EVERY YEAR ON April 19, history buffs gather on the village green in Lexington, Massachusetts, to reenact the first battle of the Revolutionary War. For Stewart Rhodes, it was the ideal setting to unveil the organization his followers consider the embodiment of a second American Revolution.
Rhodes, 44, is a constitutional lawyer—his 2004 Yale Law School paper, "Solving the Puzzle of Enemy Combatant Status," won the school's award for best paper on the Bill of Rights. He's now working on a book tentatively titled We the Enemy: How Applying the Laws of War to the American People in the War on Terror Threatens to Destroy Our Constitutional Republic. Raised in the Southwest, Rhodes enlisted in the Army after high school, receiving an honorable discharge after he injured his spine during a night parachute jump. He enrolled at the University of Nevada and in 1998, after graduating, landed a job supervising interns for Congressman Ron Paul. Rhodes has also worked as a firearms instructor and a sculptor—for Vegas' MGM Grand hotel, he produced a fiberglass Minuteman statue—and has practiced law in small-town Montana ("Ivy League quality without Ivy League expense"). He writes a gun-rights column for SWAT magazine. He's a libertarian, staunch constitutionalist, and devout Christian.
It was while volunteering for Ron Paul's doomed presidential bid that Rhodes decided to abandon electoral politics in favor of grassroots organizing. As an undergrad, he had been fascinated by the notion that if German soldiers and police had refused to follow orders, Hitler could have been stopped. Then, in early 2008, SWAT received a letter from a retired colonel declaring that "the Constitution and our Bill of Rights are gravely endangered" and that service members, veterans, and police "is where they will be saved, if they are to be saved at all!"
Rhodes responded  with a breathless column starring a despotic president, "Hitlery" Clinton, in her "Chairman Mao signature pantsuit." Would readers, he asked, obey orders from this "dominatrix-in-chief" to hold militia members as enemy combatants, disarm citizens, and shoot all resisters? If "a police state comes to America, it will ultimately be by your hands," he warned. You had better "resolve to not let it happen on your watch." He set up an Oath Keepers blog, asking soldiers and veterans to post testimonials. Word spread. Military officers offered assistance. A Marine Corps veteran invited Rhodes to speak at a local Tea Party event. Paul campaigners provided strategic advice. And by the time Rhodes arrived in Lexington to speak at a rally staged by a pro-militia group, a movement was afoot.
Rhodes stood on the common that day before a crowd of about 400 die-hard patriot types. He spoke their language. "You need to be alert and aware to the reality of how close we are to having our constitutional republic destroyed," he said. "Every dictatorship in the history of mankind, whether it is fascist, communist, or whatever, has always set aside normal procedures of due process under times of emergency...We can't let that happen here. We need to wake up!"
He laid out 10 orders an Oath Keeper should not obey , including conducting warrantless searches, holding American citizens as enemy combatants or subjecting them to military tribunals (a true Oath Keeper would have refused to hold José Padilla  in a military brig), imposing martial law, blockading US cities, forcing citizens into detention camps ("tyrannical governments eventually and invariably put people in camps"), and cooperating with foreign troops should the government ask them to intervene on US soil. In Rhodes' view, each individual Oath Keeper must determine where to draw the line.