I know these things because I went undercover for a day as a member of this group. Here are a few things I learned.
The sound of gunfire rang off in the distance. Tense and paranoid, the backroom of the Westside Pistol Range felt like an Alex Jones discussion board come to life. Amalia arrived late with a lot on her mind. She shuffled through a handful of notes from her independent research on a nightmare anti-Utopian vision of America in which citizens are rounded up by their own government and placed in giant concentration camps. "They could just take us -- because they kind of own us!" she stated with certainty.
The group listened intently. A large man behind me chimed in, his words accented by gunshots: "When the banks fail, they can confiscate our assets and not pay us back," he said. Then he added that what Amalia mentioned could be found in a secret military manual called Civilian Management.
Westside Pistol Range
Confused? Don't worry, so
was am I.
The 15 members present were frustrated, and wanted to take control of their lives in an America which they see as spinning out of control. Most importantly, these patriots wanted to hold on to their guns, so as to be armed against "unconstitutional" orders from an increasingly tyrannical government.
These are the Oath Keepers, a nonpartisan (but libertarian-leaning) organization whose members call themselves "Guardians of the Republic." Founded in 2009 by Yale-educated attorney, former army paratrooper, and Ron Paul staffer Stewart Rhodes, their mission is to defend the Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. The Oath Keepers' core membership is largely comprised of active duty and retired police officers, firefighters, and military. Since Hurricane Katrina, they've feared that martial law will be instigated during future disasters and land every American in a 24/7 FEMA camp. Their motto: "Not on our watch!"
I know these things because I went undercover for a day as a member of this group. Here are a few things I learned.
My initial research made the group sound like a closed-door militia, plotting inside a heavily-armed compound. But for $40 a year, anyone can become a member of the Oath Keepers and gain access to their monthly meetings. It's like they're just begging the government to send someone to check things out. Maybe they are. Maybe they'll think it's me. Exciting!
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Do they shoot spies on sight? Only one way to find out!
Some Oath Keeper concerns seemed legit: The government has gotten too big, we do have a trillion-dollar deficit, and there is a growing militarization of the police. I can get behind all of that to some extent. What if they were just misunderstood? Full of hope that I wasn't transferring the funds that would lead to me being disappeared by a shady group of extremists, I entered my PayPal information and set off to join the next New York Oath Keepers meeting.
I walked down the long hallway inside the Westside Pistol Range, ready to come face-to-face with the Oath Keepers. Nervous. Sweaty. Apprehensive. I followed the sound of gunfire and clutched a copy of the Constitution so I wouldn't look like an outsider. A man behind the display of pistols directed me to the backroom of the range.
The front room was too bright and cheerful.
"Is this where the Oath Keeper meeting is?" I asked the early arrivals, who glanced at me with suspicion. The room was filled mostly with middle-aged men sporting mustaches and wearing plaid -- down-to-Earth, working-class guys -- as well as one other new member and two women who looked like Marge Simpson's sisters, Patty and Selma Bouvier.
I took my place under a big "Don't Tread on Me" flag. "How did you hear about the Oath Keepers?" asked the large man at the front of the room, standing near a slogan of his own which read "This Is Not Your Daddy's .45."
"I'm a member," I said, giving my best I-belong-here look.
After a few awkward moments, Bill, the local Oath Keeper leader, arrived. Sporting a long beard like a 1950s folk singer, he immediately reminded everyone to get their ham radio licenses. It's for communicating off the grid, you see.
"This giant behemoth, it's not just overrun the states -- it's overrunning the world," Bill told the group. "This economic system, this New World Order; the only thing we can do is get back to small groups like this."
Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images
"Our little group has always been. And always will until the end."
"... Those are Nirvana lyrics."
This vigilant belief could explain why the Oath Keepers seem to show up in places where they think they're needed. Armed members of the group mysteriously appeared on rooftops in Ferguson during the riots over the shooting death of Michael Brown. Their mission was to secure local businesses, but the local police ordered them to either leave or be arrested for operating security without a license. It added fuel to the group's belief that the government is not protecting its people.
Oath Keepers also appeared in the Nevada desert in 2014 to assist racist-ranting rancher Cliven Bundy in an armed standoff against the agents from the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Bad news! They won! In the face of armed resistance, the government withdrew, prompting critics to warn that the decision emboldened militia groups and set a dangerous precedent. Hard to argue with that!
"Does everyone have a copy of the Constitution? Who needs one?" asked Jack, the second-in-command. He turned toward me: "Do you have a copy?"
"Yes," I said. "Right here."
Did you think that line about clutching a copy of the Constitution was a joke? It absolutely was not. My copy was mailed when I paid the $40 membership fee. Along with that, I had also received Oath Keeper bumper stickers, business cards, brochures, and a laminated membership card and certificate -- all of which read "Not On Our Watch!" Estimated cost of entire membership pack, including shipping: $2.
Added value to your Chevy: undetermined.
"Someone suggested we discuss the executive actions," Bill said as a series of gunfire blasts roared in the background. Going around the circle, each Oath Keeper took a turn reading a passage from the Constitution with their thick New York accents. It was kind of like group Bible study -- interpreting an old document in a way that suits an agenda. It's also the exact same process that went into making both National Treasure movies.
