Far Right Oath Keepers Seek to Exploit Water Protectors’ StandTweet
This letter is written in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the Oceti Sakowin and the many tribes and non-Native allies around the country who have joined together to block the Dakota Access Pipeline and its potential contamination of the water on which we all depend. Water is Life. The courageous stand of the Protectors offers a path out of the dilemmas we currently face. It is the path of communities standing together – a community of communities acting boldly and resolutely to save the Earth and truly demand justice for all. When we stand together to stop giant companies like Energy Transfer Partners and Enbridge that view Native lands and our communities as so many profit-making opportunities. When we stand together to demand that American institutions recognize the sovereignty of tribal nations and the full humanity of all people. And when we stand together to tell the forces of organized racism that their bigotry and division are not welcome in our communities – we can change the world. This letter addresses the efforts of the far right paramilitary group Oath Keepers to opportunistically use the stand of the Water Protectors to further their narrow and bigoted ends. Our communities, united in a vision of racial, economic and environmental justice cannot, and will not, be defeated. ~Charles Tanner
Dear Friend, I first of all want to extend warm thanks and solidarity to all of those gathered at the Sacred Stone Camp to defend tribal homelands and the water on which we all depend for survival. This stand has inspired people around the world. All of us who yearn for a better future owe all of you a deep debt of gratitude. Thank you.
I am sending this letter to provide some background on a far right group that appears to be using the defense of water at the Sacred Stone Camp to further its own narrow goals. The group is Oath Keepers, a Las Vegas, Nevada-based paramilitary organization that has mobilized armed protests to oppose federal regulation of federal lands.
Oath Keepers Media Director Jason Van Tatenhove (see photo at end of this letter) has made two trips to the Standing Rock area. The first occurred in late August and a second began on September 8. Van Tatenhove may be presenting himself as a reporter with the Northwest Liberty News, a Kalispell, Montana-based far right website run by James White.
While Van Tatenhove’s writings are sympathetic with the protectors gathered in North Dakota, he is misleadingly casting the gathering to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline as similar to armed mobilizations by far right militia activists. While it is true that both have been opposed to federal actions, the commonalities end there. As the Media Director of Oath Keepers, Jason Van Tatenhove has promoted bigotry toward immigrants and Muslims alongside promoting paramilitary organizing. In addition, James White of the Northwest Liberty News has praised the efforts of Elaine Willman of the Citizens Equal Right Alliance to oppose the sovereignty of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
This letter provides background on Oath Keepers and Van Tatenhove’s attempts to blur the lines between a Native led gathering to defend water and the earth and armed far right mobilizations against federal environmental regulations.
Oath Keepers is a Las Vegas, Nevada-based state incorporated non-profit whose board members include E. Steward Rhodes and Richard Mack.1 The group touts itself as a “non-partisan association” of former military personnel and police “who pledge to fulfill the oath…to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” In reality, the group promotes far right conspiracy theories and allies its cause with a broader attack on civil and human rights. Oath Keepers promotes paramilitary organizing and preparation for armed confrontations with the federal government. In October 2014 the Oath Keepers called on its members to go “operational,” an action that included “eventually to assist in forming and training town and county militias.” According to Oath Keepers,
“We are basing this on the Special Forces model, which has a twelve man ‘A team’ of specially trained soldiers who are inserted into a community to train and lead that community in resistance to oppressive regimes…SF’s primary mission is to teach, organize, and lead rather than to directly fight. They can fight, of course, but they are most dangerous as a force-multiplier by helping an entire community to fight.”2
Oath Keepers states that its “Teams” will consist of two “precision shooting experts” and “two close combat and small unit tactics experts.” All members of the “field team” are to learn “basic light infantry skills.” Each chapter is recommended to have a “Peace Officer Liaison and Sherriff/posse Team” for “making sure the local Sheriff is a ‘constitutional Sheriff,’…and making sure there is a posse to back the sheriff up, but also reaching out to city police and deputies.” Oath Keepers continues that team members “will learn individual movement and tactics, then buddy team, fire-team, and squad movement and tactics (shoot, move, communicate).”
