I arrived a skeptic, or worse. As an advocate of the private property society, I did not hope or expect to be impressed by an individual who runs an association for retired and active members of the military and law enforcement. I view many of those individuals suspiciously for their associations with coercive institutions which are the bane of existence for free-minded people everywhere. I assumed I would hear a lot about the "sacred honor" of uniformed personnel and how we all ought to support them even if they act errantly now and then. I expected to be disappointed with the Oath Keepers' mission statement for not going far enough, or not being fully consistent with the maintenance of individual freedom.
At this point, I am pleased to say I learned something and found myself reconsidering (or, considering for the first time) the value and merit of this organization and its founder.
I learned that the Oath Keepers' main purpose is to educate uniformed personnel about the oath they took to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and what the meaning and significance of that oath is, not to obligate anyone to a particular set of beliefs or social strategy. The idea is to help these individuals to learn the importance of personal responsibility and to develop the capability to think and study for themselves. Considering that part of military and law enforcement professional socialization is all about breaking down individual will power and inculcating a "hive mind" that is often mindlessly obedient to hierarchical authority, this is a laudable goal with tangible benefits for those who wish to live in a freer, more responsible society.
I learned that aside from the education mission, the Oath Keepers organization seeks to impress upon military and law enforcement personnel an ethic of preparedness. Rhodes specifically called upon veterans to take personal responsibility for developing strategies and and capabilities for dealing with:
- Food security, in the event of economic chaos which causes the food supply to become uncertain or unreliable
- Physical security, by forming neighborhood watch organizations and making known their interest in participating in a "sheriff's posse" with county law enforcement authorities who are deemed trustworthy and who take their oath seriously, in the event of widespread social violence
- Financial security, via the acquisition of sound money alternatives to fiat currency and the dollar
- State sovereignty, which Rhodes' sees as a critical bulwark against legally resisting federal tyrannies
Rhodes expressed explicit concern about a controlled, purposeful movement toward a new, international fiat currency system and a "one world government", which he thinks will be achieved through a series of disasters and crises exploited opportunistically by the elites who are after social control. The strategy outlined above, far from being an attempt to create another power center or an alternative or "shadow" government, is instead a suggestion for devolving and decentralizing power and achieving a level of social preparedness which will allow small communities to resist offers of "assistance" from federal authorities and agencies in a state of emergency, as well as to resist aggressive intervention from such bodies outright. By eliminating the risk of need, Rhodes believes communities will be better positioned to resist federal incursions and power grabs and protect their freedom in the process.
For those who are active participants in local militias, or are considering participating, Rhodes worries about the existence of spies and moles for the FBI, ATF and local police agencies who might try to entrap them. He suggests such individuals petition their county governments to create county militia ordinances, "then you are a part of the State, which is an advantage" because you can't be accused of doing something illegal or subversive. Not necessarily a fool-proof strategy and it comes with its own risks, but still an interesting suggestion.
In general, Rhodes views the idea (or ideal) of local and state militias favorably. He sees them as a necessary, legitimate and historical bulwark against political centralization and federal tyranny. He spent some time explaining the original intent of the militia system as a balance against federal military power and the way this balance has been disintegrated through the co-option of state militias into the National Guard system, who have since been deployed to foreign battlefields as offensive soldiery.
I also learned that Rhodes himself is a well-studied, articulate, impassioned and friendly individual. A graduate of Yale who currently operates a Constitutional law practice in Montana, Rhodes' grasp of facts, figures, events and ideas related to the American Revolution and the founding of the American political system were impressive, thoughtful and not at all robotic or mindlessly uncritical. He made it clear he is aware of advocates of the private property society and their principles and does not feel threatened by them. He spoke in front of the group of Lysander Spooner's writings (the No Treason articles) and shared his excitement and support for their ideals.
Rhodes knows his organization is not ideologically "pure" and that there are some issues (such as the fact that most every active duty member of the police and military is called upon to violate the Constitution on a daily basis simply by virtue of routine, daily orders) which he has purposefully not addressed even though they are disconcerting. Still, his response to such concerns was reasonable, especially because he admitted that more can be done-- this is his personal, voluntary strategy for attempting to achieve incremental change amongst the military and law enforcement communities. Rhodes does not excuse the participation in unconstitutional wars, or the prosecution of the War on Drugs, but he also believes that it will be more likely to bring uniformed personnel on board with that message if they are first made more aware of the oath they originally took, something he thinks all but the most violent and sociopathic are capable of grasping and understanding on their own.
Considering his organization is voluntary, not coercive, and he doesn't have to put his time or energy into running it, I think he is justified in making this personal, strategic decision. After all, Rhodes is nobody's slave and he's under no obligation to do anything in particular in regards to educating uniformed personnel or anyone else on this or that issue. Now, if Rhodes had made it clear that he thought participation in the War on Drugs or aggressive military invasions was justified (under any conditions) or constitutional (according to that standard) and that is why he didn't address them, that would be another matter entirely and I'd have a hard time signing off on what Rhodes is doing with the Oath Keepers.
As it stands, though, Rhodes as a fascinating character within the individual liberty arena and I was grateful for his ability to communicate his ideas in such a way that I left the meeting in a state of excitement, optimism and contemplativeness, even though the forecast Rhodes and I both share about where things are going in this country and around the world is actually quite depressing. The urgency of education, responsibility and personal preparedness are virtues that any liberty minded person should be able to get behind, whether one fully and consistently understands the logic and importance of the private property society or not.
Stewart Rhodes brought along a young friend of his, Brandon Smith, that same evening, who delivered a short speech on the coming economic storm and how people and communities might respond. Smith explained that people participate in the current monetary system because they don't feel they have any other options. He tied this in to the movement toward economic centralization, which he described as the purposeful reduction of options within a system (a simple idea but a neat way to frame it). He suggested that "the response to globalization is localization" and he meant that in the sense of the fragility of the current division of labor and its reliance on a single, fiat currency, the dollar as the world reserve.
Smith has spent some time studying other economic collapses and observed that barter networks naturally arise whenever a society faces economic or monetary collapse. Rather than waiting for the collapse to occur, however, Smith recommends people develop barter and other alternative exchange networks now. He is developing a website, the Alternative Market Program, to help educate people about the formation of local barter and alternative commerce networks.