Via a Greenwald tweet today, I read a story from July about Oath Keepers, “a coalition of current and former military, police, and other public officials [who] have pledged not to obey unconstitutional commands.” The group has launched a billboard campaign, including putting up three massive, pro-Edward Snowden ads in the Pentagon’s subway station. Here’s one:
SNOWDEN HONORED HIS OATH
HONOR YOURS! STOP BIG BROTHER
EXPOSE UNCONSTITUTIONAL ACTIONS
The group’s press release reads:
Oath Keepers has placed three back-lit signs on the subway platform in the Washington Metro Pentagon Station, group founder Stewart Rhodes announced today.
“The first sign at the Pentagon Station is done in the style of the theater scene from George Orwell’s 1984 and features Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, as ‘Big Brother,'” Rhodes wrote, stating the “sign makes it clear that by exposing the NSA spying on Americans, Snowden honored his oath.”
“This artwork will also be going on a billboard along a major freeway in Maryland, near the NSA headquarters at Ft. Mead within the week,” Rhodes added.
The second sign now in place at Pentagon Station is aimed directly at CIA employees, reminding them that their oath is not to a “corporate culture of secrecy,” Rhodes continued. “The third sign is intended to reach our military personnel within the Pentagon, and any other government employees who have ever served in the military, using the Iwo Jima flag-raising as a backdrop to the message.”
“This is part of a broader effort to place billboards at strategic locations throughout the United States,” Rhodes added, citing current locations including near military bases at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, Fort Benning, Fort Hood, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.
Now before you dismiss Oath Keepers as deranged wingnuts or libertarian kooks, I beg you to consider that they just may not be so kooky after all. Or perhaps another way to look at it is that they might be just the kooks we need. Of course, it should surprise no one that a coalition of cops and soldiers would tend to lean rightward, and indeed they certainly get a little too close to Teabag-flavored swill for my personal taste. But their mission is the very antithesis of violent, right-wing militia movements. To wit:
[T]here are ten commands the Oath Keepers have forsworn. Those who join the group must refuse
• to disarm the American people
• to conduct warrantless searches of the American people, their homes, vehicles, papers, or effects
• to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to trial by military tribunal
• to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state, or to enter with force into a state, without the express consent and invitation of that state’s legislature and governor
• to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty and declares the national government to be in violation of the compact by which that state entered the Union
• to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps
• to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext
• to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people
• to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies, under any emergency pretext whatsoever
• to do anything that would “infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances”
Of course most liberals will bristle at the refusal to “disarm the American people.” And as this writer points out, the state secession thing is sure to raise a few eyebrows. And for sure, a few of these commands are exceedingly unlikely to be heard outside the fevered dreams of conspiracy theorists (foreign troops on U.S. soil? Yeah, I think…not. But if I am wrong about this, I would be most grateful for the Oath Keepers refusing to assist them). However, some of these commands are more than just likely: several of them have already happened.
If the Oath Keepers are overly prone to see secret plots against our liberties, that’s because open plots against our liberties have been so successful. American police forces infringe on free speech and assembly at almost every major political summit. An American citizen, José Padilla, was famously tried before a military tribunal as an enemy combatant. Cops confiscated legal firearms from peaceful citizens following Hurricane Katrina. And speaking of Katrina, if you thought the item about blockading cities belonged on the “not very likely” list, think again. When victims of the storm attempted to flee across the Crescent City Connection bridge to Jefferson Parish, they were forced back by armed agents of the Gretna, Louisiana police. If there had been some Oath Keepers on the force that day, those refugees might have escaped the devastation.
“Liberal” media organ Mother Jones calls them treasonous. The Southern Poverty Law Center insinuates that they’re domestic terrorists. A guest on MSNBC called them “malcontents” who think they can “break the law and not follow orders if they don’t like what they’re being told.” Say, what? The most charitable explanation I can come up with for these nonsensical ramblings is that they reflect the fevered dreams of Obamabots. For what is treasonous would be issuing or following commands that are clearly illegal under the U.S. Constitution. None of this should be remotely controversial. And it’s really quite rich to call them terrorists when the ten commands the Oath Keepers refuse to obey are explicit refusals to commit violence. Except, perhaps, in the very specific scenario where the U.S. government turns its weapons on We the People in response to an uprising:
Search the group’s founding document and the closest thing you will find to a call to violence is the statement that, should a dictatorship be imposed and a popular uprising break out, its members will not only refuse to fire on the dissenters but will “join them in fighting against those who dare attempt to enslave them.” And even then the “fighting” needn’t necessarily be armed. (They also say they aren’t “advocating or promoting violence towards any organization, group or person.”) Otherwise, the manifesto is a call to stand down, not to rise up. Not every Oath Keeper would appreciate the comparison, but the group has more in common with those dissidents of the ’60s who refused to go to war than with any paramilitary cell.
