The protests in Ferguson, Missouri, this month presented a dilemma for the anti-government Right. The activists and elected officials who spent the spring fawning over lawless Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s stand against what they saw as an overbearing federal government changed their tune or just went silent when a police force armed with military weapons cracked down on mostly peaceful protesters in Ferguson.
On Tuesday, Gawker’s Adam Weinstein examined the “inherent contradiction” in the membership of St. Louis police officer Dan Page — who was suspended after he shoved a CNN reporter and the video of a violent rant he made came to light — in Oath Keepers, a group whose entire founding purpose is a fear of violent government overreach against unarmed citizens.
…For all their delusions, the Oath Keepers seem tailor-made to counter the surreal overarmed police state that may have played a role in Michael Brown's death by cop in Ferguson, and that has ebbed and flowed through the streets there ever since. The oath that Oath Keepers keep is to disobey a set of orders they believe may be given by government authorities . Hence they swear, in part:
- We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.
- 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.
As Weinstein notes, the Missouri chapter of the Oath Keepers has sent a “letter of warning” to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in opposition to police tactics against the protesters. But the Oath Keepers’ opposition seems to be based less on principle than on strategy — in a separate blog post, the national group objects to the police failure to stop looting while it took aim at peaceful protesters. The blog post also notes that Oath Keepers on the scene in Ferguson were “talking consensus for the benefit of the police and the people equally.” This role of self-appointed mediator is in sharp contrast to the group’s show of force at the Bundy ranch.
Ferguson has exposed some common ground between the anti-government Right and mainstream civil liberties groups — for instance, both the extreme right-wing Gun Owners of America and the American Civil Liberties Union have signed on to a plan to end the program that sends discount military equipment to local police departments.
Gun Owners of America’s executive director Larry Pratt, however, has been uncharacteristically quiet about Ferguson, linking on Twitter to the Missouri Oath Keepers’ letter to Nixon, but also to an article claiming that Michael Brown wasn’t unarmed because he was “young and strong.” GOA sent out an email arguing that violence in Ferguson was just another reason why people should be allowed to own AR-15s.
Sheriff Richard Mack, the founder of a group that believes that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the land, has also been strangely silent on Ferguson, despite having spent time rallying against the federal government at the Bundy ranch with armed militia groups that he compared to Rosa Parks.
And then there’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Bundy ally who, as the situation in Ferguson escalated, crowed about the combat supplies that he had amassed for his own department.
Yes, the relative silence of the anti-government Right on Ferguson is inconsistent, but so is their view of the Ferguson protests: In the view of many right-wing activists, the protesters in Ferguson weren’t standing up to the government, they were themselves tools of the government.
There is a school of thought among right-wing commentators that the protests in Ferguson were orchestrated — or at the very least encouraged — by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration in order to stir up racial resentments and increase Democratic chances in the 2014 midterm elections.
This paranoid scenario is in line with Pratt’s fear, expressed last year, that President Obama is on the verge of starting a race war against white people.
The Ferguson protests exposed a key fault line in the anti-government "Patriot" movement: they are against government overreach, but their definition of what counts as government never seems to be quite clear.