It was only a matter of time before the Oath Keepers panicked in the aftermath of a horrific Florida high school shooting that left 17 students dead.
In a call to action discussed during a nearly three-hour webinar on Monday, the largest and most influential antigovernment “Patriot” group encouraged members to post armed guards outside schools nationwide, even if that school district asks them to leave or if doing so they would violate gun laws.
“[N]otify the school of your intent,” Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, wrote in a national call to action. “Notice the key word there is ‘notify,’ rather then ask for permission. When it comes to standing outside schools within the limits of the law to defend the lives of our children, you don’t need to ask permission of bureaucrats or politicians.”
The idea to send armed Oath Keepers to schools nationwide began after reports surfaced that an Oath Keeper in Indiana had begun staking out a spot overlooking a school in Fort Wayne, just north of Indianapolis, and had called on national leaders to join, according to The Indianapolis Star. Within hours, the Oath Keepers announced their call to action, warning that “leftist ‘blood dancers’” were preparing to “push for more infringements on our right to keep and bear arms.”
Such panic is not without precedent. In fact, fears that restrictions will be placed on the 2nd Amendment run rampant through the movement and remain central to the identity of the Oath Keepers, an antigovernment group that emerged in 2009 from the Tea Party-fueled backlash against the election of President Obama.
That year, Rhodes announced the formation of the Oath Keepers and called on military and police personnel to honor their oaths to the Constitution by refusing to follow 10 orders, including those to disarm American citizens. Since then, the group has responded to almost every mass shooting with resistance to any effort to restrict gun rights or cut access to ammunition.
But the political climate following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has been particularly heated, and the Oath Keepers’ Monday night webinar announcing their call to action rose in tone and tenor to a fevered pitch as participants defined the charged climate following the Parkland shooting as preamble to a federal gun grab.
“You have to give them nothing. They want it all,” said David Cordrea, a self-described “armed citizen advocate” who writes regularly on the Oath Keepers website. “Above all else, we will not disarm.”
The discussions over gun control became a window into a movement that has struggled to define itself after President Trump’s election, a time when racist hate groups have capitalized on a tacit approval of their politics coming from the White House. Rhodes, the former Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate who founded the Oath Keepers, has worked hard to distance himself from extremists outside of the the antigovernment movement. That is, until recently.
On Inauguration Day, Rhodes attended The DeploraBall in Washington, D.C., an event sponsored by conspiracy theorists Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec. His Oath Keepers helped guard a day of rallies organized by the anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America and protected members of the racist “alt-right” at the University of California, Berkeley, last year as they protested university officials canceling conservative speeches.
With the shooting in Florida igniting a fury in the movement, Rhodes on Monday night warned that some places of the country such as California have already fallen to what another speaker labeled a “deep state coup against Trump.”
“If [the left] can contain Trump long enough until he’s gone, then they will win all the marbles,” Rhodes said. “If they can change the [ethnic] demographics enough to pack the vote, they get a lock on power.”
Since the 1990s, when the passage of the Brady Bill ignited wild fears of 2nd Amendment infringements, and the gun shows of the era that became waypoints in the migration of conspiracy theories and radical right ideologies into the mainstreams, there have been few issues like gun control that have led to growth in the antigovernment movement.
Ill-fated efforts to charge gun offenses at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho –– events that inspired Timothy McVeigh to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City –– became proof that the government was coming for America’s guns. The federal siege of white separatist Randy Weaver’s cabin at Ruby Ridge in 1992, a tragedy that left three people dead including Weaver’s wife and son and a U.S. Marshal, became a touchstone for the radical right.
Matt Bracken, a former Navy SEAL who participated in the Oath Keepers’ webinar, warned that if the federal government does come to restrict access to guns, as some suggest they did in Ruby Ridge, what would follow would be tantamount to civil war. Because, he suggested, there are gun owners willing to die –– and to kill –– to defend their rights.
“If there are 100 Ruby Ridges happening every week, they will run out of FBI agents,” Bracken said.