Gun March Warm-Up: Oath Keepers Founder Goes Off on Maddow, Mother Jones -- And AlterNet
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"I gave you bad advice about the Mother Jones," Normandin replied.
I laughed. It was all very affable, this sparring.
Normandin explained that it wasn't just Mother Jones who'd burned them, but CNN, as well. He allowed the cable news channel to videotape the conference Oath Keepers sponsored in October, he said, thinking that since it would be on tape, "then they can't lie about us." But, he said, he was wrong. "Every single thing that went on there, and every truth about us that was brought out, was distorted," he said, "because it didn't fit the agenda. And that's just what he's getting at."
"I will speak to anyone," Normandin said. "I've been to dozens of tea parties all over Florida. I was at one yesterday morning, before I flew up here. I don't see racists in the movement. I don't particularly like Obama's politics. I don't care if he's black or he's white. They questioned John McCain's birth because he was born in Panama while his father was in the service...so your argument that they wouldn't question it if he was white--"
"--Well, that was in response to the madness about Obama's birth certificate."
"But that's the whole thing," Normandin said, "it's always some lame excuse when it's in response to this. I'm not racist at all."
He told me he was in a motorcycle club with a black Muslim guy who was like a brother. "I'd give me life for him," he said. "To say that I'm a racist -- my great-grandmother was a full-blooded Indian. I'm not a racist."
The most interesting thing about this exchange? I never suggested that either of these men were racist.
Rhodes went on to complain that a Newsweek reporter talked to him for "about 15 seconds" at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, and then he found himself quoted in an article about neo-Nazis and other bad actors. "She wasn't there to learn what makes me tick," he said.
So, what was it that Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center got wrong, I asked him.
"Well, first of all, I'm not a racist," he said.
On reviewing Potok's writings that mention Oath Keepers, I couldn't a reference to Rhodes as a racist -- only a reference to one of his members, Richard Mack, as "a conspiracy-mongering former sheriff."
"He never even interviewed me," Rhodes said. "He never called me up and asked, 'Why'd you start this organization?...He treated me like a lab rat. He just presumed to know what we're about. He said, 'What they're really about is baseless paranoia...'"
"So, why did you start this organization?" I asked.
"It [was] the actions of the Bush administration, post 9-11, that made me very alarmed that what happened in other countries would happen here, too," he said. "And you, know, just like Naomi Wolf and other people on the political left, I saw the handwriting on the wall, too -- the same steps being taken."
"And people never give back powers that accrue to them," I said, speaking of the new administration. It's an argument I had throughout the campaign with fellow progressives -- that it was imperative to get the candidates to agree that they would restore the Constitution to its pre-Bush boundaries once they took office. My concerns were often dismissed.
"Of course not," Rhodes said. "It's a one-way ratchet. When the political right's in power, it gets ratcheted up for these purposes. And then when the Democrats come in, they don't really knock it back down that much. They just change the rhetoric and they ratchet up to other purposes. The Republicans want to go after Islamic terrorists because they're so afraid of them that they're willing to throw the Bill of Rights in the trash. And they did. And then the Democrats got in. The Democrats are so afraid of the next Timothy McVeigh that they're also willing to throw the Bill of Rights in the trash. They want me Gitmoed, and all this kind of stuff. Or they're like, I don't want the racist." He mimicked a frightened cry.