is purely and simply that nullification and secession are as legal as church on Sunday, that PGT Beauregard had the right of the matter and Lincoln the wrong, and that if it ever comes to a fight again, that there be no force left to uphold the Union against those who would bring it down by force.

    Mr. Balko managed to ask about that strange failure to get inspired to form this organization until a Kenyan usurper Democrat was Commander-In-Chief, but he didn’t press that question back quite far enough, to its origin in the events of 1861.

    So let me ask the question of Mr. Rhodes. Should Major Anderson have surrendered his post rather than make a fight of it? If he had belonged to your organization, would its principles have required him to agree that Beauregard was right, and that the US could not constitutionally maintain a garrison in Charleston Harbor without the assent of the SC legislature?

    Forget about slavery. The Oath Keepers say that the reason any state-sanctioned force finds itself in conflict with the US Army are irrelevant to the absolute duty to follow an interpretation of the Constitution that leaves states free to go their own way when they so choose. States have a right to make their own mistakes. The only issue here is the Art IV, sec 4, Second Amendment power that states have to defend their right to make their own mistakes, and not have forced on them what the Union has decided is the right way, whether that is the abolition of slavery or the ACA — it doesn’t matter.

    You don’t have to believe that the Union is always, will always, have the right of the matter, to believe that Mr. Rhodes’ way of interpreting the Constitution, however theoretically correct, means that we are 50 nations and not one nation. His way does not free soldiers and policemen of ideological enslavement to government, it simply chains them to 50 governments instead of just the one Union.

  35. Again, I am left wondering why an organization is focusing on hypothetically possible abuses that are not happening now and ignoring the 8 gajillion pound elephant in the room that is the Drug War. We have thousands and thousands of victims imprisoned NOW, whose lives are being destroyed NOW.

    Yet this war on people in the name of drugs gets barely a mention from Stewart, and even sort of an endorsement from him, so long as it is perpetrated at a level of government he finds acceptable?

  36. I simply do not buy the claim that these folks “wish” they had started Oath Keepers in 2003 but “hadn’t come up with the idea” until after Obama was elected. This is quite simply peeing on my leg and telling me it’s raining. Some of the abuses undertaken by the Bush administration were so shocking that I myself am surprised no group like this sprung up at the time. But not until it’s a democrat in the white house, and a black guy at that, do we suddenly have militias of this nature appearing. It’s nothing new; this has happened immediately after the election of every democrat president since Kennedy. Paranoia is justified, but nobody wants to act until their narrow political views are challenged.

  37. Kudos to the Oath Keepers. I’ve been out of the military a long time now, but I still consider myself bound to defend the Constitution as best I can from enemies both foreign and domestic – and as near as I can tell, most of the enemies are domestic.

    Of course, defending the Constitution does not have to be done with physical weapons. It can also be done via the Institute for Justice or the ACLU, or even comments on a web site somewhere – but I still take my duties seriously.

  38. ty rights, etc. seem like a more accurate measure of freedom than democracy.

  39. ty rights, etc. seem like a more accurate measure of freedom than democracy.

  40. I heard this guy is actually Todd Keil from the DHS,and he is pretending to be E Stewart Rhodes to get the pulse of the veterans.Gosh I hope he’s not!
    Some guy named Ed Chiarini who worked on the JFK book Oliver Stone made into a movie has been doing forensic and biometric investigations on fake news stories and says this guy Rhodes is really Todd Keil.Stewart Rhodes made threatening comments about this exposure on the radio.
    Go to Wellaware1.com and look at the site.Stewart Rhodes is there as Todd Keil.
    Why does someone need to join Stewart Rhodes organization to keep an oath?
    It would come in handy to get the veterans all revved up and get all their info like at oathkeepers.
    It doesn’t make sense to me to have to join some guys Mad As Hell And I Ain’t Gonna Take It No More organization for Veterans only!
    But if you were really Todd Keil it would make a lot of sense LOL

  41. I heartily endorse the Oath Keepers and am not surprised when the well-indoctrinated bleating citizen-sheep respond in their all-too-typical emotion-laden bleating of dissatisfaction.

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