Karma is a bitch
Last week’s national media coverage of my walking away from the Oath Keepers & the arrest of Stewart Rhodes.
I received a phone call in early December. A call that I knew that I would be getting for years now. But the world had to catch fire just a little bit more before people would want to hear what I had to say about the subject. And maybe I needed to be a little more ready to speak my own words before I was ready to write my side of the story.
It was a Washington DC number that was not on my contact list. By way of personal policy, I usually do not answer unknown calls instead of letting them go to voice mail. But this time, my gut was telling me to answer.
On the other line was Mike Levine, investigative reporter for ABC News. He had read the article I had been interviewed for a couple of months prior in the Washington Post. Since my time with the Oath Keepers, this is the first time I OK’d a journalist I was working with to use my name in the story. In the past few years, I have contributed to many articles written by some big names in the coverage of extremist groups in the US.
Mike was calling because ABC news, in conjunction with HULU, was putting together a special documentary for the first anniversary of the January 6th attacks on the Capitol. They felt that my perspectives on the Oath Keepers were unique and came from experience. The week after the holiday season. An ABC film crew journeyed from the manufactured canyons of New York City up through the nature-made canyons of rural Colorado to film me speaking about my time with the Oath Keepers and my thoughts about the dangers they pose to our country since I broke ties and walked away in 2018. We filmed for three days, and the results can be seen on HULU’s Homegrown: Standoff to rebellion, ABC News outlets, including ‘Nightline.’ I was also asked to be a guest on ABC’s ‘Start Here’ morning news podcast and an article that made Drudge Report.
Over the past year, I have gained quite a few readers that may not know about my history with the Oath Keepers; some of you may not even be aware of what the Oath Keepers are. Some of you may be wondering how an aging, heavily tattooed artist and writer from Colorado who can’t let go of the punk rock fashion of the ’90s got tangled up with one of the largest extremist anti-government groups in the country. Hopefully, this piece helps to clear that up.
So, let’s start with just who the Oath Keepers are and how I wound up in the mix. For those intentionally avoiding the news for the past five years, the Oath Keepers are one of the largest anti-government extremist groups (militia’s) in the United States.
They originally started as an educational outreach group focusing on Constitutional rights issues. Their genesis began on an old-school message board that a man that went by Elias Alias had on his Mental Militia website. But after the events of 2014 on an isolated cattle ranch in 2014 in the deserts of Nevada owned by the Bundy Family, the group began an evolution into a more radicalized anti-government group that was driven by making money on membership dues and donations, and one that would eventually seek out ties with the likes of William Spencer of ALT right infamy. They would also eventually work alongside the Trump Administration during the insurrection at the capitol just over a year ago.
Oath Keepers became one of the iconic images of the January 6th events as they moved up the steps of the Capitol Building in a military formation known as a ‘stack.’ All decked out in camouflage fatigues, body armor, and assault rifles slung over shoulders.
So back to how I got entangled with a militia organization that watchdog groups monitoring U.S. domestic terrorism and hate groups describe as extremist. Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) described the group as "heavily armed extremists with a conspiratorial and anti-government mindset looking for potential showdowns with the government."
To understand why I would involve myself with this group, we need to look at my heroes growing up. The chief of which was New/Gonzo Journalist Hunter S. Thompson, whose breakout novel was based on his experiences with the infamous Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. I had a gut feeling that as I watched the events of the Bundy Ranch Stand-Off, it could be the start to my own experience, but not with an M.C. But rather a militia. And indeed, I am currently working on writing my novel based on these experiences (The first Chapter of which is available to be previewed here on the Colorado Switchblade.) But instead of becoming a better journalist, I became a propagandist.
I first met the leader and founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, after I managed to get embedded with him for the second part of the Bundy Ranch standoff as an independent journalist. Rhodes is a former paratrooper with the US Army, who became a Yale-educated attorney, a staffer for Republican Congressman Ron Paul, and then in 2009 founded the Oath Keepers. He would also live in the basement of my house for several months at the end of my tenure with the Oath Keepers.
After covering Bundy Ranch and the Sugar Pine Mine standoffs quickly followed by the White Hope Mine standoff, I was offered a job writing and producing media for the organization. Rhodes had decided that the stories I wrote were honest coverage of the events and reached out about a job.
At the time, I was living in Butte, Montana, and to completely honest was a bit lost at that time in my life’s journey. I can tell you that jobs were few and far between for a heavily tattooed writer and artist in Montana at the time, and I had a sick wife and two daughters I was supporting. So, I took the job and relocated to The Eureka area of Northwestern Montana, and became the National Media Director of the Oath Keepers.
The job that I initially thought would be like the independent journalism work that I had been doing quickly evolved into me becoming a propagandist for the extremist group. Stories quickly came back heavily edited and outright rejected when covering the opposing viewpoints.
And now I must own what I had become; in fact, I stayed with the job until things got so outright racist that I walked into a conversation amongst local contributors to the group that centered on the outright lie that the holocaust was a hoax. That was the day that I didn’t care how I would support my family. It just would not include working for an organization whose actions were leaving a wave of broken lives in Stewart Rhodes’s pursuit of money and power.
Over the past several years, I had made a deal with myself that as part of my karmic compensation, I needed to speak out about the ever-radicalizing group and try to warn others about the dangers they pose. I did this at first anonymously by contributing to national media coverage as an unnamed source. But then I was urged to start putting my name behind the stories, which I have begun to do, starting with the articles mentioned above, documentaries, podcasts, and now on the Colorado Switchblade.
While writing this piece, I was once again reached out to by an associate who works for the national news, forwarding today’s news coming from the Department of Justice in a press release that Stewart Rhodes was arrested this morning.
Hopefully, there will be some accountability for the actions he has spearheaded. Still, mostly I think of the people who had answered his calls for action and had their lives shattered when he broke long-held promises to help them legally and financially. Still, instead of keeping his promises, he just abandoned them utterly. I also worry about his words' fracturing effects on a nation already so divided.
Karma happens. Hopefully, I am certainly trying my best to undo the harm I may have contributed.