When we got to the part of the Constitution stating that the president can't be a foreign national, someone made a joke about Obama being born in Kenya. We laughed. This was Oath Keeper humor.
"Wait 'til you hear my bit on airplane food!"
(It contains chemicals to control us through our precious bodily fluids.)
The Constitution is the Oath Keepers' bread and butter, and the group has numerous conspiracy theories to share about the government's quest to soil this sacred document. On today's agenda, Oath Keeper Joe explained the ploy behind Obama's "official story" (his quotes, not mine) of granting amnesty to 11 million immigrants living undocumented in the United States.
"'Here's your free cell phone, here's your free food stamps, here's your housing' ... You're going to vote for the hand that feeds and clothes you. That's what that was all about." Continuing with loud words: "Once you go there, you're done. Not just the Republican party, but the Republic is DONE!"
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"We hate immigrants! Because they won't vote for the party that hates IMMIGRANTS!"
The dots were connected. "Everything is backdoor," Jack said, giving his take on the legislation instigated after Sandy Hook. "The whole SAFE Act. The registering of ammunition -- it's a backdoor gun registry." The connection: "The biggest threat to gun ownership in this country is an amnesty for undocumented immigrants, because they will immediately vote for the Democratic Party. You get rid of the Electoral College. It's DONE!"
"I favor the phrase 'foreign nationalists residing illegally,'" said Rick, who then relayed a theory that said foreign nationalists residing illegally can simply jump from voting station to voting station now that they have ID cards.
"Not on our watch!" I said out loud.
Guess we'll have to beat them by voting double hard.
The Oath Keepers agreed this was being set up as a division of the United States. Every citizen except those on the West and East coasts will be denied.
"I don't want to sound racist," said Joe, in a way that can only preface something undeniably racist, "but they can't speak English. We go out of our way to accommodate you, rather than to say you need to learn our customs and our language. We go out of our way to accommodate the person coming into our country." Broad generalization: "They don't want to pay taxes -- that's why they come here illegally. They work off the books because they don't want to pay taxes." Worked up: "They send the money back to their own country. That's the way it goes; it's not about paying taxes or being a productive." Ranting: "They are making a better life for their families in whatever country is their home country. THAT'S A FACT!"
At this point, the other new member abruptly stood up and left, leaving behind her copy of the Constitution.
"Thanks for coming," said Jack. "Welcome to the family!"
"Yeah, this was really fun," she said unconvincingly as she walked out the door.
David Ryder/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"I'd like to share something if we have a minute," said Janet (one of the Bouvier sisters). "We've been doing a lot of research, and we've bumped into a lot of information about 'the problems' on YouTube and the Internet. If you don't know The Corbett Report, it's a really great source for alternative news," she says about her favorite conspiracy fountainhead for TRUTH. "It's getting so crazy out there. They're saying there are actual actors who are playing parts in these false flag events."
"Yeah, crisis actors," confirmed another Oath Keeper.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images
The child crisis actors are especially skilled.
A rumbling broke out. The theory: At shooting tragedies such as Sandy Hook, professional actors are hired to portray grieving family members on TV newscasts, because these horrific events are merely "false flags" orchestrated by the government to grab up firearms from our nation's gun owners.
Jack jumped in: "Gabby Gifford is one of those actors," he confirmed, referring to the former Arizona Congresswoman who was severely wounded when she was shot in the head at point blank range, and who later returned to public service to become an outspoken advocate for gun control. That same gunman wounded 13 other people and killed six. But the Oath Keepers believe that's just the "official story," and that her shooting was a hoax.
"Gunpowder can't melt bone skulls."
Their proof: photos of people who sort of look similar lined up together.
"If you look on the Internet under 'Gabby Gifford,' she is found out to be another actor with a whole different identity," Jack said, confirming the "false flag" attempt to further the gun grab and silence free speech in America.
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"She was originally a Tina Fey character on Saturday Night Live!"
Where the hell were the Oath Keepers getting these ideas from? Their theories seemed less political and more like the plot of a Steven Seagal movie. Rick had an explanation: "You get a lot of people yammering over here about something bad that goes down -- Sandy Hook or whatever -- so you got this conflict, right?" He punched his own hand to illustrate this. "That's what it's about: always having conflict in the world. And then what happens? Obama's going to step in and he's going to do the right thing for the little kids ... so that gives a platform for the government to come in and do what? TAKE MORE CONTROL!" He was angry: "We're so caught up in guns, in gay marriage, in social issues -- in bullshit that doesn't even affect our lives!"
I held my tongue from pointing out that this theory makes very little sense for a gay person who has been denied the right of marriage or someone who has been shot point blank in the face, mostly so as to avoid getting shot in the face myself.
I should have paid extra for the bulletproof Constitution.
The Oath Keepers started talking over each other in a cacophony of voices and gunfire.
"With all this staging and false flags, it may even stretch to our government officials, that they are also actors playing those parts," the other Bouvier sister confirmed. "So we're trying to work with the government and fight sovereignty ... but who are we really fighting?" she asked the group.
