Monday, February 7, 2011

Stewart Rhodes interview with Radley Balko


Anyone familiar with my writing would understand that I've got serious philosophical objections with Oath Keepers (for reasons having nothing to do with the standard paranoia about the group), but if there must be a state, I am all for keeping it well-saturated with the basic OK attitude.  And I continue to be impressed with founder Stewart Rhodes;  it is obvious to anyone who actually listens to what he says that he is to "warmongering neocons" rather as Edward Abbey would be to PETA.

Here, he is interviewed by the indispensable Radley Balko, and Rhodes continues to impress.  Consider this exchange:
Reason: There's one criticism of your group that's similar to those directed at the Tea Party. You've said that Bush was just as hostile to the Constitution as Obama has been, indeed that most of the worst executive power grabs began under Bush. So why did Oath Keepers spring up only after Obama took office?

Rhodes: I just hadn't gotten the idea yet. I got the idea during the 2008 election campaign. I worked for Ron Paul during the primary, and when it became clear that he wasn't going to get the nomination, I started to think about what I wanted to do next. And that's when the idea came to me that I wanted to do something involving the military and the police. And that was no matter who became president. At the time we didn't know if it would be McCain, Obama, or Hillary Clinton.

But it's true. All of this began or really started to get worse under Bush. That's when you had this wave of unconstitutional federal power. In particular, I was worried about this claim that the president could detain American citizens as unlawful enemy combatants. A president who would make that claim assumes powers that could be used in so many other ways too. I wrote a paper on that issue while I was at Yale Law School, during the Bush administration, which actually won the Yale Prize for best paper on the Bill of Rights. I was an outspoken critic of Bush then. I had a blog at the time that was very critical of Bush and his assumption of unconstitutional powers. I called the neocons in the Bush administration "national security New Dealers." They expanded the power of the federal government at least as much as the New Deal did, but they did it through the lens of national security. The warrantless spying was unconstitutional. The detention of Jose Padilla was unconstitutional. The detentions without trial were unconstitutional. Most of the new powers Bush claimed were unconstitutional.

But now you have Obama, who has not only not renounced those powers but has expanded them. He also now claims the power to assassinate American citizens his administration deems enemy combatants with no oversight. That's just frightening.

At this point I do really wish I had started Oath Keepers during the Bush administration. It would have been a good test. My guess is that I'd have started with a lot of liberals joining up, and you'd have seen conservatives and neocons howling that I'm a traitor. I think it's just human nature and the cycle of politics. When the left is in power, they forget about the Constitution because it limits what they can do. So they characterize people who stand by the Constitution as reactionary or dangerous. But when they were out of power, they were citing the Constitution all of the time. They were quoting Ben Franklin about sacrificing liberty for security.

And it's the same for the right. The Republicans clamoring for the Constitution now had no respect for it when Bush was in power. They thought he could do no wrong.

And the following neatly sums up the whole attitude--the "what's the point of all this?" question:
Reason: What do you make of what we've seen in Tunisia and Egypt?

Rhodes: I like it. What happend in Tunisia is an excellent example of the military doing the right thing. When Ben Ali ordered the senior military general to shoot the protesters, he refused, and the Tunisian military simply stood down and got out of the way. And without the military, the secret police were overwhelmed by the people, and the dictator was done. He fled for his life. Note that the Tunisian military did not remove the dictator in a coup, which would just lead to another dictator. But instead, they simply stood down and let the people of the nation decide their own fate. That was precisley the right thing to do, and I hope the military in Egypt does likewise. A military coup is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire, so we don’t want to see that. But we do want to see the military refuse to be tools of oppression. When the military withdraws its support, a dictator is powerless, just as happend in Romania when Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989. Mubarak is a dictator, and there is never any excuse for propping up dictators. He needs to go, and he will, so long as the Egyptian military does the right thing.
Yes, the whole interview is like that.  Again, Rhodes ain't no warmed-over neocon.

If there must be a state, and if it must have a military to impose its will by force, then this would seem to be the most effective way to keep the descent into tyranny in check--the withdrawal of consent, voluntarily, by the very arm of the state that the puppet masters expect to use as their personal broadsword, at the moment that an appropriate line is crossed.  It's rather ironic that this is essentially the same attitude as "what if they held a war and nobody came?"

Now those who know me know that this is the part where I point out that it is the withdrawal of consent part that makes the OK attitude effective and admirable...and suggest that maybe the idea is so potentially powerful that it just might work on up the line too.  If the executioner can stay the execution by refusing to carry it out, can a little more withdrawal of consent cause us to start questioning other sacred cows too?

If the OK attitude does nothing more than that--lets more and more people consider the alternative choice of refusing to comply when a request or demand is simply so wrong that they will not participate--then I am happy that they are around.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree, I like the ideas of OKs around.

I think we might have the same objections to them.

If they do not first realize that many of their actions, right now are in violations of their oaths, what's to stop further ones?

I had an airport LEO "Oath Keeper" friend tell me how he would never violate the people's rights, then went on to explain how he "convinced" a reluctant and resistant citizen to step into a TSA 4th amendment-free zone.

Hmm. If that is oath keeping, I'd rather have an honest enemy than a self-deceiving "oath keeper".

As you said though, that interview was somewhat encouraging.

To me though, the cup is always half empty.