The first chapter of my nonfiction novel “Selling the Revolution”
The story of my time writing for and about the Oath Keepers
This week, I am putting out a bonus post by sharing the first chapter of my non-fiction book in progress, “Selling the Revolution,” which chronicles my story writing for and about the Oath Keepers. I hope you enjoy reading it. My agent is currently shopping this project to publishers.
The big sky over Kalispell, Montana was an exquisite bright blue broken up by brilliant white clouds that looked painted on. There was still a bite of cold in the air as half a dozen of us made a quick trip to the other side of town to pick up some last-minute supplies. We pulled into the mostly empty parking lot of a strip mall that was new a decade ago. The sign above the office was the same as any other Realtors office. The only indication this was not just another real estate office was a small sticker that hung low on the window framing the front door. It was black with two yellow words: Oath Keepers.
The woman sitting at the front desk had a look of surprise as we walked in. Everyone but me was wearing mismatched camouflage clothing that looked like it probably came from the clearance section of the local Army surplus store. I was the only one in the group not dressed up like a patchwork soldier. I wore blue jeans and a retro-western shirt unbuttoned over an old black and white Ramones concert t-shirt. I was the only one of these rough-looking men not wearing a gun. She nervously began to ask how she could help us when a well-styled man in a business suit came out of a back office.
“It’s okay, they’re here to see me,” he assured the woman and motioned for us to follow him to the back, where a dark stairway lead down into the basement.
Worn wooden steps creaked and swayed as we followed the man into the unlit basement. I was the last to start down the stairs. As I made my way down, fear begin to rise from my already nervous stomach. I had no idea who any of these people were. The man in the suit flicked a switch at the bottom of the stairs, and pops of light flashed and flickered across a couple of long fluorescent tubes that ran down the center support beam. Half of the bulbs just stayed dark. As I joined the rest of the group, it dawned on me why we made the trip across town. The basement held racks, shelves, and boxes filled with what looked to be surplus military equipment. Shelves were filled with hundreds of faded grey and black metal high-capacity ammunition magazines for assault rifles. Toward the back sat an old folding table that held a dozen or so fixed blade knives that brought back memories of old Rambo movies I watched as a kid. On the floor in front of the table lay several body-armor vests and plate carriers. Some seemed old, but some looked modern. In the racks hung military style jackets, tactical pants, and t-shirts in various earth-toned camouflage patterns. There were racks of combat boots, and the back wall had shelves that lined with a large selection of cardboard boxes containing differing caliber ammunition.
The man turned to the group. “Help yourselves to what you need. You guys are heading into a hornet’s nest, and I want to support things as best I can. I know Stewart will square up and make things right after this whole thing is over. He better.”
The others in the group let out a cheer. They looked like kids on allowance day at the toy store as they began picking over the treasure trove, hurriedly grabbing whatever they thought they might need in a shootout with the U.S. government.
I looked around the makeshift armory and wondered what I’d gotten myself into. The only thing that caught my attention was an old Iraq war flack jacket with “media” written across the back and chest with strips of old grey duct tape. I grabbed the vest.
The rally point was at an older hotel complex that ran along the runway of a small community airport on the south side of town. The front parking lot was empty. But once we pulled into the back parking lot, we came upon a group of about 60 people standing outside of their vehicles. Many of them dressed like they were about to be extras in some low-budget war movie. People gathered into small groups around pickup trucks and cars with tailgates down and trunks open, eating some summer BBQ fare while swilling soda and laughing at conversations. The scene felt more like a tailgate party than a gathering of Montana’s antigovernment who’s who getting ready to caravan down to a small desert town south of Las Vegas to square up with federal law enforcement officers over grazing rights and seized cattle.
Everyone there was armed to the teeth and looked prepared to head off to war. There were piles of military style backpacks, body armor, helmets, camping equipment, duffle bags filled with ammunition, and long black plastic travel cases used to transport rifles. Again it hit me: I didn’t know anyone there. I’d moved to Montana from Colorado only earlier that year. I considered just getting back into my car and heading back home. When my phone dinged with a new text message, it was from my contact Jim White. He arranged for me to travel down to Bundy Ranch to cover the standoff.
Hey, are you back at the rally point yet?
I typed back a response: Yes, just got back from the supply run.
Okay, good, what do you look like? Where are you at? I’m here, too.
