Oath Keepers plans rally

Last modified: 10/12/2010 12:00:00 AM
The director of a self-described anti-totalitarian group is urging supporters to rally outside a New Hampshire courthouse this week in support of an Epsom couple whose newborn was taken last week by state social workers.

Johnathon Irish and Stephanie Taylor say their baby was seized because of Irish's association with the Oath Keepers. Court documents, however, charge Irish with a history of violence toward Taylor and her children.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, told his group's members yesterday that the rally, scheduled for Thursday outside the Rochester Family Division Court, would be 'in support of the First Amendment-protected right of freedom of association.'

The case has shined attention on the Oath Keepers, a Las Vegas-based group that describes itself as an affiliation of current and retired military and law enforcement officials who promise to fight government tyranny. Members of the Oath Keepers swear to uphold their oaths to protect the Constitution. Members also pledge 10 specific vows, including, 'We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.'

State social workers took custody of Irish and Taylor's daughter the day after her birth at Concord Hospital. In an affidavit supporting the child's seizure, state officials detailed allegations of child abuse and domestic violence by Irish, including the claim that he had beaten Taylor's two younger children. Those children have been placed in foster care, according to the affidavit. (Taylor is still married to the father of those children, but she and Irish describe themselves as engaged. The newborn baby is their first child as a couple. Taylor has also given her last name as 'Janvrin.')

The affidavit also mentions that state social workers 'became aware and confirmed that Mr. Irish is associated with a militia known as the 'Oath Keepers.' ' The affidavit goes on to note that Irish had multiple run-ins with the Epsom police over firearms and that he had purchased a rifle, a handgun and a Taser.

The reference to the Oath Keepers, and the description of the group as a 'militia,' has riled many of the group's members as well as people unaffiliated with the Oath Keepers who see the mention of the group in the affidavit as an attempt to stifle political speech.

'The fact that the political association of the father with Oath Keepers, and his gun ownership, were even among the reasons given for the taking of this baby takes this case beyond the realm of your mundane family court matter and turns it into something that could affect the rights of us all, nationwide,' Rhodes wrote on the Oath Keepers website yesterday.

History of violence alleged

Calls to the state Department of Health and Human Services were not returned yesterday, and the state court system was closed for Columbus Day, so it was not possible to review Irish's criminal file. And since child protection matters are confidential, state and police officials offered no comment on the case last week. But Lorraine Bartlett with the state Division for Children, Youth and Families told the Associated Press that a child cannot be removed based on a parent's affiliation with an organization.

According to the affidavit, the police in Rochester, where the couple used to live, 'report a lengthy history of domestic violence' between Irish and Taylor. The affidavit also states that Taylor has reported being beaten and choked by Irish on several occasions and that the couple had sought restraining orders against each other in the past. A court petition accompanying the affidavit concluded that the newborn faced 'imminent danger' if left in her parents' care.

In a phone interview yesterday, Irish said a state social worker called Taylor yesterday to schedule a visit between the newborn and her mother. According to Irish, the social worker told Taylor that Irish could not take part because he was a 'security risk.'

He said allegations that he had abused Taylor and her children were 'nothing but lies and arbitrary opinions.' And he said the incident underscored his long-held belief that government officials were encroaching on individual liberties.

'They seem to think they can act like God,' Irish said.

The case swiftly brought Irish and Taylor to the attention of numerous online anti-government activists over the weekend. The couple's story has been featured on websites and blogs devoted to chronicling instances of alleged government oppression.

' 'Happy birthday. You're property of the State.' ' wrote one blogger on the website Pro Libertate.

Critics describe the Oath Keepers as a prominent example of the 'Patriot' movement, an extremist, anti-government movement that has gained in membership and momentum over the past two years. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, monitors the Oath Keepers' activities and describes the group as a 'particularly worrisome example of the 'Patriot' movement.'

But members of the Oath Keepers say they are only interested in protecting the American people from dictatorship. Their motto: 'Not on our watch.'

Rhodes, an Army veteran, Yale Law School graduate and former aide to U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, founded Oath Keepers last year, and he has since been active in Tea Party-related events. He was also a guest speaker earlier this year at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum, an annual event hosted by the Free State Project, a libertarian group.

Membership in the Oath Keepers is not limited to military or law enforcement personnel, according to the group's website, though that is the group's focus. Members pay $30 in annual dues in exchange for a certificate 'suitable for framing,' a laminated membership card, three Oath Keepers bumper stickers, and Oath Keepers brochures and business cards.

The group's bylaws bar membership to people who have advocated for the overthrow of the U.S. government or have been associated with a racist or violent group.

'Chilling effect'

Rhodes did not respond to a request for an interview. But in media appearances in recent days, he has woven the Concord case into a larger narrative of what he called the federal government's 'infiltration down to the local level' in a mission to stifle opposition.

'Anybody who stands up for the Constitution is going to be fingered as mentally ill or as somebody who's a danger to their children,' Rhodes told internet radio host Alex Jones on Friday. 'Anybody who's not going to just roll over and allow our republic to be destroyed. That's the big picture.'

Later, Rhodes compared government social workers to the Stasi, the secret police force in former East Germany, and said, 'If this is allowed to stand, and they're allowed to start using your associations of lawful assembly as criteria for taking your children, imagine the chilling effect it's going to have on parents across America.'

'Well, that's what Hitler did, that's what Stalin and Mao did,' Jones replied.

Many Oath Keepers and their supporters seem to share this view. At a protest in support of Irish and Taylor in front of Concord Hospital last week, a Weare man who gave his name only as Bill said he was a member of the Oath Keepers, through his position as a justice of the peace. He said he did not know the newborn's parents but came to the rally to protest the inclusion of the Oath Keepers in the affidavit against Irish.

'This is part of a larger effort to paint those who oppose government policies as terrorists,' Bill said.

He said he viewed membership in Oath Keepers as a form of 'moral support' - 'so members can realize they're not alone.'

It's difficult to gauge Oath Keepers' presence in New Hampshire. The website for the group's New Hampshire chapter lists no events on its calendar stretching back to January and does not include any names of state leaders. 'Leadership is being established for New Hampshire,' a note on the site reads.

Irish said he was active in organizing for the Oath Keepers in New Hampshire earlier this year. But he said he cut back on his involvement with the group because of complications in Taylor's pregnancy.

Irish said he had spoken with Rhodes several times since his daughter was taken, and he said the Oath Keepers were helping organize a legal defense fund on his behalf. He's also hoping the fund can help him with an unrelated criminal charge from several months ago of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.

Irish also told an online interviewer over the weekend that he had a handful of other past convictions, including criminal trespass. He said he was also arrested for sexual assault but that the charges were dropped. State courts were closed yesterday, so verifying those charges was not possible.


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