"There's something big there!"
"Not on our watch!" I mumbled.
James Knopf/Hemera/Getty Images
Everything is a conspiracy when you're living as an Oath Keeper. Take registering gun ammunition: "Why would you buy 5.56 ammo unless you had a weapon that could fire 5.56 ammo?" said Joe, a hardworking blue-collar guy from Queens. Conspiracies abound: "So you create the fear in the people. They go nuts and buy everything up -- and now you know who owns what -- without coming forward and saying you're going to have to register your gun." Worked up: "The government then has a record of these sales that they can track through credit cards and online." Reason: "They control the Internet!"
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"They even tried to ruin my marriage by hacking half a hard drive's worth of Asian porn onto my laptop!"
The Oath Keeper's raison d'etre is trumpeted on their website:
We will NOT obey any order to disarm the American people.
We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.
We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on US soil against the American people to "keep the peace" or to "maintain control" during any emergency, or under any other pretext. We will consider such use of foreign troops against our people to be an invasion and an act of war.
"We will NOT help blast Earth with a Moon laser. Controversial, yes, but we stand by our beliefs."
Above all else, the Oath Keepers swear to fight back against overly militarized police and unconstitutional acts by the government. Aside from firearms, their favorite weapon is the Constitution.
Although I kept my extreme poker face, I was starting to get flustered by these armchair Angela Lansbury theories and independent research gathered from other conspiracy sites, the disgracing the memories of dead victims and those who survived horrific events, and the mutual back-patting over online information shared in a grandiose exercise of confirmation bias. Arrogant assholery in its highest form. It must get tiring to constantly see the world through this filter. Conspiracies don't drive a legitimate political force.
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Luckily, there's a lounge onsite for blowing off steam.
"Have we heard from anybody that hasn't spoken up yet?" said Jack, directing his attention at me.
"I'm just taking it all in," I answered truthfully.
Kevin, who resembled a young Ben Franklin, proposed a call to action. "Before I found this group, I was on the couch listening to Alex Jones for years," he said. "My big wake-up call was watching a film called The Money Masters. Trust me, I didn't learn this stuff in school, but I did something with that information: I took half my assets and put it into precious metal." His point: "I don't want to get sucked in if I can't do nothing about it."
Anger, discontentment, and a mutual feeling of being lost circled the backroom of the gun range. Where does this energy go?
Kevin had a tangible goal he'd devised with the New Jersey Oath Keepers: "We're going to erect billboards near Fort Dix, for inbound/outbound traffic," he said. "That's what I offer to you -- find tasks you can complete."
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This'll be great for advertising Freedom! The Musical.
Janet was clearly frustrated. "I'm looking at how big this thing is," she said. "The president's power is to the point where he has the powers of a king. The Civil War never ended ... How is building a billboard going to help? The whole revolution is a lie. We're still a British colony."
Steady gunfire in the background. I had no idea what the f**k she was talking about. "Freedom is the goal, so how does that define the solution of what needs to be done?" she added.
Jack's patience was wearing thin: "That sounds like Eastern philosophy. It's self-improvement; it's not political action!"
Janet shifted the conversation: "I did want to share something on the positive solution side with people that they can look up. It's called The New Earth Project. They got free energy stuff going on. It's about building a community." She pulled out a stack of paper. "I did copy and bring this to pass around."
I did my part to make sure the New Earth Project doesn't claim any more victims in the form of innocent trees by opting to pull up their website on my smartphone instead. It looked like a planetary new-age Burning Man cult.
New Earth Poject
So to recap: New World Order = BAD. New Earth Project = GOOD!
Janet did nothing to change that perception when she blurted out, "The way I understand it, we contracted our way into a slavery system. The New Earth Project is creating a jurisdiction out of this system."
"Is it a physical location?" Jack asked, confused.
"Is it an example of getting multiple passports?" said another Oath Keeper, pulling an entirely new theory into the conversation without so much as a bit of context or explanation.
"Is it a cult? Also, is this a cult?"
Janet goes on: "The only reason why we're in the system is we participate in the system. I think what we can do instead of building a billboard is to reclaim our inner republic! To me, that's a powerful idea."
This was becoming like an anti-government AA Meeting. There was more talk of the New World Order, the Anunnaki reptilian race, mandatory adult vaccines, implanted RFID Chips, NSA monitoring through Barbie dolls, The Bilderberg Group, etc.
"If groups like the Oath Keepers do anything, it's waking people up," added Rick. "We're not going to be able to undo what has already been done. And it's going to take a while -- I know I'm going to my grave and it won't be resolved."
Image Source Pink/Image Source/Getty Images
Just like this meeting.
I look around the room at Kevin, Rick, Jack, Bill and the rest of the Oath Keepers, sitting in the back of a shooting range with the pop of gunfire keeping a steady beat. These people are hardworking Americans who don't know where to turn and feel that their shortcomings can be attributed to a system that's rigged against them.
The Oath Keepers are angry, lost, sad, confused, and frustrated. They're clutching their ham radios and screaming at the midday sun that "left-wing" and "right-wing" are just opposite ends of the same ugly bird.
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In some cases, the Marvel source material just did better.