Oath Keeper’s paramilitary bent is in keeping with the fact that Richard Mack is one of its leaders. A former Graham County, Arizona Sherriff, in the mid-1990s Mack toured the militia circuit, arguing conspiracy theory-style that “proponents of the New World Order are entrenched and moving forward aggressively with their plan.” Mack also offered that “The court-imposed separation of church and state is a folly, a myth, a lie,” and, that “the Reverend Jesse Jackson types and the NAACP have done more to enslave Afro-Americans than all the southern plantation owners put together.”3 Following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Mack was quoted as saying,
“People get all upset when they hear about militias, but what’s wrong with it? I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to call out my posse against the federal government if it gets out of hand.”4
Mack is presently popular on the Tea Party circuit as a proponent of “states’ rights.” His bailiwick, however, is the idea that the county sheriff stands at the pinnacle of law enforcement, particularly vis-a-vis the federal government. Mack’s Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association website declares that
“The county sheriff is the line in the sand. The county sheriff is the one who can say to the feds, ‘Beyond these bounds you shall not pass.’ This is not only within the scope of the sheriff’s authority; it is the sheriff’s sworn duty.”5
Mack promotes a list of county sheriffs who have pledged to “uphold and defend the Constitution against Obama’s unconstitutional gun control measures.” Mack has placed some 460 people on his list of “Sheriffs, Associations and Police Chiefs Saying ‘No’ to Obama Gun Control.”6
The idea of county supremacy has been promoted by white supremacists through the Posse Comitatus and by anti-environmental activists seeking to overturn federal regulations on public lands.
James Van Tatenhove, Oath Keepers and Far Right Racism
James Van Tatenhove is the Media Director of Oath Keepers and a writer for the Kalispell, Montana-based Northwest Liberty News website. Mr. Van Tatenhove has written about the Sacred Stone Camp protectors in both of these venues. While his writings have been generally sympathetic to tribal efforts at the Sacred Stone Camp, they have not been upfront about the nature of Oath Keepers or the Northwest Liberty News.
In addition to promoting other far right causes, Northwest Liberty News owner and editor James White has used the pages of his website to praise the anti-Indian organization, Citizens Equal Rights Alliance and its longtime leader, Elaine Willman. In April 2015, White described recent videos he had produced and posted on his website: “One person featured in my videos, and a tireless worker for freedom and liberty, Elaine Willman came back to Kalispell last week and I was delighted to be able to catch her on video twice while she was in town.” White posts a bio describing CERA as “the only national organization dedicated to assisting tribal members in receiving civil rights within their tribal governments, and protecting the rights of non-tribal members from tribal government over-reaching.”7
CERA is the Wisconsin-based group dedicated to terminating tribal governments, abrogating treaties signed with indigenous nations, and effectively ending tribal nationhood and self-determination in the United States.8 The group has a long and notorious history of attacking tribal rights and allying its cause with a broader far right movement that threatens civil rights and environmental justice.
At Oath Keepers, Van Tatenhove has coupled the group’s paramilitary mission with promoting bigotry toward Muslims and immigrants. In an April 2016 post to the Oath Keepers website, Van Tatenhove recounted an “alternative media” interview of Oath Keepers Founder and
President Steward Rhodes by Alex Jones of Infowars. With millions of YouTube views and some 200,000 subscribers, the Austin, Texas-based Jones promotes far right conspiracy theories and militias, hosts white nationalists and anti-Semites on his own show, and has espoused the “birther” claim that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen, among many other things.9
For his part, Van Tatenhove proclaims that, “Both Infowars and the Oath Keepers have been here for many years now and both have been proven correct on so many issues that we have been trying to warn the world about.” Referring to the interview with Rhodes, Van Tatenhove writes,
“The conversation then turns to our open borders and the ‘Western Tet Offensive’ that is being perpetrated on the people of the United States by bringing radicalized jihadists under the guise of refuges. If you want to understand some of the underpinnings of this offensive it is suggested that we all read Matt Bracken’s “Tet Take Two”10 (underline in original).
Van Tatenhove’s recommendation that “we all read” Bracken’s essay is telling, locating his Oath Keeper’s vision in the vein of ethnic and racial nationalism. Bracken, whose blog is linked to the Western Rifle Shooters Association, is a rabid anti-Muslim bigot. Bracken promotes the idea that Muslims and international socialists have “forged an unwritten agreement to jointly murder” American nationalists.11 In the essay recommended by Jason Van Tatenhove, Bracken lashes out at Muslims:
“Islam is similar to a self-replicating virus. It is a hyrdra-headed monster, designed by its creators to be an unstoppable formula for global conquest…Islam is like a brushfire or ringworm infection: it is dead and barren within the ring, but flares up where it parasitically feeds off the healthy non-Islamic societies around it.”
In the conspiratorial style of the far right John Birch Society and many white supremacists, Bracken continues that international socialists have joined league with Muslims and are
“increasingly successful at poisoning the roots of national, cultural and ethnic identity, leaving the inheritors of Western Civilization disorganized and demoralized, with no central belief system to rally behind.. For example, in America, open-border traitors bribe politicians to pass laws to allow them to import unlimited numbers of H-1 visa foreign workers to directly replace Americans at their very desks and work places, and these traitors do not lose one wink of sleep over it.”
