Saturday, October 03, 2020

Oathkeeper LARPS Been Telling Themselves A Story - But They Don't Yet Know The Plot...,

theatlantic  |  I drove from Kentucky into the mountains of Carroll County, Virginia, and, in a field along a winding road, parked at the end of a long row of pickup trucks and SUVs. A hundred people, most of them armed, were looking up at a man giving a speech from the back of a flatbed truck that was painted in camouflage. Between the crowd and me were two young men with semiautomatic rifles. They stopped me in a manner—neither friendly nor unfriendly—that I’d encountered at checkpoints in other parts of the world.

So-called militia musters like this one had been quietly happening all over the state. The legislature was still pushing ahead with gun-control measures, and people were preparing for the possibility of more riots, and for the election. Rhodes was scheduled to give remarks but, as usual, he was late.

One of the young men said something into a walkie-talkie, and a muscular Iraq War veteran named Will joined me and explained the reason for the guards and the men posted in the woods on the far side of the field. They weren’t worried about law enforcement—a deputy from the sheriff’s department stood not far from me, leaning against his cruiser. It was leftists, antifa, who might record your license plate, dox you, show up at your home.

This was a different kind of crowd than Rhodes had drawn to the VFW hall. Many were in their 20s and 30s and had come in uniforms—some Three Percenters wore black T‑shirts and camouflage pants, and members of another group stood together in matching woodland fatigues. From the latter, a man climbed onto the flatbed and introduced himself as Joe Klemm, the leader of a new militia called the Ridge Runners.

He was a 29-year-old former marine and spoke with a boom that brought the crowd to attention. “I’ve seen this coming since I was in the military,” he said. “For far too long, we’ve given a little bit here and there in the interest of peace. But I will tell you that peace is not that sweet. Life is not that dear. I’d rather die than not live free.”

“Hoo-ah,” some people cheered.

“It’s going to change in November,” Klemm continued. “I follow the Constitution. We demand that the rest of you do the same. We demand that our police officers do the same. We’re going to make these people fear us again. We should have been shooting a long time ago instead of standing off to the side.”

“Are you willing to lose your lives?” he asked. “Are you willing to lose the lives of your loved ones—maybe see one of your loved ones ripped apart right next to you?”

After he finished, Rhodes rolled up in his rented Dodge Ram and parked in the grass beside me. He walked to the flatbed but didn’t climb it. Then he turned and faced the crowd. His speech meandered back to revolutionary times, evoking the traditions of a country founded in bloodshed. He urged them to build a militia for their community.

Rhodes stayed at the muster long after most people had left, meeting every last person, his history lessons stretching on and on. Eventually the conversation turned to the problems in the area—the drug overdoses and mental-health crises and the desperate state of the local economy. The people there seemed to believe that taking up arms would somehow stave off the country’s unraveling rather than speed it along.

When the protests erupted in Kenosha a month later, many of the demonstrators brought guns, and vigilante groups quickly formed on the other side. They called themselves the Kenosha Guard. There was a confrontation near a gas station like the one at Pepperoni Bill’s, and a teenager allegedly opened fire and killed two people. A man affiliated with antifa allegedly gunned down a Trump supporter in Portland later that week, and Rhodes declared that “the first shot has been fired.”

By then, some writers popular on the militant right had been warning that wars don’t always start with a clear, decisive event—an attack, a coup, an invasion—and that you might not realize you’re in one until it’s under way. Civil conflict is gradual. The path to it, I thought, might begin with brooding over it. It could start with opening your mind.