Oath Keepers, unlicensed security services amid the civil rights protests of Ferguson MO
Since August 2014 the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson MO has been in the news, not because it's a nice town (which it is) but because a Ferguson Police Officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. Purportedly the shooting was because the teenager had just committed a "strong arm robbery" by stealing a package of cheap cigars from a convenience store. The crime (petty theft, if he did indeed do it) doesn't justify the retribution (summary execution in the street) by any measure of civility. As a result a swarm of protests erupted that were worsened by the over-handed militarized tactics of the police department, armed by military gear provided by a military-industrial-complex caught up in post Sept-11-2001 paranoia. (image from Wikipedia)
I have family who live in Ferguson MO, and have visited the place a dozen or so times over the last 15+ years, both giving me some experience of the place, and a reason to have spent awhile reading the news coverage. It's a quiet suburb in the North County area of St. Louis County. The population is heavily skewed towards African Americans, and I understand from press reporting that the Ferguson city government (as well as the other small cities of North County) are heavily "White". That and long-standing racial divides in the St. Louis area made for a powder keg the last few months. (image from Wikipedia)
The intense burst of protests in August were met by what many called an extreme police reaction, with military-style tactics and military equipment, way beyond the best response to the situation. The people had grievances they wished to air, but were met by crushing force, tear gas, swat police, riding in heavily armored vehicles designed for counter-insurgency operations in the Iraq War. After a period the situation calmed down but protests continued.
Now that a Grand Jury decided to not press charges against the police officer, protests have flared up again. And this time there is a new player on the scene: The Oath Keepers.
According to STL Today and the NY Times, the Oath Keepers group has begun patrols of businesses in areas seeing the heaviest rioting. The group was allowed to operate for a few days, but on Saturday the St. Louis County Police ordered the Oath Keepers to stand down because the Oath Keepers were offering "security services" without a proper license to do so.
Who are the Oath Keepers and what are their goals?
On the one hand it's nice that the Oath Keepers stepped in to help protect the community. It's shameful that in the context of these protests, others were harmed. The Walgreens or Quick Trip or other businesses in the area looted or burned during the protests had nothing to do with the cause of Michael Brown's shooting, and therefore should not have been harmed.
On the other hand the Oath Keepers presence looks like a vigilante group taking the law into their own hands. Ideally the government is the entity providing the forces that keep the police, and ideally it's the police department who acts as peace keepers serving the community they've sworn to protect.
Unfortunately in this case, like in many others, the Ferguson Police was part of the problem rather than the solution.
The entrance of the Oath Keepers may have prevented the looting of some businesses, but it brought in a non-governmental group of armed people whose motives and alliegances we have to ponder. It was no longer purely a protesters-versus-authority scenario, but one where various groups of varying goals are tussling with authorities over the situation.
The Oath Keepers appear to be on the one hand a collection of police and military people patriotically defending their country and strictly abiding by their oaths of duty, even after leaving the employment of the police or military forces they served in. On the other hand, the Oath Keepers appear to believe the government will overstep rational authority, and that there will be a need for the people to stand up against unconstitutional irrational dictates from the U.S. Government.
The Oath Keepers have put together a Declaration of Orders They Will NOT Obey, which they summarize as follows:
- We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.
- We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people
- We will NOT obey orders to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to military tribunal.
- We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state.
- We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.
- We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.
- We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.
- We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control.”
- We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.
- We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.
In other words - the Oath Keepers define themselves by what they will NOT do. When defining a thing as "NOT something-else" you haven't defined what it is, only what it's NOT. And therefore we don't know what Oath Keepers is, only what they say they won't do.
These statements clearly demonstrate their worry that the government is going to overstep rational bounds and start confiscating property, infringing on freedom of speech or other freedoms, and in general impose something like a brutal dictatorship over the country. Those sorts of fears are widely present on the fringes of American Politics.
Their website goes on to explain that the Oath Keepers membership are current and formerly serving military, police, firemen, and other first responders. Each swore some sort of oath to "defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
Because its membership includes "currently serving" people, it means some portion of military or police officers might refuse to obey orders from their commanding officers because of their Oath Keepers membership. Imposing a "state of emergency" or "martial law" is regularly done during real emergencies such as large scale natural disasters, or during riots. Does that mean police unit cohesion is threatened by the Oath Keepers and that emergency response could be hampered by individual unit members refusing to cooperate with orders from commanding officers?
I do appreciate that the Oath Keepers wants the role of "conscience" within the ranks of military or police. The history of mankind has repeatedly demonstrated governments willing to deploy their military or police to squash even the slightest of protests, as a domineering force preventing the population from living to its true potential.
There are several on-going situations right now where "foreign troops" are being deployed into various countries. Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Ethopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine ... those are just a few countries that come to mind off the top of my head. Then there's Germany which is still occupied by military forces from America, and other countries, following World War II.
It's hard to imagine the U.S. ever getting into the position where foreign troops are deployed here in peace keeping missions. But....? Maybe...? There might be a what-goes-around-comes-around effect where, because the U.S. has instigated invasions of and occupations of other countries, a kind of global karma might mean the U.S. would be subjugated to the same sooner-or-later?
The Oath Keepers seem to be predicting that the Government will become the Enemy of the People. Has that already happened?