A statewide organization of conspiracy-peddling Oath Keepers has been gaining traction in small-town Oregon by convincing a series of county-level officials that they need to speak out against the enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act by passing official resolutions defending the constitutional rights of their citizens.
Among the concerns that these county officials cite is the alleged threat, raised by the Oath Keeper activists who promote these resolutions, that federal authorities are planning to round up American citizens and incarcerate them in concentration camps.
The resolution passed by the Klamath County board of commissioners on Sept. 24, for example, warned that “Whereas Klamath County is not a ‘battlefield’ subject to the ‘laws of war’,” the county commission was declaring that “it is unconstitutional, and therefore unlawful for any person to … arrest or capture any person in Klamath County, or citizen of Klamath County within the United States, with the intent of ‘detention under the law of war’ … or subject any person to targeted killing in Klamath County.”
Most of these resolutions are the handiwork of Tom McKirgan, who heads up the Oregon chapter of the Oath Keepers from his home in rural Coquille. He first convinced the Coos County commissioners – after months of activism – to pass a resolution in late July opposing the NDAA because of its supposed violations of the Fourth Amendment’s requirements for due process. (The national Oath Keepers organization also promotes NDAA-related conspiracy theories on its website.)
McKirgan has been working in tandem with activists from the state chapter of People against the National Defense Authorization Act (PANDAA) to promote the resolutions. And while PANDAA’s portion of the presentations have remained within the realm of the rational concerns about civil liberties related to the bill, when the Oath Keepers have spoken up, it has veered into the wildly conspiratorial.
Among the dire warnings these commissioners heard during the process were allusions to the Oath Keepers’ oft-stated belief that the NDAA creates the legal pretext for federal authorities to begin rounding up right-wing citizens and placing them in concentration camps, or that they might begin labeling Tea Party leaders “enemy combatants” and start assassinating them. At times – particularly in Klamath County – it seemed some of the commissioners shared those fears.
The same warning showed up on the Oath Keepers website in a discussion of the Oregon successes around the NDAA issue. A commenter named “D. Bertrand” explained: “One reason for the NDAA, (or maybe two reasons) is because, at some point in the near future, a massive round-up of any particular group and/or activists/journalists, would be so many that DUE PROCESS would be virtually impossible and would clog the legal system. The other reason would be … These massive arrests would be un-constitutional without legal probable cause, and a violation of 1st and 4th amendment rights, therefore….they will just go for it !!”
“Bertrand” then explained that, out of eight levels needed to reach that dire stage, “we are currently at Level Five,” adding: “Unfortunately, most Americans slept through Levels One thru Four and the NDAA is creeping through the back-door. Oregon Oath Keepers, and California, are going head to head with the NDAA. If when the NDAA goes live…that means WE ARE IN A WAR.”
McKirgan has weighed in on local issues in the Coos County area with a similarly conspiratorial perspective. When local night-sky watchers in the coastal town of Bandon promoted an ordinance to regulate residents’ lighting, he warned in a letter to the editor: “This is another avenue exploited by the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] to greatly expand their ulterior motive of turning the entire Coquille Valley into a massive mosquito bog unfit for human habitation.”
At an Oath Keepers gathering in Reedsport, he warned: “We are living under a soft form of martial law.” He also dismissed President Obama’s authority: “Obama is not a president,” he said. “He is nothing but a communist trying to usurp his power and bring us under the United Nations banner.”
“We’re trying to nullify, actually the Constitution nullifies it, we’re trying to reject and repeal section 1021 and 1022,” McKirgan told the Reedsport City Council. “Oath Keepers is not a militia. We are an organization of education. We reach, teach and inspire others to follow the oaths of office that they swore to uphold the Constitution. This is an unconstitutional act that places America on the battlefield, where everybody inside that battlefield are subject to the rules of military law.”
However, both the Reedsport and the Coos Bay city councils did turn him away in his efforts to get them to similarly endorse his conspiracy theories. But McKirgan has turned his sights to other precincts, with Douglas County next on his list, he says. And he promised: “We have other counties in our cross hairs.”
In the meantime, the Oath Keepers may not yet be calling their operations militias, but they are functionally becoming one: President/founder Stewart Rhodes recently announced that Oath Keepers were “going operational” with the formation of “Civilization Preservation Teams.” Last week, the organization announced it was forming an “honor guard” at the nation’s war memorials to prevent their closures during the government shutdown.