The threat of violence in Kentucky

There is a group known as Oath Keepers whose membership consists of current and former military, police, and first responders who make it a point of sending heavily-armed people to places where there is tension. They have now descended on Rowan County to ‘protect’ Kim Davis, the Kentucky County clerk who has been refusing to issue marriage licenses because of her objection to same-sex marriage, from what they see as a tyrannical judge.

In a teleconference uploaded to YouTube, Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes discussed the operation with Kentucky sheriff Denny Peyman, Missouri Oath Keeper John Karriman, and West Virginia Oath Keeper Allen Landieri. The group claimed that their new mission had nothing to do with same-sex marriage and insisted they were only offering to guard Davis because the judge had acted illegally.

“People should consider her under our protection,” Rhodes says in the teleconference. “We’ll make sure that our people are keeping a close eye on the situation and we’re going have boots on the ground to keep watch regardless, because this judge needs to understand that he’s not going be able to just go grab this lady whenever he feels like it.”

The Oath Keepers act like a right wing paramilitary group.

The Oath Keepers have a history of intervening when the federal government tries to enforce laws the group disagrees with. The group was involved in an armed standoff with federal agents in 2013 while guarding Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was illegally grazing cattle.

Earlier this year, the group created a bit of a circus at mines in Montana and Oregon when federal officials tried to enforce land use laws and mine operators called on the group to help.

Their motives have been questioned when they have turned up during civil unrest and uprisings led by African-Americans protesting law enforcement killings of black people, where instead of guarding protesters, Oath Keepers appeared to act more like de facto law enforcers.

In a statement, the founder of the group made this offer to Davis.

Stewart Rhodes 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.

Given that the stated mission of this group is to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic”, they seem to have a very hazy idea of what that might mean. After all, Davis has been found to be in violation of the constitution since the Supreme Court, which is assigned the role of interpreting the constitution by the constitution itself, has ruled that same-sex couples have the same marriage rights as opposite-sex ones. Furthermore, she has had full due process rights, including lawyers and access to the courts and she lost. If the Oath Keepers truly are interested in defending the constitution, they should be arguing for Davis to be charged with violating it.

This is a troubling development not only because of the way it promotes a lawless society with vigilante justice but because of the immediate threat of violence. What if, when Davis returns to work today or Monday, she violates the judge’s direct order and stops the issuance of marriage licenses by her deputies and he orders her back into jail again for contempt? Will the Oath Keepers challenge the federal marshals entrusted to carry out his order? How far are these anti-gay crazies willing to go with this crusade?

Meanwhile, in one North Carolina county, “[a]ll four magistrates in North Carolina’s McDowell County have been barred from performing any marriages for six months after they used the state’s religious exemption law to opt out of performing same-sex weddings” and magistrates from a neighboring county have had to do them.

In the long run, these acts of resistance will not have any effect, any more than George Wallace barring the schoolhouse door to prevent integration or the actions of those who continued to discriminate against inter-racial couples after the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling that outlawed bans on such marriages. They are the manifestations of the frustration felt by those on the losing side of history who are flailing around trying to reclaim a world that is lost forever, and deservedly so.


  1. Chiroptera says

    When one remembers that the Oath Keepers specifically formed to prevent the Kenyan Muslim President Obama from rounding up conservative Christians and put them in FEMA camps, then one already understands their view of the Constitution they claim to be upholding.

  2. busterggi says

    “The Oath Keepers act like a right wing paramilitary group.”

    I gather the words “act like” should read “are”.

  3. lanir says

    The impact of these things is not null. I think they do have a real effect on events, just not the one that’s stated. Whoever is doing it is (generally successfully) prolonging conflict and hard feelings about the issue in question while scoring politial points (whether they’re specifically a politician or not) with some of the people on the losing side. It isn’t going to win whatever issue is at hand but I think it helps formalize a group of resistance around the idea before everyone scuttles off to hide under their own rock. And I think it tends to favorably place the people doing the grandstanding within those groups when they pull it off.

  4. Dago Red says

    I am quite sure Oath keepers and the Saudi Mutaween have very similar beginnings, with the Mutaween simply going back a few more centuries. The Arabic meaning of ‘Mutaween’, incidentally, is “volunteer.”

    People often note that in a “free” society, the crazies also have more freedom too…so its simply a matter of time before the crazies get together into militant extremists who exploit said freedoms to organize and oppress everyone else. Freedom, it seems, is likely a self-correcting phenomenon.

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