The Oath Keepers’ historic forebears

draft riot
Draft rioters, New York City, 1863.

 

The Oath Keepers, who rose to public prominence earlier this month through their appearance at the protests in Ferguson, MO, marking the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, are far from the first group of Americans to pledge to resort to arms to defend the Constitution and resist the tyranny of their own government. For historic precedent, meet the “Decemvirates.”

In 1863, amidst rising Northern opposition to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, an anonymous letter was printed and circulated in Philadelphia calling for the formation of secret underground cells of armed fighters “ready to resist by armed force [Lincoln’s] tyrannical usurpations and those of his hired minions” and prevent the enforcement of the Conscription Act which had passed in March of that year, instituting a draft to replenish the ranks of the Union Army.

With a very few minor changes in wording, the letter (you can read the whole thing at Slate) could have been written by the Oath Keepers or any of the other multitude of anti-government “patriot” groups which have emerged from the shadows of the political far right over the last few years:

We are in the midst of the most desperate and cruel despotism that ever disgraced the civilized world. The worst form is about to be developed in the enforcement of the “Conscription Law,” by which men are to be torn from their families and homes, and forced to fight against their will, against the Constitution and against the voice of the majority of the people; in order that the present tyrants in power may be sutained in their usurpations.

Frankly, the chief difference between the Decemvirates, so-called because the cells were to be comprised of 10 members, and today’s self-appointed armed defenders of the Constitution is that today they organize in the open.  And they are far better armed.

Maybe the cops watched “Zulu”

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Did the St. Louis cops stay up late watching old movies?

 

From a story at Slate, St. Louis police tried an … unusual … method of crowd control Wednesday night after more violent protests erupted following the killing of yet another young black man by police.

According to local black newspaper the St. Louis American, around 8 p.m. a line of police officers began “moving towards the crowd and started beating their batons on the ground” in unison. The paper reported that as the officers “advanced down the street,” the synchronous taps “seemed to further enrage the individuals who had temporarily formed pockets on the side street.” According to the paper, demonstrators seemed to take “the batons hitting the ground as taunts.”

Whatever the intended effect, the tactic did little to calm or disperse the crowd, and from there things escalated. Fires were set, nine people were arrested, and when it was all over there was even more community outrage at what was perceived as heavy-handed police response.

Apparently the tactic, while fairly common in Europe, is rarely seen in the United States. Alex Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College who was interviewed for the Slate piece, said:

“The idea is a kind of ‘shock and awe’ effect. It represents a concrete threat that the police are prepared to use force to disperse people. On the one hand it is an organized, measured, and intentional show of force. On the other hand it can be very provocative, inviting additional throwing of rocks and bottles.”

Other experts weighed in as well.

Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD officer, echoed that explanation: “Think of the Roman soldiers banging on their shields to instill fear in the opponent,” he wrote to me. “It’s all about a psychological advantage.”

But how can a tactic that is now uncommon, and somewhat inscrutable, send a clear message? According to Doug Wyllie, editor in chief of the law enforcement news and commentary website PoliceOne, that’s sort of the point. “It really is just a matter of doing something that’s completely nonviolent,” he said. “The intent is to get people to think, ‘This is gonna get weird in a minute.’ ”

Personally, I don’t think the cops were looking to follow the example of their European counterparts. Nope, I think they were inspired by the classic 1964 war movie Zulu. Don’t believe me? Watch the clip below and judge for yourself.

The intern was asking for it

See-the-problem-is-that

 

The Missouri state legislature apparently has a little problem with sexual harassment of teenage interns by lawmakers. But at least it’s a bipartisan problem.

In July, a Democratic state senator resigned amidst allegations that he had sexually harassed two young female interns. And earlier in May, the Republican speaker of the state house stepped down after being caught in what the Kansas City Star called

a sexually charged relationship between House Speaker John Diehl and a college freshman in a Missouri Capitol internship program that shut down abruptly last month.

