The Oath Keeper -- Villain or Valiant?

It has been proposed by various groups and individuals that an organization known as "Oath Keepers" is racist, seditious, hateful, and pernicious.

I'm here to tell you the real story.

I have been a member of Oath Keepers since August 2009. My member number is under 500. There are currently over 10,000 dues-paying members, and tens of thousands on their Facebook site. I have seen the inner workings since the early days as the acting Alaska State Chapter President -- truly a view from the inside.

Let's set aside the controversy for a moment and examine the term "Oath Keeper." What does it really mean?

Webster's dictionary defines an "oath" as "a solemn, usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says." We might therefore infer that an oath "keeper" sincerely intends to keep his word from the moment of an initial oath forward.

For example, each newly elected member of Congress recites this oath:

I do solemnly swear [or affirm] that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

One can compare this to the military oath of office

Oath Keepers use a modified officer's oath for several reasons: because veterans, even if they were once enlisted, are no longer under any orders, because civilians are not under orders, and because officers have always sworn only to defend the Constitution. Even when it comes to enlisted military, the oath is first and foremost to defend the Constitution; they are duty-bound to disobey any order that is not lawful. Further, it allows all participants, of whatever status, to join in together and reaffirm their official oath. If an enlisted man or officer wants to state the exact official oath that he swore upon entry into service, he can.

The sincere intent of any oath is contained within the words recited, as well as within the heart of the individual making the oath.  To diverge from that specified intent would naturally put the person in the category of oath "breaker" rather than "keeper."

The term "oath breaker" has been around since Old English was spoken. The term used in those times was "waerloga," which also meant "damned soul," "wicked person," and even "Satan." Suffice to say, an oath breaker was about the worst thing one could be back in the day. Punishments for oath breaking were of the spearing, hacking, or crushing variety -- decidedly unpleasant. Interestingly, the word waerloga is also the origin of the word "warlock" in use today. History had fitting names and biblical consequences for those who broke an oath to the Almighty. Such oaths have long since faded in value to mere formalities today.

When it comes to our leaders' constitutional oaths, how many of them are acting less like oath keepers, and more like those ancient, oath-breaking "warlocks"? Given the unrelenting torrent of legislative blasphemies, the answer is clear.  

Another question begs asking. Who would these oath breakers and their media homunculi find offensive? The answer is likewise obvious: their polar opposites, those who are truly loyal in oath and deed to our dear Republic and its Constitution.

Enter the Tea Party in general and the Oath Keepers in particular.

I first approached Oath Keepers with some circumspection, considering the defiant tone of their mission and the media's slavering rabidity toward them. I leavened my apprehension with the knowledge that most news people were servants of progressive masters and therefore illusive. Words like "lethal and dangerous," "treasonous," and "ready to revolt" are enough to dissuade many. Let's not forget to mention the teeming hordes of racists passing themselves off as patriots. As Socrates said, "When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser." Rest assured that those wielding these falsehoods have already lost the American debate through the sheer bankruptcy of their own ideologies. Therefore, caution is in order, as Janet Napolitano's "list" grows long. The order to include "Constitutionalist" in the DHS lexicon of "extremists" is intimidating, like waking up in 1930s Berlin to find the word "Jude" being painted on your shop's front window. Law-abiding Americans shouldn't have to feel that. No citizen should be so assaulted for fidelity to their country's founding contract.

Through all of the hyperbole, whom do Americans trust? A recent GfK Group study showed a stark contrast. Constituent Oath Keeper groups, mainly firefighters, military, and police, were rated at 93%, 85%, and 77%, respectively. On the other hand, Oath Keeper opponent groups -- mainly journalists, lawyers, and politicians -- held threadbare trust ratings of 42%, 35%, and 17%.

"I was only following orders" has been heard in courts across the world as justification for various crimes, in war and peace, throughout history. This defense has failed in hundreds of cases, and rightly so. It is a recurring problem at home and abroad. Most know of the National Socialists (Nazis), Japanese-American internment, My Lai, Abu Ghraib, and the officials confiscating guns during the Katrina disaster. Each person who follows an illegal order can and should be held to account for his decision to follow such an order. For example, in United States v. Keenan, the accused was found guilty, as the Court of Military Appeals held that "the justification for acts done pursuant to orders does not exist if the order was of such a nature that a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know it to be illegal."  Therefore, it is clearly expected that each person be aware of the legality of each order he is given, using "ordinary sense" to find that conclusion. It is not up to a judge; it is not up to some higher authority. Each person must be aware and take the appropriate action (or inaction.)

Manual for Courts-Martial also states, "An order requiring the performance of a military duty or act may be inferred to be lawful and it is disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate. This inference does not apply to a patently illegal order, such as one that directs the commission of a crime." Depriving an otherwise law-abiding citizen of their Constitutional rights is in fact, a crime.   

As one observes the chronic, institutionalized contempt for the Constitution and individual rights, it becomes understandable that these Oath Keepers have drawn their line in the sand with the "10 Orders They Will Not Obey." Simply put, they will not obey orders to commit crimes in betrayal of the American people -- strong medicine, but passive in nature.

Leaders like "Rex," the South Carolina chapter president, feel that false portrayals by the media has led some people to think Oath Keepers is something it is not -- such as thinking it is some kind of militia. However, the Oath Keepers' focus is on encouraging the currently serving to simply refuse to follow unlawful orders. Section 8 of the membership bylaws is enforced, and media-styled extremism, racism, and talk of violence are not welcome. As a retired Special Forces officer and southern gentleman, Rex also disdained the generalization that Oath Keepers south of the Mason-Dixon Line must invariably be racist.

The Ohio state chapter husband-and-wife team Eddie and Ada also find the negative behaviors trumpeted by the media incompatible with membership. 

A website moderator by the name of "Zeb" even had the opportunity to speak with FBI agents in his area investigating potential unlawful conduct by another local group. He shared with them the true mission of Oath Keepers: gaining a positive response and willingness to pass brochures to their supervisors. 

The organization's founder, Stewart Rhodes, is himself of mixed Hispanic descent. He doesn't wear it on his sleeve, but he won't tolerate bigotry in his organization, either. The one racist found in the membership to date was promptly asked to leave. On the militia question, Stewart states, "I don't consider guys who want to start militias to be anti-constitutional. They just want to concentrate on preparing for physical battle, and that is not our focus. We are not standing on the outside of government, warning them to behave. Instead, we are on the inside of government, using the law, the oath, and a sense of honor to get the current serving to do what is right by refusing unconstitutional orders."

Despite the shrouds of evil cast upon these freedom-loving citizens, they will not shrink from the Constitution no matter how deep the shadows grow. Many have survived combat, arrested violent criminals, or voluntarily entered burning buildings, all in the defense of others. They are not intimidated by enemies of the Constitution; they will stand fast. Further, tens of thousands of fellow citizens have felt the call to join them, along with millions more in support of Tea Party constitutionalism. As much as our self-appointed rulers arcanely attempt to spin it otherwise, the righteous rejection of their anti-freedom agenda has become a mainstream trend. Banishment for oath breakers may be back in style this Fall. 

Jon Watts is a 25-year U.S. Air Force veteran and the founder of Free Range Patriots, a Constitutional study forum. 
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