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Gun March Warm-Up: Oath Keepers Founder Goes Off on Maddow, Mother Jones -- And AlterNet

Stewart Rhodes seemed to suggest that progressive and mainstream media are in league with the government to try to discredit his constitutionalist group.

If I understood Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, correctly, then MSNBC, Mother Jones, the Southern Poverty Law Center and perhaps even AlterNet are in league with the U.S. government as part of a secret program designed to discredit his group. But perhaps I misunderstood. By his own telling, Stewart Rhodes is frequently misunderstood.

Founded on the heels of the 912 Tea Party march on Washington, Oath Keepers is a group representing law enforcement officers and members of the active and retired military who pledge not to enforce any order or law they believe to contradict the U.S. Constitution. Listed first among the "orders we will not obey" on the group's Web site is: "We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people." At today's Second Amendment March on Washington -- a rally of gun-rights advocates at the Washington Monument -- Rhodes will conduct an "Oath Keepers' ceremony" in which "those who have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution can renew that oath."

At a press conference yesterday for the Second Amendment March, Rhodes delivered remarks at the National Sheraton in Arlington, Va., at which he complained of his treatment at the hands of MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, as well as Justine Sharrock, who penned Mother Jones' recent cover story on Oath Keepers, and who also writes for AlterNet. He said he was thinking about suing Mother Jones for libel because she chose to profile in her story an Oath Keepers fan who is preparing for war against the government, rather than the active-duty naval commander who sat on the organization's board at the time Sharrock was reporting her article.

Later, when Rhodes sat down with me for an interview of which he ultimately decided I was unworthy, he threatened to sue AlterNet for running an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok that labeled Oath Keepers as "a Patriot outfit formed last year that suggests, in thinly veiled language, that the government has secret plans to declare martial law and intern patriotic Americans in concentration camps," and that listed the organization among a range of right-wing extremist groups that includes white supremacist organizations.

Rhodes, it soon became clear, feels aggrievedly misrepresented, and perhaps he is. But he does make common cause with people of extreme views, and his rhetoric sometimes reads like a dog whistle to a paranoid element that periodically arises in America to devastating consequences, as in the case of the Oklahoma City bombing that took place 15 years ago today.

But that has nothing to do with the choice of April 19th for the Second Amendment march, Rhodes said. Today marks the 235th anniversary of "the shot heard around the world" -- when fire was first exchanged between British troops and American revolutionary militiamen at Lexington and Concord; that's the point of April 19th, he said. He was annoyed to no end that Rachel Maddow, in particular, kept linking the date to the Oklahoma City bombing, even if she did mention Lexington and Concord. And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had no business going to Oklahoma City today to mark the anniversary, he said; she belonged on the Lexington Green.

Often lumped in with militia groups by media and watchdog organizations, Oath Keepers is actually a breed unto itself, boldly proclaiming on its Web site that the group does not advocate or promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, nor, the Web site says, is the group "advocating or promoting violence towards any organization, group or person." However, it adds, "We are determined to Keep our Oath to support and defend the Constitution."