But there is good news. A solution to the problem has been proposed by a pair of Republican lawmakers, though their fix was greeted with what might kindly be called skepticism. As Think Progress reported,

Some Missouri state lawmakers have a controversial idea for preventing future sexual harassment cases in the legislature: Imposing a new “modest” dress code for teenage interns …

Critics pointed out that changing interns’ dress codes won’t get at the fundamental issue of lawmakers potentially harassing their staff or colleagues. Plus, they argued there isn’t anything inherently distracting about interns’ bodies that should prevent their bosses from being able to go about doing their jobs.

“If my plaid jacket or the sight of a woman’s bare knee distracts you from your legislative duties, I would look for other work,” Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D) responded.

But as the Think Progress piece points out those Missouri lawmakers far from alone in suggesting that the problem of men’s out-of-control libidos can be solved by getting those nubile young ladies to cover up a bit. The Montana legislature last year passed

new dress code guidelines that stipulated “leggings are not considered dress pants” and women should be “sensitive to skirt lengths and necklines.”

And I suspect we’ve all read stories about high schools and middle schools imposing dress codes on girls banning leggings, yoga pants, some short or skirts, and other articles of apparel which might distract randy young men from their studies.

As one of my Irish friends pointed out on Facebook, “Funny that that is the approach, given the number of people who criticise Muslims for dictating dress codes for women too, and for the same reason – to curb men’s passions.”

Good thing we Americans don’t do irony so well.

The Oath Keepers have plans for Ferguson

Armed Black Panthers on the steps of the California State Legislature, June 1967.
Armed Black Panthers on the steps of the California State Legislature, June 1967.

 

According to a story at Red Dirt Report, the leader of the St. Louis County, MO. chapter of the Oath Keepers and his squad …

… will test state law with a unique experiment by arming 50 blacks with AR-15 rifles while marching through downtown Ferguson, Mo.

Sam Andrews, head of an Oath Keepers group in St. Louis County, Mo., confirmed the event will occur within the next “couple of weeks” to demonstrate to local enforcement officials the meaning and intent of Missouri’s open carry law.

“It will be an iconic event,” he said, comparing it to the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima or the Martin Luther King, Jr.-led March on Washington, D.C.

According to Andrews, the group’s plans are motivated by two factors. First, he says the group was told by the St. Louis County police officials, who were otherwise cordial, that the group could not carry long-barreled rifles, like the military-grade weapons the group was armed with, inside Ferguson city limits.  That, Andrews said, is a misinterpretation of Missouri’s open-carry laws.

The second factor, though, is far more interesting and, historically speaking, far more provocative.  According to the website The Root, Black Lives Matter protesters challenged the all-white Oath Keepers about their ability to openly carry arms without fear in the middle of Ferguson’s huge police presence.  So in response, Andrews says his group wants to specifically arm black residents because:

Every person we talked to said if they carried they’d be shot by police. That’s the reason we’re going to hold this event and it will be a legal demonstration.

This is truly significant.  As Adam Winkler argued in his 2011 article in The Atlantic, “The Secret History of Guns,” gun control in the United States was for generations driven by fear of armed African Americans. This is why, for most of their respective histories, both the Ku Klux Klan and the NRA both worked hard to limit civilian access to firearms.

Much of this came to a head in California in 1967 when, as Winkler writes:

THE EIGHTH-GRADE STUDENTS gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols.

The 24 men and six women climbed the capitol steps, and one man, Bobby Seale, began to read from a prepared statement. “The American people in general and the black people in particular,” he announced, must …

“… take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.”

Seale then turned to the others. “All right, brothers, come on. We’re going inside.” He opened the door, and the radicals walked straight into the state’s most important government building, loaded guns in hand. No metal detectors stood in their way.

What followed, less than a year later, was the passage of the Mulford Act, which repealed the California state law which allowed the public carrying of loaded firearms. It was signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan, today the patron saint not just of the Republican Party but of the gun rights movement generally.

Into this fraught confluence of gun rights, racism, and fear now tread the Oath Keepers. I’m not sure anyone can predict the outcome.