Armed Extremist Militias Want to Patrol Schools After the Parkland Shooting

Armed Extremist Militias Want to Patrol Schools After the Parkland Shooting
Anthony Crider / Flickr

After the school massacre in Parkland two weeks ago, Mark Cowan, a grizzled man in Fort Wayne, Indiana, began standing outside the town's North Side High School. With a handgun. And an AR-15 in his car.

As a local TV station reported last Friday, Cowan is one of 100 heavily armed, ideologically extreme "Oath Keepers" who have committed to "standing guard" outside Indiana schools to stop events like the Stoneman Douglas shooting from happening. The Oath Keepers are a fringe right-wing paramilitary group made up of former veterans and law enforcement officers who believe in "defending the Constitution" against perceived threats, which basically just means "gun-control laws."

This unfortunately might be a preview of what's in store for our dystopian future: As the hate-tracking Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noted yesterday, Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes this week instructed group members to stand watch outside schools, and the group held a webinar last night encouraging members to "stand guard" outside random schools across the nation. The group's Florida chapter is also encouraging local members to patrol outside schools around the Sunshine State.

"We will discuss what you can and must do to fix this problem effectively in your community and counter this bloodthirsty and calculated conspiracy to aid and abet mass murder," the webinar's announcement page reads. "The time to step up and answer the call is now. And the time to dig in our heels and take a firm 'three percenter' type stand against any further restriction on our right to keep and bear arms is now."

The term "three percenter" refers to a discredited theory that only 3 percent of America's population rose up to fight the British Army in the Revolutionary War. The "Three Percenters" is a separate militia closely aligned with Oath Keepers.

Though members repeatedly deny they support outright white nationalism and are instead just hard-core libertarians, the militias are often allied with white supremacists and tend to appear at the same rallies and events. SPLC notes the group operates on "a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans" and showed up with all-white, armed groups during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, "to protect white businesses against black protesters."

Rhodes, the group's founder, believes immigrants are intentionally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a "Communist subversive invasion" of the United States. He also believes Black Lives Matter and immigrant- rights groups are also part of a secret Marxist takeover of America. Oath Keepers were also heavily involved in Cliven Bundy's 2017 armed insurrection against the federal government in the Nevada desert.

The groups also rose in popularity as a reaction to Barack Obama's presidency. You're free to guess why. In light of his political leanings, it appears Nikolas Cruz was far likelier to have been an Oath Keeper sympathizer than an antagonist.
The Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, for example, sent operatives to the Unite the Right neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year. Because they're made up of fringe ex-military types, they seem as likely to fight off a perceived armed threat as they are to get pissed off and shoot a kid because his Lil Uzi Vert T-shirt resembled Mumia Abu-Jamal. The Oath Keepers have repeatedly propagated a claim that "all federal gun control is unlawful," which is patently and provably false. Cowan, the so-called guard standing at North Side High in Fort Wayne, has misdemeanor battery convictions in his past, and school reps say they don't think his presence makes anyone safer, especially because the campus already has an official armed guard.

"We understand he has a right to be out there, as he is not on our property," a school district spokesperson told the Indiana TV station, "but we do not believe it adds to the safety of our students. At North Side, as at all of our schools, we have security procedures in place. In addition, at North Side, we have armed police officers in the building every day."

It's easy to see how the presence of a random, heavily armed conspiracy theorist could make a school-shooting situation worse. An Oath Keeper might sprint into a school after hearing gunshots and, say, riddle the wrong kid with rifle bullets. An arriving SWAT team would be forced to deploy resources to apprehend both a school shooter and an Oath Keeper, because both people would be inside the school armed with weapons and it would be impossible to tell who's shooting whom or why.

"We, as Oath Keepers, must not sit idly by and allow these indiscretions to be perpetrated by our government. As veterans and fellow law enforcement professionals, we also must remember that we took the same sacred oath before God to defend the Constitution of the United States America," an Oath Keeper blog post announcing the webinar reads. "It is our obligation to insure that we live up to that oath; for in the end we will be judged by God and our fellow citizens on our actions." [sic]
Naturally, the Oath Keepers also support Florida's proposed plans to arm teachers and place armed guards in schools, which passed through committee last night and awaits a floor vote in both chambers of the state Legislature.

Such is the quality of political discourse in Florida in 2018: Rather than make it more difficult for people like Cruz to buy AR-15 rifles, the Sunshine State will instead train gym teachers with acute osteoarthritis how to mow down students with a Desert Eagle, while armed vets who fear a coming race war will stand outside with assault rifles. Feel safer?
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.