The December gathering was merely a windup. In mid-April, another summit is planned to coincide with a huge gun-rights march and a Tax Day Tea Party rally in Washington organized by Dick Armey's FreedomWorks  PAC and the American Liberty Alliance —whose home page touts Oath Keepers as a key part of "the Movement." Organizers expect hundreds of thousands to turn out. The Oath Keepers will be there en masse.
IN VEGAS, Rhodes took me aside repeatedly to explain that many of those in attendance—including featured speakers like "Patriot Pastor" Garrett Lear ("When a government doesn't obey God, we must reform it")—might not represent Oath Keepers' official message. He and his Web staff have been overwhelmed, he told me, by the amount of policing required to keep people from posting "off message" commentary encouraging violence or racism. Last December, they shut down one forum because too many posters were using it to recruit for militias. The Constitution, of course, allows citizens to form militias so long as their intent is to defend and not overthrow the government, but active-duty soldiers can lose security clearances or get demoted for associating with them. Rhodes advises members to go ahead and join—just not in Oath Keepers' name. "As a matter of strategy, it is best to keep the two separate," he wrote in a post.
There may also be serious downsides for a soldier who follows through on his Oath Keepers pledge. Disobeying orders can mean discharge or imprisonment. "You have every right to disobey an order if you think it is illegal," says Army spokesman Nathan Banks. "But you will face court-martial, and so help you God if you are wrong. Saying something isn't constitutional isn't going to fly."
A soldier like Charles Dyer, who in his July4Patriot persona advocated armed resistance against the government, could risk charges of treason. As a Marine sergeant based out of Camp Pendleton, Dyer posted videos to YouTube last year, his face half-covered with a skull bandana. "With the DHS blatantly calling patriots, veterans, and constitutionalists a threat, all that I have to say is, you're damn right we're a threat," he said  in one. "We're a threat to anyone that endangers our rights and the Constitution of this republic...We're gathering in defense of our way of life." For a while, he ran a training compound in San Diego, teaching civilians his Marine combat skills.
Dyer, who with Rhodes' blessing represented Oath Keepers at an Oklahoma Tea Party  rally on July 4, was charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with uttering "disloyal" statements. He ultimately beat the charge, left the Marines, and reappeared unmasked on YouTube encouraging viewers to join him at his makeshift training area in Duncan, Oklahoma—"I'm sure the DHS will call it a terrorist training camp." In January, Dyer was arrested  on charges of raping a seven-year-old girl. When sheriff's deputies raided his home, they found a Colt M-203 grenade launcher believed to have been stolen from a California military base. He now faces federal weapons charges and is being hailed by fringe militia groups like the American Resistance Movement as "the first POW of the second American Revolution."
Shortly after I asked Rhodes about Dyer—before his arrest hit the news—his testimonial vanished from the group's website. Rhodes once endorsed Dyer in glowing terms, but now claims he was never a member because he hasn't paid dues. Yet Dyer publicly referred to himself as an Oath Keeper, and Rhodes had previously insisted—to Lou Dobbs and anyone else who would listen—that you didn't need to pay dues to be a member.