This is an expanded version of a talk given at the Rural Organizing Project’s Rural Caucus and Strategy Session in Woodburn, Oregon on June 13, 2015.
The Patriot Movement: From Posse Comitatus to the Oath Keepers
In April 2015, armed right-wing paramilitaries converged on a mining claim in the Galice Mining District near Grants Pass in Josephine County, Oregon. Organizationally, it was a combination of different parts of what is called the Patriot movement: militias, 3%ers, Sovereign Citizens, and the Oath Keepers.
The Patriot movement is a form of extreme right politics that exists between the Tea Party end of the Republican Party and the white supremacist movement.* Generally those in the Patriot movement view the current U.S. federal government as an illegitimate, totalitarian state. They see the militias that they are building—and allied county sheriffs—as political-military formations that will eventually replace the current federal government.
Many of their movement’s tactics originate in white supremacist politics, mixed with ideas derived from anti-Communist conspiracy theories of the John Birch Society. According to Daniel Levitas, the group that first espoused many of the basic Patriot concepts was Posse Comitatus, whose founder, William Potter Gale, was a member of the racist Christian Identity religion. In the 1960s, he started to advocate Posse Comitatus (power of the county), based on the idea that the county sheriff is the highest political authority of the land. Gale thought that, in the post-Civil Rights era, the federal government was a totalitarian state run by a cabal of Jews. “County power” would allow people to ignore Supreme Court decisions and federal laws about civil rights and income tax, and allow a return to white supremacy and unfettered capitalism, free from federal regulations. Posse Comitatus also advocated for armed citizens’ militias and crank legal filings, which set the foundation for the formation of militias and Sovereign Citizen ideas, respectively. In 1976, the FBI estimated there were 12,000–50,000 Posse members.