Matt Rosendale is one lucky guy. Since 2014, he’s run four political races in Montana—one for Congress, one for the Legislature, one for State Auditor, and now one for the U.S. Senate without a single mainstream news outlet asking him to explain why he spoke at a rally for the Oath Keepers, a dangerous anti-government militia group in 2014.
Even a Maryland transplant would have to have known about the Oath Keepers and their dangerous views.
In 2010, Mother Jones did a deep dive into the organization, writing:
It’s not hard to see the appeal of Oath Keepers for guys like Pray and Brandon, frustrated young men nervous about their future prospects. They signed up to defend the greatest country in the world, only to be cast aside. Even their injuries were suffered ingloriously. Brandon can’t sit for long after being flung from a pickup truck; Pray now walks with a cane, possibly for good. The men sincerely believe their country is headed for disaster, but as broken warriors they are powerless to do anything about it. They have tried writing to Congress, signing petitions, and voting, all to no avail. Oath Keepers offers a new sense of pride and comradeship—of being part of something momentous.
And when the time comes, Pray insists he is battle ready. “If the government continues to ignore us, and forces us to engage,” Pray says, “I’m willing to fight to the death.” Brandon, for his part, is resigned about their odds fighting the US military. “If we take up arms, realistically we would lose, and they would label us as terrorists,” he says. Pray nods sadly in agreement. But they’ll take their chances. They consider it their duty.
In a report from 2017, High Country News reports that the Oath Keepers show up in full military garb pretending to be peacekeepers, including time defending the VanillaISIS occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and the Bundy standoff:
The Oath Keepers are one of two of the most well-known of the country’s 165 or so militia groups. They are named for the oath that members of the military or police take to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. You might see the oft-armed Oath Keepers in camouflage battle dress uniforms posturing as peacekeepers or security at “free speech” rallies.
Oath Keepers were among the militia groups that showed up to support Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy during the 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service. They also spent weeks in the fray in Burns, Oregon, during the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The Anti-Defamation League links the Oath Keepers to the militia movement that plagued Montana in the 1990s and beyond and highlights their conspiratorial thinking directed at the federal government:
The Oath Keeper’s belief that the allegedly tyrannical American government will use law enforcement and military personnel against its people leads to their avowed purpose of opposing such conspiracies. This sentiment is encapsulated in the so-called Oath Keeper’s Pledge, which they ask all members and supporters to take. The pledge, which refers to the honorable vow of service given by those in uniform, reminds Oath Keepers that they swore an oath to defend the Constitution “from all enemies, foreign and domestic.” By taking this pledge, Oath Keepers vow that they will refuse to cooperate with the “tyrannical government” by making a declaration that there are certain “orders” from superiors that they will refuse to obey.
The list of “orders” the Oath Keepers vow to refuse reveals their extreme conspiratorial mindset, because the “orders” are not instructions ever likely to be actually handed down by officials; instead, they are reflective of the anti-government conspiracy theories embraced by the extreme right.
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that shortly after moving to Montana, Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, shared a stage with Chuck Baldwin and called on the parishioners gathered to form a militia before the government started rounding them up:
On March 8, for example, Rhodes and Baldwin spoke at a Liberty Bell function at Valley Victory Church, just outside Kalispell. There, Rhodes issued a call, in front of a giant American flag, for citizens of Flathead Valley to help form his nascent militia. The collapse of the government was imminent, he warned, and the federal government would soon start rounding up American citizens. “You’re weak,” he admonished. “You’re militarily weak.”
As we have noted before, Rosendale also endorsed Baldwin’s church on Facebook and attended his church. Baldwin also spoke at the Oath Keepers rally when Rosendale did.
In Montana, the Oath Keepers have also been linked to anti-Indian hate groups, legislation to undermine federal law enforcement, and wannabe Rambos cosplaying as heroes of the Revolution during disputes over mining claims.
In normal times, a politician would have to explain why he would attend a rally put on by a group like the Oath Keepers, but something has changed: the radicalization of the Republican Party seems to have somehow rendered these stories unimportant, not worth covering, and not worth considering by the mainstream press.
Back in October, we wrote about Rosendale’s association with these extremist groups. At that time, Travis McAdam of the Montana Human Rights Network pointed out just how dangerous it is for politicians to lend credence to the views of these extremist groups. McAdam told me it’s dangerous when “candidates and government officials appear to endorse these movements,” because given the current administration, “these radical right groups believe that this is their time to exert influence. Right now.”
The events of the past few weeks prove just how prescient McAdam was. When political leaders fuel the flames of conspiracy, it leads to violence and even deaths of innocent people.
Surely Montana voters deserve an explanation from Matt Rosendale about why he spoke at an Oath Keepers event, why he attended church services with and endorsed Chuck Baldwin, and why he praised white nationalist Taylor Rose.
Even if we give Mr. Rosendale the most generous possible benefit of the doubt here and we assume that he just didn’t know that he was endorsing anti-government militia groups and white nationalists, shouldn’t he be asked if he denounces them now?
It’s not too late to find out.