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The Radical Cop

If you meant what you said when stating your Oath of Office then you could be viewed as an extremist.

“The end of law is, not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is not law there is no freedom.” - John Locke

Brakes Rotors

Last week I sat in a local auto shop getting my brakes fixed when I saw that all to familiar “Ranger Tab” on a business card hanging on the wall. It was next to the Lords Prayer, and other patriotic memorabilia. Being a veteran my eyes immediately notice “army stuff” no matter where I find myself. The owner, in his late-50’s, still wears his former Navy rank insignia (Petty Officer Second Class) on his work cap. Without saying a word, except, “You owe us $178.00,” he expressed non-verbally that he is a Proud American, devoted Christian, Vet, and law-abiding citizen. Who wouldn’t love this guy as a neighbor? 

Before leaving I took closer inspection of the “Ranger Tab” and noticed it never said “RANGER”, which is what I always knew the tab to say, but instead said “OATH KEEPERS” along with the website underneath of - “huh?” My interest was peaked.

Antenna’s Up

I still remember quickly lacing up my combat boots as I was running late for afternoon roll call on that dreadful day, April 19th, 1995 (The Oklahoma City Bombing). As a policeman beginning my career in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I experienced along with many of you, the change in our profession where domestic terrorism and the militia movement seemed to grow rapidly. We were trained what to recognize as threats, and told to use caution when dealing with militants. My subconscious alarm was triggered when I was at the brake shop that day (as I had been trained to) and I instantly was able to read the environment to mean much more than what non-cops ever could. I thought to myself, “Was this guy a militia member?”

Oath Keepers

With some reasonable digging I was able to determine that the nonprofit organization “Oath Keepers” was created to draw membership from the law enforcement and military communities with the hope of swelling it’s ranks of those who have either served in uniform, or continue to do so. Their purpose is to make a public statement that those on the tangible edge of defending individual liberties (cops and soldiers, etc.) will honor their service oath of adhering to the U.S. Constitution and not be used as an agent against our citizenry by politicians or those using the political process. Their allegiance is to the Constitution, and not to any man or woman, elected official or not. In particular, they state:

  1. They will not obey orders to disarm the American people.
  2. They will not obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people.
  3. They will not obey orders to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or subject them to military tribunal.
  4. They will not obey orders to impose martial law or “a state of emergency” on a state.
  5. They will not obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.
  6. They will not obey any order to blockade American cities turning them into giant concentration camps.
  7. They will not obey any order to force American Citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.
  8. They will not obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control.”
  9. They will not obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.
  10. They will not obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.


If what they profess they stand for looks familiar, it should because it reflects the philosophical underpinnings of our Founding Fathers when they constructed the Articles of Confederation (1787) and the United States Constitution (1789). These beliefs also form the construct of what every police officer and armed forces members swears to (your Oath of Office modified) when entering the public service. Basically, the members are reaffirming their commitment to the ideologies established by John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, et al.      

They’re Unique

Probably on many levels, but most immediately apparent is that membership focuses on Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Women, Coast Guard, Police Officers, Law Enforcement, Retiree’s, etc. Also, in the event they are ordered to engage in illegal activity (i.e., violating the U.S. Constitution) while in the performance of their duties they simply won’t do it. In other words, the resistance is through peaceful dissonance and not armed conflict. They are saying, simply, they won’t be a part of it. 

“Militia” Accusations

The Southern Poverty Law Center has expressed that members of this organization are extremist in thought and spreading fear. When I reviewed their publically posted materials I did not see anything to lead me to believe they were “militia” or an “anti-government” threat, but they were linked to supportive organizations that could be construed as being on the fringes of a militia-like movement. In truth, I found that that the organization, as a whole, stood for more issues that cops would support rather than be against in my experience. For those who fear that this could be a type of super militia, because it’s members are formal military and law enforcement trained and serve in their respective capacities I think is absurd. That thought assumes the vast majority of membership (although unhappy with our government- but who isn’t?) has conspired to be dangerous, which they have not. Just the opposite is true – vocalizing discontent, and doing nothing, but in an organized fashion.

Historical Parallels

Most importantly the Oath Keepers, either through membership or simple awareness, bring another issue center stage for the law enforcement and military community. That issue is revisiting, in-depth, our understanding of Constitutional Law, which arguably is the most important form of law since it prevents an abusive government from infringing into our daily lives. Of all people, cops live every day in the real execution of Constitutional Law and therefore need to have a better understanding of its restrictions; it’s far more than just the 4th Amendment.

By the way, our Founding Fathers were very unpopular from the perspective of the establishment. As we now benefit, they were also a direct threat to the government at that time and were viewed as traitors against the Crown risking the death penalty. It is because they lived on the “fringes” that we can reap the rewards of disagreeing publically with governmental authority, join groups doing so, protest, be angry and retaliate by voting and not shooting.


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About The Author:

Keith R. Lavery, M.A., CMAS, is a full-time criminal justice educator teaching at a public Career Center, University System of Ohio. He has facilitated and designed criminal justice, security, and law enforcement courses of instruction at the post-secondary level. Keith had a very diverse police career spanning nearly 20 years, working in urban and rural law enforcement settings with assignments ranging from patrol to specialized functions, to include HIDTA Drug Unit, CLANLAB Enforcement Team, SRT and Supervision. In 2008, Keith was awarded the Certified Master Anti-Terrorism designation from the Anti-Terrorism Accreditation Board. Academically, he has completed post-graduate course work dedicated toward a Doctorate in Education. Keith is currently the Law Enforcement Liaison for the Cleveland, Ohio, Chapter of ASIS International.