August 31, 2010
Oath Keepers: A Different PerspectiveBy Derek Israel
I have read Jon Watts' apologia of the Oath Keepers, which he titled "The Oath Keeper -- Villain or Valiant?" (he chose the latter). As an Army veteran, a veteran police officer, and a strong conservative, I had previously researched this organization to see whether it was something that would reflect my own values and beliefs. Sadly, it was not.
I found the Oath Keepers to be an organization incompatible with my own loyalties and sense of duty. Though I have no reason to believe that the members are racist or hateful, I do find the entire concept to have little practical value and to be mostly a sounding board for people with Alex Jones-style paranoia and an unrealistic and half-baked notion of American law and its practical application.
I realize that this is an odd thing to believe, particularly given that the group's founder, Stewart Rhodes, is a Yale Law School graduate and that at least three members of the Oath Keepers board of directors are current or former police officers. One would think that they would know better. However, a careful analysis of the Oath Keepers' core beliefs leads to the conclusion that these beliefs are shortsighted and unrealistic to the point that one wonders what the true purpose of the organization really is.
For those unfamiliar with the organization, The Oath Keepers describes itself as follows:
Members of the organization pledge to abide by a "Declaration of Orders We Will Not Obey." The orders they will not obey are based upon their strict and unrealistic interpretation of the United States Constitution. The Oath Keepers see the Constitution as a document to be obeyed in absolute terms, without further interpretation or context other than that provided by the organization. Apparently, 224 years of Supreme Court rulings are irrelevant, except, of course, for the handful of rulings the Oath Keepers use to support their own position.
So let's examine some of the Oath Keepers' list of Orders We Will Not Obey, holding the organization and its members to the same strict and inflexible observance that they demand of the Constitution:
Oath 1: We will NOT obey any order to disarm the American people.
This order is a little vague, so right off the bat, it will require some interpretation by the individual Oath Keeper. Does this refer only orders to take all weapons from all Americans, any weapon from any American, some weapons from all Americans, all weapons from some Americans, or some weapons from some Americans? What weapons are we talking about, anyway? Guns, bombs, tanks?
Most of us would agree that taking all guns from all Americans would be wrong. This is also very unlikely in the near future, but definitely something that we need to always guard against. Organizations like the NRA constantly lobby and use other democratic means to keep this from happening, and they have generally been very successful.
We can probably also all agree that there are certain people who should not have weapons. People convicted of felonies would be a good example, but there are others who have never broken the law who we probably don't want to have guns either, such as the insane. We can probably also agree that there are certain weapons that probably should not be available to the general public, like grenade launchers and nerve gas.
So somewhere between taking all guns from everyone and taking some guns from some people, each Oath Keeper will need to make his own arbitrary decision as to which laws he will choose to enforce. This, of course, means that some Oath Keepers will feel that other Oath Keepers are breaking their oath. Who is right? Somehow, it seems like a better idea to let the democratic process and the Supreme Court make the final decision about what the law is and what is constitutional. After all, isn't that the way that the Constitution says it should happen?
Order 2: We will NOT obey any order to conduct warrantless searches of the American people, their homes, vehicles, papers, or effects -- such as warrantless house-to-house searches for weapons or persons.
I would have to say that not only is this order unrealistic, but it has also been broken by every single Oath Keeper who has been a police officer, firefighter, or military NCO or officer. How can I say that with such certainty? It's easy, because the vast majority of searches conducted by agents of the government are warrantless. Moreover, anyone who is an attorney or a police officer knows this, so it really makes one wonder why they would bother to write such an obviously unkeepable oath.
For those who don't have a background in criminal law, allow me to explain. The Supreme Court has for quite some time recognized numerous circumstances in which a person, place, vehicle, or residence may be searched without a warrant. In fact, any time that a police officer has both probable cause and exigent circumstances, he or she may conduct a warrantless search due to the fact that the evidence could be moved or destroyed before a warrant could be obtained. The Supreme Court has gone so far as to say that a warrant is almost never needed to search an automobile as long as probable cause exists.
Even more to the point, there are circumstances in which an agent of the government would need neither a search warrant nor probable cause to conduct a search, and I can report to you that these searches occur on a daily basis. The most common examples are searches incident to arrest and to check welfare. The government can also conduct warrantless searches of people and vehicles at or near the United States border. I guess that there are no ICE agents in the Oath Keepers.
So I would be interested in having the police, firefighter, and military members of the Oath Keepers sign an affidavit saying that they have not conducted, do not conduct, and never will conduct any warrantless searches of any American. Of course, they wouldn't. No police officer would arrest someone and transport him to jail without thoroughly searching this person for weapons and contraband. No firefighter would wait for a warrant to be issued before breaking down the door to a burning building to extinguish a fire or to rescue an injured person. No military NCO or officer would refuse orders to conduct a "health and welfare" inspection of troops under his command until a warrant, based upon probable cause, was signed by a magistrate authorizing the search.
These are all warrantless searches, the type of which the Oath Keepers swear not to conduct. The fact of the matter is that the Oath Keepers don't oppose all warrantless searches, just some. The decision about which are the "good" warrantless searches and which are the bad is, again, left to the discretion of each member, which kind of makes moot the whole point of the Oath Keepers.
Once again, I think that a better solution is to use the democratic process and the courts to decide which warrantless searches are allowed and which are not. That, after all, is the way the Constitution says it should be.
Some of the other oaths are unrealistically paranoid, vague, or unnecessary.
For example, order seven prohibits obeying an order sending anyone to a detention camp under any pretext (though apparently it's not a problem if you aren't using a pretext; Japanese-Americans take note).
Order nine prohibits confiscating property under any emergency pretext. There's that whole pretext thing again. Do you really need to swear an oath that says you shouldn't lie to someone and take his property? Should I really be so paranoid that I worry that if the police come and take my boat to rescue flood victims, they are really just going to use it to go fishing? Do you really think the American public would stand for it if they did?
And, of course, there is order number six, which is the much-needed promise not to blockade any American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps. Whew, I was worried about that.
One would think that people who went to Ivy League laws schools or who have spent many years doing police work would be fully aware of the unrealistic and improbable nature of the so-called "Orders We Will Not Obey." It makes one wonder what the aim is of a group that uses such guidelines to induce its members to refuse to obey lawful orders. The purpose is certainly not to make a better government, as there are numerous democratic and legal means to accomplish that. I suspect that the purpose is, rather, to incite against the government.
Alex Jones would be proud.
Derek Israel is a 17-year veteran of a large Texas Police Department. He is currently a Detective investigating violent crimes.