Bracken makes clear that he views this as a conspiracy ultimately against white people:
“In the new politically-correct secular religion of humanism, European ethnic and cultural identity became the original sin and mark of Cain. White European skin meant white privilege, and was transformed into a cause for shame…[M]ost Americans and Europeans today seem unable and unwilling to stand up and fight in defense of their diminishing cultural and national identities.”
Such a false sense of white persecution is a common element of white nationalism and the far right ideologies driving Tea Party and far right paramilitary groups.
Bracken goes on to argue that “Europe is being prepared for a Muslim-jihad version of the 1968
Tet Offensive in Vietnam” – a reference to the 1968 communist offensive launched in southern Vietnam. Alleging that the “current open-border policies of the European international socialists were intentionally designed to allow hundreds of thousands of culturally and religiously aggressive Islamist fighters and colonists to flood into Europe,” he declares,
“This calculated disregard by the international socialist elites for the safety and welfare of ordinary German citizens will in time lead to vigilantism and death squad actions by ‘off-duty’ German military and police personnel…And in time, enough firearms will find their way from the military, police and black markets into the hands of ordinary European nationalists for them to mount an armed resistance.”
Bracken advocates mass violence against Muslims as the way out of this imagined attack on “European and American nationalism.” Recounting the infamous 1982 Hama massacre, in which the forces of then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad killed more than 10,000 Syrian Muslims to put down a rebellion in this town, Bracken writes, “If Europeans don’t have the stomach for that level and scale of total civil war, they over time they will be defeated.”
Matthew Bracken has also written a “novel” titled Domestic Enemies: The Reconquista.12 The title refers to the common white nationalist claim that Mexican-Americans and immigrants are involved in a plot to retake the U.S. southwest. In Bracken’s story, amnesty for undocumented immigrants leads to an Hispanic “separatist” government coming to power in New Mexico and backed by a militia “comprised largely of former illegal alien immigrants;” the confiscation of ranches under the 1848 Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo; and the passage of “Espanol Solamente” [Spanish Only] language laws for government employees. Material promoting the book proclaims that
“Well-armed American ‘Minutemen’ volunteers are also heading to the beleaguered state to support the threatened ranchers, and to keep New Mexico within the United States…[This book] is a cautionary tale about the Balkanization of American, which will result from our present out-of-control illegal alien invasion…and political correctness run amuck. With amnesty presently looming for the 12 million illegal aliens now in the USA…the fictional events portrayed in this novel seem more likely than ever to occur.”
Anti-Muslim bigotry, calls for violence against Muslims and visions of armed nationalists mobilizing against an immigrant takeover – these are the kinds of things written by the man that Oath Keepers Media Director Justin Van Tatenhove recommends reading to understand the issues facing the United States today.
Armed Mobilizations by Oath Keepers
As the Oath Keepers Media Director, Jason Van Tatenhove is attempting to equate the Native-led struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline with his movement’s armed mobilizations against federal jurisdiction over federal lands. Following his first visit to North Dakota, Van Tatenhove wrote that, “Land issues will one day affect us all. Whether it is the EPA shutting down coal mines in Kentucky, The Army Corps of Engineers in North Dakota, or the BLM and Forest Service. I have been able to learn a lot about land issues as it pertains to The Liberty Movement.”13 He continued in this vein on September 10, writing of the April 2014 armed standoff at the ranch of Nevada racist Cliven Bundy, “These events [Standing Rock and the Bundy standoff] are two sides of the same land-use-issues coin here in the western United States….The very propaganda mechanisms that were used to label the protestors at Bundy Ranch as ‘violent extremists’ are also being used by the powers that be to do the same to these native protestors.”14
Van Tatenhove’s claim of equivalence between the Native-led gathering at Sacred Stone Camp and Bundy-style armed standoffs is wildly false. The Bundy standoff, for instance, had its roots in Cliven Bundy’s refusal, beginning in 1993, to follow the terms of a federal grazing permit modified to protect the desert tortoise under the Endangered Species Act. After Bundy refused to pay grazing fees for his use of federal lands, the Bureau of Land Management revoked his grazing permit. After years of legal and administrative conflicts, in 2014 the BLM moved to enforce court orders rejecting Bundy’s claims to own the land. As this unfolded, hundreds of far rightists, many armed, flocked to the area. Jason Van Tatenhove claims to have travelled to the “Bundy ranch” at the time. Numerous federal indictments have occurred as a result of this armed mobilization.
