The Company The GOP Keeps

Terrance Heath

You can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep. Or so the saying goes. The GOP held its first presidential primary debate in Greenville, South Carolina, with the help of some very interesting — and very telling — company from the farthest of the far-right fringe.

According to ThinkProgress, the official program for the pre-debate "Freedom Rally" listed some of the most extreme members of the extremist right as sponsors: the Oath Keepers militia group, and the radical right-wing John Birch Society. Seriously, these guys would make Ronald Reagan look like a dirty hippie. Try to get much further right than these guys, and you risk falling off the edge of this flat earth.

Where to begin?

Let’s start with the John Birch Society, shall we? First, a little history. Robert Welch founded JBS in 1958 (with Fred Koch of Koch Industries among the founding members), to fight what he saw as a growing threat.

The core thesis of the society was contained Welch’s initial Indianapolis presentation, transcribed almost verbatim in The Blue Book of the John Birch Society, and subsequently given to each new member. According to Welch, both the US and Soviet governments are controlled by the same furtive conspiratorial cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians. If left unexposed, the traitors inside the US government would betray the country’s sovereignty to the United Nations for a collectivist new world order managed by a "one-world socialist government."

That "cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians," is basically the Illuminati. NYT’s Dan Barry caught up with the Birchers back in 2009, and found pretty much the same paranoid obsessions.

Yet for others, the John Birch Society is urgently relevant to the matters of today, in its support of secure borders and limited government, its distrust of the Federal Reserve and the United Nations, and its belief in a conspiracy to merge Mexico, Canada and the United States.

This so-called North American Union, it asserts, is part of a larger plot by an amorphous, amoral group of powerful elite — including but not limited to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Rockefellers — to take over planet Earth. Call it the New World Order.

Some of these theories may sound like cable television chatter, or the synopsis of a Dan Brown bestseller. But Birch leaders say this plot is real, with roots going back more than 200 years to a secret, insidious brotherhood called the Illuminati, and with most American presidents among its many dupes and abettors.

“We’ve always referred to it as a Satanic conspiracy,” said Arthur Thompson, the society’s chief executive, sitting beside an American flag.

Thompson, by the way is featured prominently on the JBS website. According to one his videos on the site, the "Arab Spring" is really the work of the "American liberal establishment" doing the work of "the militant socialists" — including that favorite of conspiracy theorists from Lyndon LaRouche to Pat Robertson, the Council on Foreign Relations.

Aside from wanting to repeal civil rights legislation, these days the Birchers:

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Denounced as "idiotic" and "paranoid" by none than William F. Buckley, after Welch called Dwight Eisenhower a "tool of the Communists," the JBS was banished to the fringe of the conservative movement. There it stayed, declining until George H. W. Bush gave it a shot in the arm with his "New World Order" speech.

That’s all changed, now. The Birchers are back, baby. Conservapedia may say that the Birchers are "rejected by most Republicans," but that may turn out to be wishful thinking. The JBS was a cosponsor of the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference. They weren’t on the sponsor list for 2011, and but attended as affiliates. I passed by their booth in the exhibit hall.

Then there’s the Oath Keepers, which urges its members (current and former military and law enforcement) to disobey any order they believe unconstitutional. That includes their list of 10 "Orders We Will NOT Obey."

1. We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.

2. We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people

3. We will NOT obey orders to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to military tribunal.

4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state.

5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.

6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.

7. We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.

8. We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control.”

9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.

10.We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.

The Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010 listed the group as one of 824 active "anti-government ‘Patriot’ groups." The Oath Keepers say they’re nonpartisan. (Or used to, at least.) But they are deeply enmeshed with the tea party, and supported by Republicans like Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, both from Georgia.

Mother Jones’ Justin Sharrock spent some time among the Oath Keepers, and offered an in-depth look at the group.

THE .50 CALIBER Bushmaster bolt action rifle is a serious weapon. The model that Pvt. 1st Class Lee Pray is saving up for has a 2,500-yard range and comes with a Mark IV scope and an easy-load magazine. When the 25-year-old drove me to a mall in Watertown, New York, near the Fort Drum Army base, he brought me to see it in its glass case—he visits it periodically, like a kid coveting something at the toy store. It’ll take plenty of military paychecks to cover the $5,600 price tag, but he considers the Bushmaster essential in his preparations to take on the US government when it declares martial law.

His belief that that day is imminent has led Pray to a group called Oath Keepers, one of the fastest-growing "patriot" organizations on the right. Founded last April by Yale-educated lawyer and ex-Ron Paul aide Stewart Rhodes, the group has established itself as a hub in the sprawling anti-Obama movement that includes Tea Partiers, Birthers, and 912ers. Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Pat Buchanan have all sung its praises, and in December, a grassroots summit it helped organize drew such prominent guests as representatives Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, both Georgia Republicans.

There are scores of patriot groups, but what makes Oath Keepers unique is that its core membership consists of men and women in uniform, including soldiers, police, and veterans. At regular ceremonies in every state, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution — but then they go a step further, vowing to disobey "unconstitutional" orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government.

But the Oath Keepers represent a dangerous revision of a bedrock principle of the constitution — separation of powers — combined with the willingness to commit violence and the ability to do so.

And they’re prepared to commit acts of violence if need be. They’re armed, trained, and hopped up on an outsized Glenn-Beckian sense of grievance. Scary people.

All terrorists are animated by a belief that they’re serving a higher purpose, and the Oath Keepers no doubt think that their dedication to the Constitution makes them ‘freedom fighters.’ To understand why they’re common terrorists waiting to happen, one needs only to grasp the single most important, bedrock principle upon which the whole Constitution was built: the separation of the powers. The founders understood that it was the most important wall against tyranny. One hopes that every school-kid gets the whole checks-and-balances thing.

Oath Keepers don’t. They’re not pledging to uphold the Constitution as interpreted by the judicial branch. Every cop and member of the military, including non-wing-nuts, are tasked with that enterprise, at least in theory. They are saying that they will violently uphold their own interpretations of what is and is not Constitutional, or the interpretations of Michelle Bachmann or Rush Limbaugh.

The Oath Keepers represent the executive branch. Michelle Bachmann represents the legislative branch. Rush Limbaugh is, most generously, an entertainer. So the moment one of these yahoos decides to put his or her oath into action based on any of their views of what’s Constitutional, he or she will be committing a straightforward act of domestic terrorism, and it’s really that simple.

People’s choices often reflect something of their character. If the same is true of political parties, the GOP choice of friends is troubling, to say the least.

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