By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Oath Keepers spent the weekend learning how to survive all types of disasters including overreaches by the federal government.
Approximately 100 members, many dressed in their black Oath Keeper T-shirts, military cargo pants and boots, and equipped with radios and earpieces, gathered for a multi-state rally at the Woodland Mall in Bowling Green.
Nick Getzinger, of Weston, who is executive officer to the president of the Ohio Oath Keepers, said the organization has grown in the last couple months. “People have found out we’re not a militia,” he said.
“If they have a militia mentality, they have to keep that with their group,” Getzinger said. “We’re not going to take a military stance.”
Since opening the Oath Keepers Outpost store at Woodland Mall earlier this year, Getzinger has stressed that the Ohio branch of the group is not like others in the nation. If potential members show an anti-government mentality during the vetting process, they are turned down for membership, he said.
“We’ve turned quite a few people away,” he said.
Getzinger is well aware that the Oath Keepers has been labeled as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I know Southern Poverty tries to throw everybody in the same bucket, but you can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t buy into conspiracy theories, but right now we believe our country is on the wrong track.”
While that may be Getzinger’s stance, the mindset of the others at the rally is unknown since they were ordered not to speak to the media. Getzinger said the gag order was due to the large number of new members who may not be well versed yet on the organization. “We don’t want any misunderstandings.”
When asked to point out a longstanding Oath Keeper who could be interviewed, Getzinger said, “they’re under direct order from the president (of Ohio Oath Keepers) not to speak.”
The only other person at the rally allowed to talk was Caroline Pelgar, executive secretary to Getzinger from Lorain County. She described the group as “a community of Christians” dedicated to “taking care of our own.”
“As a Christian, we’re called to help one another,” Pelgar said. The members, she added, are “the most welcoming, friendly group you’d ever meet.”
When asked about the group’s national reputation with hate watch groups, Pelgar rejected that characterization. “We live in a country where everyone is entitled to their own opinions.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center has said that while Oath Keepers vow to support the oaths they took when joining law enforcement or the military to defend the Constitution, they also have a list of 10 orders they will not obey. Those “imaginary threats from the government” include orders to force Americans into concentration camps, confiscate their guns, or cooperate with foreign troops in the United States.
“These supposed threats are, in fact, part of the central conspiracy theory advocated by the antigovernment Patriot movement of which the Oath Keepers is a part — the baseless claim that the federal government plans to impose martial law, seize Americans’ weapons, force those who resist into concentration camps,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Anti-Defamation League shares a similar opinion, calling the Oath Keepers, a growing anti-government extremist group whose avowed purpose is to enlist current and former military, police, and first responder personnel into its ranks in order to oppose a supposedly “tyrannical” government.
The Oath Keepers’ armed members joined the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and offered to protect Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, after she refused to grant licenses for same-sex marriages.
“At the same time they cast themselves in the role of protectors and supporters of law enforcement and the military, they are clearly seeking opportunities for armed confrontations with the federal government. When you have heavily armed extremists with a conspiratorial and anti-government mindset looking for potential showdowns with the government, it is a recipe for danger or disaster,” according to the league.
Getzinger insisted that is not a fair representation of the Ohio branch of Oath Keepers.
“We may not be happy with how the government is working, but we are pro-government,” he said. “We are very pro-America.”
The merchandise being sold at the rally, and the classes being taught seemed to show a distrust of government and other citizens.
Roger Mullen, from Lima, was selling pepper spray, brass knuckles, spring-assist knives, and five-gallon jugs for survivalists. The hottest items, Mullen said, were decals, such as the one stating, “I don’t call 911,” with a picture of a gun.
Another Lima business, a military surplus store, was on site selling dog tags for identification. Most were being engraved to identify the wearer’s name, blood type and religion, the owners said.
The Oath Keeper Outpost at the mall was selling items such as camouflage clothing, portable generators, survival handbooks, packets of drinking water and food, and scent killing soap.
The businesses in the food court of the mall seemed to appreciate the extra customers the rally brought in. “These people are great. They’ve been very cordial,” said Gary Lilly, owner of A.M. Diner.
The classes offered at the rally included concealed carry training, survival classes, a legal talk on “tips to avoid getting in trouble with the Feds,” prepping on a budget, self defense, medical care, emergency power, water treatment, radio communication, and basic hand loading.
According to signs posted at the mall, the top door prize at the rally was a Mosin Nagant Rifle.
Getzinger said the leadership of the organization did discuss the government’s lack of readiness for the Republican National Convention later this summer in Cleveland.
“There’s a lot of concern about the RNC convention,” he said. “We’re trying to reach out to the public as much as possible,” urging people to stay in safe zones and “hunker down at home.”
“They could call martial law in Cleveland,” Getzinger said. But unlike the national Oath Keepers organization, the Ohio group has no intention of having a presence at the convention.
“We do not wish to be there to protest,” he said. “We don’t want to be involved. We are encouraging people to stay home and hunker down with their family.”
Getzinger said the Oath Keepers are non-partisan, and have identified flaws on both sides of the aisle. “Our goal is, when we find corrupt politicians, we let our people know what they are doing.”