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Everything but the Anarchists

The First Amendment and the far-right fringe: a reporter's (nearly confiscated) notebook



The Oath Keepers meeting is about to get going at the Round Table pizzeria in Dublin, Calif., as a handful of members of the far-right, "sovereign-citizen" organization pledge allegiance to the flag, pray to their almighty Christ, declare their oath to the U.S. Constitution—and eat pizza.

There are pocket-size copies of the U.S. Constitution for the taking, as attendees sign in and take their seats at the suburban East Bay strip mall where the chain pizza joint is located. The Oath Keepers' oath is to the Constitution, and their pledge is to uphold it whenever it is under attack. You can never have too many copies of the Constitution, so I grabbed one and took a table in the back after I identified myself and offered greetings to the organizers.

Dublin is a small city just over the Oakland hills whose population feeds the tech industries in San Jose and Oakland and San Francisco, and Livermore to the east. Wikipedia reports that Dublin is one of the fastest growing cities in the California, fielding a mostly white demographic but with a smattering of Asians and Latinos. There's a Korean barbecue joint in the strip mall and an Irish bar behind the restaurant where the Budweiser is kept at 31 degrees. This is not your hipster-ale-quaffing rampart of the squishy North Bay, even if the city council here is a United Nations of multiculturalism compared to Sonoma County's all-white board of supervisors. There are two Indian-Americans and a female Latino on the Dublin council.

I'm over the divide and into the breach in the service of the great old maxim from '60s, right-wing paragon Barry Goldwater—that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. I decided to drive across the divide from my adopted hometown in West Marin, the bubble-within-a-bubble-within-a-bubble hippie stronghold of Bolinas. I wanted to bridge the divide and announce myself as the far-left savior who had come to redeem the far-right Oath Keepers from charges of kooky racist conspiracy weirdness, of the heavily armed variety. I introduced myself as a left-wing libertarian and told the organizers, promised them, that I wouldn't throw them under the bus in my report.

The Oath Keepers organization was founded in 2009 by Yale graduate Stewart Rhodes, and set out to put itself between the (supposed) raging unconstitutionality of Barack Obama and the right to bear arms in defense of anything that isn't Barack Obama or a gun law. Their website is heavy on the military and police badges—including member badges from the California Highway Patrol—as the organization has historically drawn from those ranks.

I was curious how the Oath Keepers would be grappling with the onset of Trumpism and its various rolling abridgements of constitutional norms and obscure emolument clauses. Trump, who when he is the recipient of a court ruling against him for a flatly unconstitutional executive order banning Muslims from emigrating to the states, declares the judge to be a "so-called judge." Trump, who declared the fourth estate to be the enemy of the people. Trump, who believes in a national right-to-conceal-carry gun law.


In pizza lingo, an "EBA" pizza contains everything but anchovies. For the Oath Keepers, "EBA" translates into everything but anarchism—but with an allowance, it seems, for the authoritarian regime that has just Russia-hacked its way into power.

It turns out that the Constitution is what you make of it.

It's long been preached in political science discourse that there's an ideological vertex where the far right meets the far left. As a self-identified left-wing libertarian with a serious streak of social Democrat and a raging anarcho-syndicalist spirit, I wanted to perch in that 30 percent or so of agreement that I feel with the Oath Keepers, revel in our implied areas of agreement: government overreach, the surveillance state,

Give me liberty or give me death. That sort of stuff.

I ordered some chicken wings and grabbed a pitcher of Modelo and took a seat in the back. And let me repeat: I told the organizers exactly who I was, exactly where I was coming from and exactly why I was there. I was not some James O'Keefe–inspired, Veritas-of-the-left gotcha journalist bent on shaming them. I was transparent and enthusiastically so. I wanted to break garlic knots with these folks, badly.

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