In a further escalation of tensions, members of the antigovernment Oath Keepers have joined the media circus surrounding a Kentucky anti-LGBT clerk's defiance of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
Threatening to turn the media circus surrounding Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis’ ongoing fight with federal courts over her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples into something akin to the Bundy Ranch scene, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes on Wednesday announced that he would be sending his troops to the scene in Grayson, Ky., to protect Davis from being arrested again by federal marshals.
“We have had boots on the ground there since last week and will continue to have a presence,” an announcement at the Oath Keepers website said. It noted that Rhodes had “reached out personally to Davis’s legal counsel to offer protection to Kim, to ensure that she will not be illegally detained again. We would like to stress in the strongest terms possible that we are doing this not because of her views on gay marriage, but because she is an elected public servant who has been illegally arrested and held without due process.”
Davis was arrested last week for refusing to obey a federal court order and detained on contempt-of-court charges. Judge David Bunning, who had ordered the arrest, released her early this week, but required her to drop her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses in doing so.
However, Davis – who is scheduled to return to work on Monday – has subsequently insisted she will not issue such licenses. So a second arrest may well be imminent.
The Oath Keepers are hardly the only far-right extremists who have shown up to participate in the circus that has developed outside the Rowan County Courthouse in the past week. Renowned white supremacist Michael Peroutka showed up over the weekend and offered a speech in support of Davis at a rally outside the jail where she was being held. So did Matt Heimbach, leader of the white-nationalist Traditionalist Youth Network.
Rhodes on Wednesday broadcast a conversation he had with his “boots on the ground” in Kentucky – notably, a “constitutionalist” sheriff named Denny Peyman from Jackson County, KY.
Peyman told Rhodes: “I think that it’s important that our presence be known there, because it’s not an issue of marriage, it’s not an issue of a lot of things they are trying to make the issue. The issue is still that a judge took an elected official, a citizen of the United States, and detained them without cause, without paperwork, and without due process. That is the situation.”
Rhodes noted that the Oath Keepers originally headed to Kentucky to participate in a protest outside the home of Judge Bunning, but now were reconfiguring their plans to head to Grayson and provide a security detail for Davis.
Peyman sounded a threatening note in Bunning’s direction: “I think the judge still needs to know that he’s not out of the woods just because they let her out. He’s still going to be held accountable.”
Rhodes instructed Peyman and company to offer Davis’ team the Oath Keepers’ protection. “Offer her – if she wants a close protection team, we will provide it,” he said. “But regardless, people should consider her under our protection. We’ll make sure that our people are keeping a close eye on the situation and we’re gonna have boots on the ground and mount a watch, regardless. We need this judge to understand that he’s not gonna be able to just go grab this lady whenever he feels like it.”
The Oath Keepers – a “Patriot” organization fueled by conspiracy theories about an imminent federal dictatorship – played a central role in turning the Bundy Ranch standoff with federal authorities into a near-shootout in April 2015, and have subsequently ordered their members into various “calls to arms” in Oregon and Montana, where they brought guns to the scene of what were essentially paper disputes over mining rights.
The Oath Keepers also have had a presence in Ferguson, Mo., during the upheaval of recent rioting and protests over police handling of black suspects. And they have also offered their “protection” to the nation’s military-recruitment centers with vigilante armed patrols outside them.
UPDATE: Kim Davis's legal team declined the Oath Keepers' offer to protect her against arrest, according to a post dated September 11 on the Oath Keepers website.