Look for the guy not wearing camouflage, the one covered with tattoos and a Mohawk.
I heard a voice yell out from across the parking lot, “Jason! Hey, I’m Jim.” A large, heavy-set man with a mop of curly brown hair and freckles waved at me and began walking my way with a goofy smile. His fatigues were too tight for his body, and he was already sweating heavily. He seemed friendly.
“Heya man, glad you could make it. We need more media people to help get the word out about what’s happening down there.”
I smiled. “Thanks, I appreciate you setting up this opportunity for me. Where’s Stewart Rhodes at? We’re riding down with him, right?”
Jim chuckled before answering, “Oh, he’s going to be late. He’s always late, even to his own events. But yeah, we’ll be riding down with Stewart and a couple of other guys. Hey, I checked out your podcast and website. I like your work. It’s a little leftish, but you seem to be fair in how you approach your stories.”
“Thanks, I’m just a hack writer and radio guy. But it’s what I got going on right now.”
“Well, you’ll have one hell of a story after this trip.”
We mingled with some of the local militia types as we waited. Everyone there seemed to know Jim and follow his website and YouTube channel North West Liberty News.
We waited for over an hour in the parking lot, sitting on my suitcase as the chill of the wind blew down from the picturesque mountains surrounding the town.
We were waiting for the leader of this group to arrive and lead the way down to a new range war that had kicked off a week earlier at an old run-down family cattle ranch outside of the small town of Bunkerville, Nevada.
The story had been picked up a few weeks back. It started to make national headlines after the aging patriarch of the family put out a call out for cowboys, patriots, and good Americans to come and stand with the Bundys as they protested the U.S. Bureau of Land Management which had seized their cattle with armed tactical law enforcement teams. Cliven Bundy had long refused to pay the fees required to graze his cattle on public lands. It was not because he lacked the money, but because he felt that he should be paying fees to the local government instead of the federal government. That was his story anyway. Later I would come to believe they just wanted to pick a fight. The federal cops had also arrested one of the Bundy sons and used an attack dog on family members and friends as they protested the seizure. They even tried to say that the only place people could legally protest was in a small rectangular area off the highway fenced off with a flexible fluorescent orange netting. Of course, there were videos taken of all of this, and they raged like a wildfire across the internet. Alex Jones picked up the story and put out Cliven Bundy’s call out to the world. The first time I had ever heard of Stewart Rhodes was a week previous when he was a guest on Alex Jones and urged good American patriots to get their guns and ammo and join him in facing off against the government. He was sure to mention it was vitally important for those good Americans who couldn’t make it down to Bundy Ranch to support the Oath Keepers in this battle with donations.
Eventually, a new, shiny white SUV with black tinted windows pulled around the hotel into the back parking lot. A low murmur ran through the crowd that Stewart Rhodes had arrived. The truck pulled alongside the crowd and shut off its engine. The tinted windows kept any of us from seeing who was inside. There was an awkward silence as the crowd waited for Stewart to emerge. Instead, we began to hear a muffled yelling coming from inside. It sounded like one side of an argument. The yelling stopped, and a short, overweight man wearing matching black polo shirt and ball cap, both of which had a yellow emblazoned logo embroidered on them. He ended the call, cell phone still in his hand, and took off the beat-up, sweat-stained ball cap to wipe the sweat from his balding head.
“Heya all, I’m here. We all ready to go?”
The crowd closed in to shake Stewart’s hand, pat him on the back and tell him how proud they were of him for taking a stand on the front lines down at the “The Battle of Bunkerville.” He took the time at length to talk to every single one of the people in depth, save for the members that were actually going to Nevada with him. It took another hour just for Stewart to get through talking to everyone. By that time, the crowd had dwindled off, and there were only about a dozen men still there with their gear in piles ready to be packed into the pickup trucks they would drive to Nevada.
Jim introduced me as the writer and radio guy that he’d told Stewart about last night. Stewart stood back and looked me over like he was sizing me up. “You bring your guns?” he asked.
I answered without thinking.
“No. I figured there would already be enough there. But I did bring my laptop, camera, and a microphone. I find them to be much more effective than more guns.”
Stewart stared silently at me for a moment before laughing and shaking my hand. “Nice to meet you, Jason. Get your gear in my truck. We need to drive all night.”