Capitalizing on a wave of sensationalist stories about “white supremacists” and militias menacing America, The Atlantic has shone a spotlight on the Oath Keepers – a decade-old group with members in every US state, some two-thirds of whom hail from law enforcement or the military, which vows to defend the country from “all enemies foreign and domestic.” Armed and dangerous, the group believes the US is currently in a civil war and is spreading that gospel to active-duty servicemembers and cops, the outlet warned on Wednesday.
The organization neither calls itself a militia nor espouses racist ideology, as The Atlantic somewhat grudgingly admitted. Its president, Stewart Rhodes, reminded the writer “We’re not f***ing white nationalists,” pointing out that the term has become an all-purpose smear unconnected to its literal meaning. “Everybody on the right is [called] a white nationalist,” he said.
That didn’t stop the writer from describing the group as an unhinged, paranoid crew of far-right gun nuts who hate leftists and non-whites and believe the US is under attack by hostile elements, all but plagiarizing from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s entry on the Oath Keepers. The group is described as “based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans,” a line which hasn’t aged well in the era of coronavirus lockdowns. Ironically, it was the SPLC that forwarded a leaked 25,000-strong Oath Keepers membership roster to journalists, affirming the group’s paranoia.
The writer sat in on an Oath Keepers meeting in which Rhodes calls Antifa and other rioters “insurrectionists” and declares that “we have to suppress that insurrection,” warning the agitators are “eventually… going to be using IEDs.”
Us old vets and younger ones are going to end up having to kill these young kids. And they’re going to die believing they were fighting Nazis.
The Oath Keepers were banned from Twitter earlier this month for supposedly violating its rules against “violent extremist groups” after Rhodes claimed Black Lives Matter and Antifa were terrorists engaged in an “open communist insurrection” and urged Trump to deploy the National Guard across the country, calling the “street assassination of a Trump supporter in Portland” the “first shot” of a civil war.
While the group has a black vice president and has denounced both right-wing provocateurs the Proud Boys and the alt-right in general, its aesthetic and general political orientation have gotten it lumped in with more unsavory groups. In an era when many Americans are leery of speaking ill of Black Lives Matter – with good reason, as those who’ve lostjobs or universitypositions can attest – the group has not hesitated to condemn them as “Marxists,” and for those unfamiliar with the many militia groups in the US, most bands of burly gun-toting men look alike. They have not hesitated to threaten violence against rioters and believe November’s election will bring massive unrest, a view shared by their further-right counterparts.
While the media continue to hold up right-wing militias as the number-one threat to the nation, Rhodes for his part insisted the real threats were leftist militias like the John Brown Gun Club and the Not F**king Around Coalition – plus, of course, Antifa, which the FBI continues to insist does not actually exist even as President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr denounce its members as domestic terrorists.
For better or worse, the constant harping on the militia threat has taken root in the American psyche – paranoid liberals seeing white supremacists under every rock recently mistook the “P” on Portland police officers’ hats for a Proud Boys logo when it actually stood for “police.” Trump was invited to condemn the group during Tuesday’s presidential debates, and when he ordered them to “stand back and stand by,” it was bafflingly interpreted as an endorsement.
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