Eye to eye with an Oath Keeper

At this time, I would like to join MZ Hemingway in doing something that may sound a bit strange at this here weblog. I want to praise the Los Angeles Times for writing a major, A1 story that contains a little bit of religion, but not too much. Yes, there's a religion ghost in this whole, quote, anti-government, unquote, movement, but the ghost does not appear to be running the show.

In this case, I'm talking about one of those giant "Column One" features that the Los Angeles Times dedicates to major local or national stories. The headline for this one is longer than many ledes I've seen lately. Here it is:

Oath Keepers organizer sees need to sound an alarm

Rand Cardwell drums up support for an antigovernment group whose views illustrate the disconnect that has come to define popular political discourse in President Obama's first tumultuous year.

What's the big idea in this story? It seems to be that Rand Cardwell of Farragut, Tenn., may be an Oath Keeper -- part of a movement that many liberals fears is out of control and dangerous -- but he is also, well, sane. In fact, the former U.S. Marine isn't even completely a right-winger. His concerns are more complex than that and it's hard to stereotype the concerns of the circle of white folks who have joined the laid-off aluminum plant worker in this new Oath Keepers chapter in the mountains of Tennessee.

Yes, white folks. That is part of the story that must be addressed, in part because of a Southern Poverty Law Center report warning that the Oath Keepers oppose President Barack Obama because he is black:

Cardwell betrayed only a hint of the exasperation that this line of criticism stirs in him. Nothing, he said, could be further from the truth. He served side by side in the Corps with African Americans. One of his best friends is a black guy.

"Our goal," he said, "is to support and defend the Constitution, and that's where it begins and ends at. ... We're not a hate group. We're not a racist group. We're not calling for armed revolt against the government."

But here is the heart of the story, where the newspaper's clear concerns meet the soft-spoken answers of the man under the microscope. Lo and behold, he's a mainline Protestant who is highly skeptical of talk-radio stars:

There is a reasoned calm, even a gentleness, when Cardwell says such things. He and his wife are Lutherans, but not regular churchgoers. Gay rights don't get him very riled. Legalized abortion he finds "unsettling." He admits that it bugs him when he calls somewhere, and has to press "1" for English.

He's a gun owner, and he frets about Democrats' commitment to gun rights. He takes in his share of Fox News and right-wing radio, but not uncritically: He suspects Beck, who has fomented so much anti-Obama protest, to be a "patriot for profit" who is mostly in it for the book deals. ...

Cardwell had voted for Republican John McCain as the lesser of two evils. But he doesn't see himself as much of a party man. The individualist streak in him, he said, goes a long way to explaining his belief in limited government. It is an outgrowth of the pioneering spirit that helped the Scots-Irish settle the rugged mountains of Tennessee -- a spirit, he said, of "leave us the hell alone, we don't need your help."

So there's a note of religion in there -- a conservative civil religion, if you will -- not too much religion. I've lived in those mountains and visit regularly and I've met people like this guy there. He thought George W. Bush was too pro-government, too.

So read it all and see if you agree with the Los Angeles Times that this man is sane. That's what it's all about, isn't it? Our newspapers trying to decide if the opponents of the current administration are racist, theocratic or insane? And make sure you read to the very end for the stunning -- and totally valid -- link to the health-care crisis.

Please respect our Commenting Policy