Last week, 19 U.S. Republican Senators, led by Ted Cruz, crowded into gunboats in McAllen, Texas as part of a cynical political stunt to fear-monger about the border. About 150 miles west in Laredo, Cruz’s Texas GOP colleagues were at another anti-immigrant rally featuring the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes.
Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, as a militia movement that gathered steam alongside the Tea Party in opposition to President Obama’s election. Far from the patriotic heroes they claim to be, the Oath Keepers have a long history of racist, xenophobic, and violent rhetoric that has no place sharing a stage alongside one of the two major political parties. Even before the Oath Keeper’s participation in the January 6 insurrection, they had participated in at least two armed standoffs with federal authorities.
Last night, the Washington Post reported on the investigation of Rhodes’s interactions with several defendants indicted over their alleged roles the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol:
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, his deputy and three members who guarded Roger Stone exchanged nearly 20 phone calls over three hours on Jan. 6, coinciding with the first assault on police barricades protecting the U.S. Capitol and spanning the time the three members breached the building, prosecutors charged Thursday.
In a new indictment adding previously charged Stone guards Joshua James, 33, of Arab, Ala., and Roberto Minuta, 36, of Prosper, Tex., to an Oath Keepers conspiracy case that now has 12 defendants, prosecutors bluntly laid a path to Rhodes and a person they said he put in charge of his group’s operations that day.
At the event, Rhodes indicated he expected to be arrested over his role in the January 6 insurrection. Naturally, this did not deter the GOP from giving him a platform.
Rhodes’s own language is tied to some of the most deadly rhetoric of the last few years. Most notably the dehumanizing characterization of migrants, mostly families of legal asylum seekers, as an “invasion.” In December of 2018, SPLC reported that Rhodes and his group were targeting the border:
In the meantime, the anti-government group has also encouraged its members to marshal at the southern U.S. border to thwart a perceived “invasion” of migrants fleeing for safety. Rhodes sees migrants as a national security threat and part of a plot by the political left and the fictitious so-called Deep State to change demographics in its favor.
And, it wasn’t the first time, as documented by The Atlantic in November 2020:
In 2016, when Trump had warned of election fraud, Rhodes put out a call for members to quietly monitor polling stations. When Trump warned of an invasion by undocumented immigrants, Rhodes traveled to the southern border with an Oath Keepers patrol.
In the wake of the massacre in El Paso where a shooter who used anti-immigrant rhetoric, David Nakamura at the Washington Post wrote about the use of similar language between the shooter and the anti-immigrant groups.
Unfortunately, this side of the GOP appears to be more of the norm, not an aberration. The GOP has repeatedly shown a willingness to rub shoulders with the Oath Keepers, in spite of their racism and violence. Rep. Andy Biggs (AZ-05) attended an event in 2015 where an Oath Keeper called for the hanging then Sen. John McCain. Rep.Gosar (AZ- 04) also attended two local Oath Keeper meetings, with Gosar parroting the group’s language saying we were already in a civil war but “we just haven’t started shooting yet.” In 2018, Rep. Lauren Boebert (CO-03), recorded a video to promote an event organized by the Oath Keepers. In 2020 Frank Pallotta ran a failed bid for the NJ-05 seat and had an Oath Keeper as one of his political advisors and vigorously defended the group when directly challenged on the matter. The Multnomah County GOP in Oregon sent out a fundraising letter in the summer of 2019 to their members soliciting donations to pay for “private security” from the Oath Keepers. Finally, in December 2016 Sen. Ted Cruz spoke to a crowd in D.C. in front of a large Oath Keeper’s flag and gave sympathetic comments to the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in which the Oath Keepers played a key part in.
The Texas GOP and State Chair inviting and amplifying someone so closely tied to racialized political violence is deeply concerning, but not surprising. The GOP Senators riding in gunboats was just another example of their long history of border-related stunts without offering any solutions beyond more Trump-like cruelty. These incidences just demonstrate that we all have to reckon with the fact that this is who the GOP is. The truth is one of our major parties is willing to make prominent allies out of those who court racialized political violence. We cannot ignore this fact and we must start treating the Party accordingly.