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Historical Perspective on Ore. Politician's Call for Militia Security

The Oath Keepers, an armed militia group, has been active in Oregon for many years. (Shawn Records/Rural Organizing Project)
The Oath Keepers, an armed militia group, has been active in Oregon for many years. (Shawn Records/Rural Organizing Project)
June 2, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – This week, an Oregon politician said state Republicans should consider militia groups for event security. A best-selling author and professor suggests looking at that statement from a historical perspective.

Multnomah County GOP chair James Buchal told the Guardian newspaper he was considering using militia groups known as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters for protection instead of the police.

But, Yale history professor Timothy Snyder says hiring a self-styled militia undermines law enforcement, no matter what the ideology of the armed group.

"The move to bring paramilitaries into the picture, whether it's from the right or whether it's from the left - I mean, historically it can be either one - is inherently suspicious because it strikes at the heart of the way that a democratic, rule-of-law society normally would work," he explains.

Snyder is the author of "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century."

Buchal's statement came after last weekend's incident on a Portland train, when two men were fatally stabbed when they challenged a man who was berating a Muslim girl and an African-American girl.

An event being dubbed the "Trump Free Speech Rally" is planned for Sunday in Portland, sparking fears of an escalation of violence.

Jessica Campbell, co-director of Rural Organizing Project, says the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters have been active, particularly in southern Oregon, where the militia groups have attempted to step in for understaffed and underfunded sheriffs' departments.

But Campbell notes it didn't make rural Oregonians feel any safer.

"People of color were scared, terrified; hate crimes were on the rise," she says. "There's just nothing that can really replace trained and accountable public infrastructure where if something goes wrong, you can actually meaningfully intervene, instead of having it be an escalation of tensions and whoever's most armed wins."

The Oath Keepers and Three Percenters say they don't discriminate based on race or religion.

Rural Organizing Project published "Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon's Patriot Movement" about the state's militia groups in 2016.

Snyder agrees with Campbell that people should rely on the public infrastructure for protection.

"I think this is also a moment where, you know, citizens of Portland or in general would be well-served by communicating directly with the police, and making sure that relations between citizens and the police are what they ought to be," he says.

After the attack, Portland Police told Muslim community leaders they are standing with them.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR