Are American citizens in danger of being interred in concentration camps or having their property or guns confiscated? Are we in danger of being treated as "enemy combatants?" Will Oklahoma City one day be subject to a military blockade?
One national organization with members in Oklahoma is preparing for this possible future by swearing a new oath of allegiance to the United States Constitution.
Comprised primarily of current and former active duty military personnel and law enforcement officials, a group called the Oath Keepers has listed on its Web site (oathkeepers.org) 10 orders the group's members have sworn not to follow, including blockading cities and disarming citizens. The organization was founded by Stewart Rhodes, former staffer to U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. Rhodes has stated on several news programs that he believes the U.S. government has consistently overstepped its constitutional authority.
A report released earlier this year by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors extremist groups, called the Oath Keepers a "particularly worrisome example of the Patriot revival." Rhodes responded by saying his group advocates nonviolent means of keeping the power of the government in check.
Robert Gomez is a retired Air Force master sergeant who lives in Oklahoma City. He is on the national board of directors of Oath Keepers and is the Oklahoma state director. Gomez affirmed that the organization is committed to nonviolent strategies. In fact, Gomez said the board of directors is concerned with keeping violent elements out of their organization.
"The purpose of the board of directors is to keep us from straying from our mission," he said, "and that is to preserve the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers. We are an apolitical, nonviolent group, and we intend to stay away from the armed militia movement."
Gomez said an additional oath is not necessarily a redundancy. Military personnel take an oath to uphold the Constitution when joining the armed services, but he said those young soldiers are not told what the full extent of the oath means.
"They are asked to swear an oath, but they are not told what is lawful or unlawful," he said. "During the aftermath of (Hurricane) Katrina, local law enforcement was confiscating guns from citizens. I'm sure the man who gave the order didn't realize he was violating the Constitution, but he basically had his men commit an unlawful act."
Josh Kieffer, a Norman resident, left active duty service in the U.S. Army in February. While on active duty status, he was a corrections specialist, which included transportation of prisoners to and from Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan. He joined Oath Keepers in October because he said he is a "forward-thinking person."
"If there ever was some type of civil emergency, real or fabricated, as an MP I could be called back to active duty," Kieffer said. "There is no way I would do anything against American citizens. These things do happen. They've happened historically. We owe money to China. If they called in the note, we can't pay it. When that happened in the Weimar Republic, the property of civilians was confiscated. Things like that can happen."
Kieffer said he supports the nonviolent position of the Oath Keepers, and he further said he's never even heard talk of violence. "Most of the people I talk to in the movement are just concerned about what's going on in our country," he said. "I'm a strong Reagan conservative, but I try to stay away from crazies on the right or left."
Gomez said the members he's met from Oklahoma tend to be involved with conservative causes, but they are not extremists.
"I've met many of them at the tea parties," he said. "They're concerned about bailouts, taxes and other government decisions that go against the spirit of the Constitution."
David Cid, executive director of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City, said the Oath Keepers will have a difficult time keeping members out "who bring opprobrium on the movement."
"Their situation is very similar to that of the conservative movement following World War II," Cid said. "There was a concerted effort to exclude conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, and others whose views were unhelpful. Their challenge was to separate themselves from statements that were illogical, irrational and violent, statements on the fringe of the movement. That can be difficult because there is philosophical agreement in other areas."
Cid, a retired FBI counter-terrorism specialist, reviewed the list of orders the Oath Keepers would not follow and said it was comprised of basic Constitutional rights.
"I think you'd get as much support for this list from the ACLU as you would from the Oath Keepers. Groups begin with the best of intentions, but every group has the potential to attract those who use violence," he said. "Every movement is composed of a broad spectrum of support, including those who support the cause rationally, the zealots who make it their life's work, and then you have others who are willing to use violence."
Gomez said Oklahoma now has more than 100 members in the organization, which boasts approximately 8,000 members nationally, and he reiterated that his mission as state director and national board member was to "weed out undesirables with a different agenda." "Greg Horton