Oath Keepers is officially nonpartisan, in part to make it easier for active-duty soldiers to participate, but its rightward bent is undeniable, and liberals are viewed with suspicion. At lunch, when I questioned my tablemates about the Obama-Hitler comparisons I'd heard at the conference, I got a step-by-step tutorial on how the president's socialized medicine agenda would beget a Nazi-style regime.
I learned that bringing guns to Tea Party protests was a reminder of our constitutional rights, was introduced to the notion that the founding fathers modeled their governing documents on the Bible, and debated whether being Muslim meant an inability to believe in and abide by—and thus be protected by—the Constitution. I was schooled on the treachery of the Federal Reserve and why America needs a gold standard, and at dinner one night, Nighta Davis, national organizer for the National 912 Project , explained how abortion-rights advocates are part of a eugenics program targeting Christians. I also met Lt. Commander Guy Cunningham, a retired Navy officer and Oath Keeper who in 1994 took it upon himself to survey personnel at the 29 Palms  Marine Corps base about their willingness to accept domestic missions and serve with foreign troops. A quarter of the Marines he polled said that they would be willing to fire on Americans who refused to disarm in the face of a federal order—a finding routinely cited by militia and patriot groups worried about excessive government powers.
From the podium, ex-sheriff Mack told the crowd that he wished he'd been the officer ordered to escort Rosa Parks off the bus, because not only would he have refused, he would have helped her home and stood guard there. These days, he said, it's not African Americans who are under attack, but Christians, constitutionalists, and people who uphold family values: This time "it's going to be Rosa Parks the gun owner, Rosa Parks the tax evader, or Rosa Parks the home-schooler."
Mack runs the " No Sheriff Left Behind " campaign encouraging state and local authorities to disregard federal laws that they believe violate states' rights. During the 1990s, he successfully eviscerated a Brady Law provision requiring sheriffs to run background checks on handgun purchasers. Another sheriff who spoke, Mark Gower of Iron County, Utah, uses Mack's precedent to refuse to act against property owners who violate the Endangered Species Act. The conference's lifetime achievement award went to Army Specialist Michael New, discharged in 1996 for refusing to wear a United Nations helmet and patch while serving in Germany.
Oath Keepers steers clear of certain issues. Personally, Rhodes would prefer the list of objectionable orders to include detaining foreigners indefinitely at facilities like Guantanamo. And while he argues that torture should never be legal, the group takes no official stance on America's war on terror or overseas engagements. After an Oath Keeper who is also a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War  touted IVAW repeatedly on Oath Keepers' Web forum, Rhodes deleted the guy's online testimonial. "The IVAW have their own totalitarian mindset," he told me. "I don't like communists any more than I like Nazis."
On the conference's final day, National 912 Project chairman Patrick Jenkins stepped up to talk about the National Liberty Unity Summits  his group was organizing in cooperation with Oath Keepers. They would provide a chance, he said, for patriots to forge a common agenda and a plan to carry it out. At the first summit, in December, attendees included representatives of groups from FairTax Nation  to the Constitution Party  to Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum . On hand were Ralph Reed Jr. (former director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition  and recent founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition ), Larry Pratt (head of Gun Owners of America ), and Tim Cox (founder of Get Out of Our House , an organization praised on Fox News for its goal of replacing business-as-usual incumbents with "ordinary folks"). Most notable were representatives Broun and Gingrey, who according to summit organizer Nighta Davis have expressed willingness to introduce legislation crafted by summit attendees. (So, Davis says, have Steve King  [R-Iowa] and Michele Bachmann  [R-Minn.]. None of the representatives agreed to comment for this story.)