If we find ourselves under a dictatorship with the American people in open revolt, I don’t know about you but I would welcome any and all resistance against the illegal regime. It would, by definition, have to be made up of ginormous assholes.
And that refusal to fire on dissenters? It’s critical. In light of my post earlier today regarding flashmobs as effective nonviolent protest, Loyal Readers™ may also recall my July post excerpting an interview with Chris Hedges:
Q. Congress seems a wholly owned subsidiary of the multinationals. Obama is pimping for GE in Africa. The Koch brothers have made a downpayment on the Supreme Court. Money will control the next federal election, and most of the state elections. Is there any scenario you see that will return this government to the people?
A. Mass protests that begin to scare the hell out of these people, and begin to disrupt systems that they care about. That really is the only solution.
I think they’re very fragile. I think internally they know how corrupt they are—which is why they passed the NDAA, because they want to be able to put the military on the streets. Because I think ultimately they don’t trust the police to protect them. And those are the sentiments of a dying elite.
So I think when we begin to organize against all the formal structures of power, I think that they may crumble as the Stasi state in East Germany, which, when I was in East Germany, appeared monolithic. [It] fell in about a week. And it fell in a week because Erich Honecker, the dictator for 19 years, sent an elite paratrooper division down to Leipzig to fire on 70,000 demonstrators, and they refused to do it… In the same way that the Tzar sent the Cossacks in to crush the Petrograd bread riots, and they fraternized with the crowd. Both Honecker and the Tzar only lasted another week in power. Once the foot soldiers of the elite will not protect the elite, they’re done.
And that’s why we have to be nonviolent. Because ultimately what we are doing is trying to create a paralysis within systems of power, whereby we speak truth, we appeal to conscience, we expose corruption, fraud, lies by those in power, so that when those forces are called into the street to stop us, they refuse to do so. That’s how all revolutions happen. And that’s really in the end what I’m calling for. I’m calling for the overthrow of this system. Let me say that again for Homeland Security: that’s what I’m doing. And I’m calling for it through nonviolent means, through mass protests. Because as a father of four children, I know that if we don’t stop these forces, they will kill us. They will destroy the ecosystem on which the human species and my children will depend for their life. And that is really the stakes that lie before us, and why there is an imperative for all of us to take risks. I don’t like going to jail, as I have. Going to jail is more time than I care to donate to my government. But it really is the only option left. Because if we fail at this, then it’s not just this particular civilization that will be extinguished, but human habitation.
Jesse Walker, writer for the libertarian* rag, Reason, inquired in June about the group’s thoughts on Snowden’s NSA spying revelations:
Stewart Rhodes, the group’s founder, has emailed me a statement about Snowden:
He is an example of what needs to be done by anyone who has knowledge of such gross violations of our rights. We need more to stand up, because this is surely the mere tip of the iceberg of the infrastructure for a police state that is being built over us.
This is about far more than supposed attempts to ferry out al Qaeda operatives. This is part of a growing Stasi and Checka style surveillance police state which tags, tracks, and prepares plans to detain dissidents with the “Main Core” database of millions of Americans who the regime considers a “threat.”
And this is also really about the absurd claim that the U.S. is a battlefield and the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to the President’s “surveillance of the battlefield.” That was the claim of neocon, government-supremacist Bush lawyers, like John Yoo, and that idea that the Bill of Rights is trumped by Executive war powers has also been the consistent claim of Obama lawyers such as Harold Koh, justifying even the targetted killing of Americans.
And that absurd view, that so long as they call it “war’ they can sidestep the Bill of Rights and act like Stalin, is shared by both Republicans (like Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, and Rep. Peter King), and Democrats like Harry Reid (who tells us it’s been going on for seven years, so don’t worry about it).
Unless we the people purge out these oath breakers from BOTH parties, we will find ourselves in a nightmare dictatorship and we will have to fight to throw it off. Sweat now or bleed later. Purge them all.
Very, very interesting. No?
* Of course we generally loathe libertarianism ’round here, for these reasons and more. It would be sheer folly, however, to dismiss them as allies on such vital issues as civil liberties or the Drug War. Consider: if Chris Hedges is right that we need mass protests to scare the hell out of America’s Owners—and I think he is—we must recognize that they are precariously reliant on a distracted and divided U.S. public. That’s how the game is rigged, so that Goldman Sachs always wins: we pretend to have meaningful elections and fight amongst ourselves while our common enemies plunder the Earth on an epic scale. Strange bedfellows coming together in common cause is both an extremely threatening state of affairs for the status quo, and absolutely necessary as a matter of math anyway. (Despite popular misconceptions, at best the Palace Army consists of a dismally small number of unarmed pacifists and one unconscionably lazy cat.) My own view is that if the revolution is peaceful—IF—some form of democratic socialism will ultimately prevail over the spectacular flameout of Free Market™ ideology. It’s that very failure that will have sparked the revolution in the first place.