Oath Keepers has also engaged in armed mobilizations in support of mining on federal lands. In April 2015 the group mobilized when the Bureau of Land Management ordered the owners of the Sugar Pine mine in southern Oregon to desist from unauthorized activities on an unpatented mining operation on federal lands. The dispute began when archaeologists visiting the site had observed unauthorized construction and water projects on the site. The conflict was later resolved through administrative processes available to the miners all along. In August 2015 armed Oath Keepers rallied to support the Intermountain Mining and Refining LLC’s opposition to federal regulation of a mining operation in the Helena National Forest in Western Montana. The U.S. Forest Service had repeatedly met with the mine’s owners to address issues such as the unauthorized timber cutting, water diversions, unpermitted explosives on the site and the lack of federal approval for the mine. In these cases Oath Keepers took part in armed mobilizations to support miners operating under faulty permits and engaged in unauthorized activity on federal lands, including actives potentially posing environmental harms.15
For his second trip to the Sacred Stone Camp, Jason Van Tatenhove claimed to be travelling with Ms. Rocky Hall, a Lassen County, California leader of Oath Keepers.16 Among other things,
Hall worked to gather supplies for the far right militia activist who occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon in January 2016.17 While occupying the area, these individuals rifled through tribal artifacts and proposed the transfer of previously stolen Burns Paiute lands to ranchers and loggers under exclusive county jurisdiction. The Burns Paiute Tribe condemned the occupation, calling on the federal government to protect the tribe’s resources and artifacts. In a January 15 press release, Tribal Chair Charlotte Rodrique stated, “Armed protestors don’t belong here…They continue to desecrate one of our most important sacred sites…They should be held accountable.”
In closing, I hope you find this background information useful.
I again extend our gratitude and support for the struggle to defend vital water resources from an avaricious oil industry.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if I can be of any assistance.
Take care. Chuck Tanner
Advisory Board, Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
1 Nevada Secretary of State. Oath Keepers.
7=0. Accessed March 12, 2014.
2 Oath Keepers. Oath Keepers is Going “Operational” by Forming Special “Community Preparedness” Teams Updated. October 13, 2013. Updated March 1, 2014. http://oathkeepers.org/oath/2013/10/21/oath-keepers-is-going-operational-by-forming-special-civilization-preservation-teams/.
3 Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. Tea Party Nationalism. Fall 2010. Irehr.org.
4 Anderson, Jack. 1996. Inside the NRA: Armed and Dangerous. Vancouver, BC: Newstar Press. 5 Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. To Serve & Protect; To Uphold and Defend.
http://cspoa.org/about/. Accessed June 14, 2013.
6 Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Growing List of Sheriffs, Associations and Police Officers
Saying “No” to Obama Gun Control. http://cspoa.org/sheriffs-gun-rights/. Accessed June 14, 2013. For the number of sheriffs in the United States, see National Association of Sheriffs. http://www.sheriffs.org/content/faq. Accessed June 14, 2013.
7 White, James. All Federal Agencies Have Gone Rogue. North West Liberty News. April 19, 2015. http://northwestlibertynews.com/all-federal-agencies-have-gone-rogue/.
8 Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights and Montana Human Rights Network. The Revolutionary War for Citizens of Montana. September 10, 2015. http://www.irehr.org/2015/09/10/the-revolutionary-war-for-citizens-of-montana/.
9 Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. Who is Alex Jones? October 18, 2011. http://www.irehr.org/2011/10/18/who-is-alex-jones/.
10 Van Tatenhove, Jason. Stewart Rhodes on the Alex Jones Show – Jihadists Planning Western Tet Offensive. April
15, 2016. https://www.oathkeepers.org/stewart-rhodes-alex-jones-show-jihadists-planning-western-tet-offensive/.
11 Bracken, Matthew. Tet, Take Two: Islam’s European Offensive. November 2015.
12 Bracken, Matthew. Enemies Foreign and Domestic. https://www.enemiesforeignanddomestic.com/.
13 Van Tatenhove, Jason. Coalition of Peaceful Tribal Protestors Block Pipeline. Northwest Liberty News. August 23,
14 Van Tatenhove, Jason. Standing Stone (sic) Camp, North Dakota Revisited. Oath Keepers. September 10, 2016. https://www.oathkeepers.org/standing-stone-camp-north-dakota-revisited/.
15 Janquart, Phillip A. USA Fights Armed Standoff with Militia in Montana: With a Lawsuit. Courthouse News
Service. August 13, 2015. http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/08/13/usa-fights-armed-standoff-with-militia-in-montana-with-a-lawsuit.htm; Wiles, Tay. Suguard Pine Mine, the other standoff. High Country News. February 2,
16Oath Keepers. Jason Van Tatenhove: Coalition of Peaceful Tribal Protestors Block Pipeline. September 9, 2016.
https://www.oathkeepers.org/jason-van-tatenhove-coalition-peaceful-tribal-protestors-block-pipeline/. 17 Fogbow. SovCits forcibly occupy Malhuer refuge. January 2016.