By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
A summit of the “Oath Keepers” organization could bring a thousand members of the “pro-American” survivalist group to Bowling Green this summer.
News of the proposed multi-state summit had several local officials researching the Oath Keepers group today. The organization has been referred to in some national media as having extremist anti-government views, with an emphasis on protecting Second Amendment rights to own guns.
But calls to the FBI and Homeland Security by Bowling Green Police Division revealed no criminal behavior, according to Deputy Chief of Police Justin White.
During foot patrols at the Woodland Mall in Bowling Green, officers had noticed the new “Oath Keepers Outpost” store being constructed. The mall is the site for the proposed summit on June 10.
The store and the summit for the “Not On Our Watch” organization then came to the attention of the “Not In Our Town” organization which supports diversity and fights hate in Bowling Green.
“We had concerns directed toward us from campus and community,” said Rev. Gary Saunders, co-leader of NIOT.
But little was known about the Oath Keepers.
“So we’re going to learn more,” Saunders said. “We would like to find out more and get to know them.”
“We’re the folks who stand up for an inclusive and welcoming community,” Saunders said of NIOT. “There’s no question there’s some concern around the group, but we have no basis for making any judgments.”
Nick Getzinger, state executive officer to the president of Ohio Oath Keepers, said the public has nothing to worry about.
“We’re not crazy people,” said Getzinger, who lives in the Weston area.
Oath Keepers is made up of members who have served in the military, civil service, police, fire or EMS services – anyone who has sworn to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, Getzinger said.
“That oath has no expiration date,” he said.
The group operates as a non-profit organization whose members have pledged to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
The Ohio Oath Keepers separated to create their own branch from the national organization, Getzinger explained. Unlike the members who reportedly enflamed the chaos in Ferguson, Missouri, by bearing firearms as they joined protesters, the Ohio group is focused more on helping, he said.
“That’s not our objective at all. They are a little more controversial than we are,” he said. “We decided to take on a more civil role.”
The Ohio members have formed State Emergency Response Teams and back up law enforcement, firefighters and EMS. “We train them to work as experts in those fields,” he said. “We would be there to back them up to maintain law and order. We’re not like a rouge organization. We are not a militia.”
Since Homeland Security abolished civil defense workers, the Ohio Oath Keepers can take that role. “We’re filling in that gap,” Getzinger said. “We are ready at the drop of a hat to respond.”
However, Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said he had not yet met with the Oath Keepers organization to discuss their role. And Wood County Emergency Management Agency Director Brad Gilbert had never heard of the organization.
Getzinger said another main function of the group was to educate the public how to prepare for disasters.
“We teach people how to prepare before things happen,” he said. Training includes teaching people how to stockpile enough goods to survive for a year in case there is a natural, manmade or economic disaster.
“We are in trouble here in this country,” Getzinger said. “Our goal is to help America get prepared. We’re here for the people.”
He estimated there are a couple thousand members of the Ohio Oath Keepers, which was formed in 2010.
Some “civilian walk-ins” are allowed to join the organization, but only after they are “vetted” and pass a background check. No convicted felons are allowed, he said.
The group is “Christian-based” with “high moral standards,” he added.
The organization is not racist, he said.
“We have multiple races. We’re not racist by any means,” he said.
The only qualification is swearing allegiance to the Constitution. “You can’t be a member if you aren’t pro-American,” Getzinger said.
Getzinger said the Ohio branch does not adhere to the same strong anti-government stance as the national group. But on the Ohio group’s website it mentions overthrowing the government if a long train of abuses are committed. He said those beliefs are in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
The store at Woodland Mall is not directly affiliated with the Ohio Oath Keepers, Getzinger said, though he and his wife and two other couples who are members of the organization own the store.
The store will sell survival gear and stockpiling supplies. “It’s not a front for the organization,” he said.
The summit at the mall will provide survivalist training, medical training, communication classes, engineering and other courses.
Wasylyshyn said the mall currently does not allow firearms on the grounds. It will be up to the owner if the policy changes for the store and summit, he said.
White said the police have no reason to stop the organization.
“Unless they are doing something criminal, or threatening someone, we can’t do anything,” White said.
To calm concerns, Getzinger said he would be willing to meet with NIOT members.