The “Oath Keepers” is an anti-government and anti-immigration militia group in the United States that attempts to convince police officers, members of the U.S. military, and veterans to oppose any government policy they regard as “unconstitutional.” Although they formally disavow racism and white nationalism, their members’ and leadership’s actions indicate otherwise: their anti-government philosophy is similar to that of the racist and anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus movement of the 1960s and their webpage frequently employs the anti-Semitic term “globalist” to describe individuals and groups they oppose. The group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, has praised an article arguing that Islam “parasitically feeds off the healthy non-Islamic societies around it.” In an August 21st, 2018 interview with Infowars, whose founder has been banned from most social media for hate speech, Rhodes announced a series of “Spartan Training Groups” that will defend against the “violent left’s” efforts to obtain “illegitimate power.” Labeling this program “Spartan” is an attempt to promote the political legitimacy and military sophistication of their paranoid, violent program.
In addition to the announcement of “Spartan Training Groups,” there are several references to Sparta on the Oath Keepers website, including a reproduction of Emerson’s Self-Reliance in which the philosopher exhorts his readers to abandon “conformity and consistency” and “hear a whistle of a Spartan fife,” referring to the flute used by the Spartans in battle. More pointed is the “open letter” urging law enforcement officers not to enforce New York State’s gun laws, which the Brady Campaign has ranked as among the toughest in the nation. The letter argues that New York’s police officers should emulate the Spartan king Leonidas, who is said to have told envoys of the invading Persian army “come and get them” when they demanded that the Spartans turn over their weapons. As Pharos has documented previously, references to Sparta are commonplace in the rhetoric of violent extremest groups, who, like the Nazis, admire Classical Sparta for their supposed military prowess and racial purity.
Pharos and others have detailed the distortions, anachronisms, and disturbing implications of this admiration for Sparta. For example, it is unlikely that the historical Leonidas ever said “come and get them”, as Pharos contributor Stephen Hodkinson has argued, since it does not appear in any source even remotely contemporary to Leonidas, but only in a collection compiled more than 600 years later that contains many invented quotations. Furthermore, the longstanding assumption that the military played an unusually large role in Classical Spartan culture has been questioned in recent scholarship, which points out that this perception of Sparta derives from an uncritical reading of sources hostile to Sparta that seek to paint it as a brutal, militaristic regime.
Oath Keepers’ members can fund the Spartan training groups by entering a raffle to win a sniper rifle
The Oath Keepers’ use of the term “Spartan” seems intended to imply that those they train will be as effective a fighting force as the Spartan army. In his interview on Infowars, Rhodes expects that the groups will attract those who wish to be “trained by professionals” in order to “serve as a militia of the United States, to secure the schools, protect our borders…to execute our laws, to repel invasions, and to suppress insurrections, which we’re seeing from the left right now.” Their announcement of the training groups invites members to enter a raffle to fund the formation of these groups: the raffle prize is a rifle similar to those used in most of the recent mass shootings in the United States. However, as contributors to Pharos detailed in a response to appropriations of Sparta by alt Right demonstrators, Sparta provides a poor model for anarchic anti-government groups like the Oath Keepers: Spartan society was rigidly hierarchical and traditional, and citizen dissent from the decisions of the rulers was not tolerated.
The interview on Infowars is available here (visiting the page will likely generate ad revenue for the site); the description of the “Spartan Training Groups” begins after 3:22. At 10:28 three Spartan Helmet-themed logos for the show on which the interview aired are visible. At 18.30 Rhodes says, “if you want to stop more women being sexually abused and raped, you need to stop having people come into this country illegally.” The Oath Keepers’ site does not have ads but we have linked above to archived images of its pages. For those who wish to explore the actual site, the site’s announcement of the training groups is here.
Pharos learned about the Oath Keepers’ announcement from several readers who sent us the SPLC’s article about the program. If you see a hate group appropriating antiquity please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.