By Jim Acosta
In the first two parts of our series, “Patriots or Extremists?” we looked at the growth of private militias in this country. Now we turn to a group whose founder says he doesn't need a militia. That's because his organization is recruiting its members... right out of the military and law enforcement.
Just a couple of miles off the Las Vegas strip inside a casino ballroom, dozens of men and women are taking an oath. An oath, they say, to the Constitution of the United States – not to the president.
"If we're going to watch while our country dies and think that there's nothing we can do about it, we're wrong," says Richard Mack, a former sheriff.
They call themselves the "Oath Keepers," and last month they held their first national conference.
The group's founder, Stewart Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and staffer for Congressman Ron Paul, says his members recite a revised version of the oath that's used for enlistment in the Armed Services, but they exclude this phrase: "I will obey the orders of the President of the United States."
"Our role is not to be obedient to whoever happens to be the leader. Our role is to defend the Constitution and the republic," says Rhodes.
The Oath Keepers aren't in Las Vegas looking for gamblers. They're seeking out police officers, sheriff's deputies, military veterans, even active duty members of the Armed Forces. If you've taken an oath to protect this nation, the Oath Keepers want you.
So are the Oath Keepers a militia group? “We don't need to be. We're the military and the police," says Stewart.
The Oath Keepers call on their members to disobey any orders, as they put it, "to disarm the American people," or "to force citizens into detention camps." It's a pledge Rhodes recites in an anti-Obama DVD called: "The Fall of the Republic."
Mark Potok, who monitors extremist groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center, says the Oath Keepers are exploiting false rumors found on fringe Web sites.
"Many of the Oath Keepers are people who believe martial law is about to be imposed it is right around the corner," says Potok.
Rhodes insists his group is not anti-government and not anti-Obama.
Brian McGough with the Democratic-leaning veterans group Votevets.Org worries soldiers in the Oath Keepers will pick and choose which orders to follow, disrupting the chain of command.
"All they're doing is hurting their unit. All they're doing is hurting the military and all they're doing is hurting their friends. They should really think about that."
Critics say the Oath Keepers simply vindicate this recent report from the Department of Homeland Security that warned "right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans."
The DHS declined to comment for this story, but Rhodes blasted its report at the founding of the Oath Keepers earlier this year.
The group was founded at the site of the first shots fired in the American Revolution - Lexington, Massachussets.
As for those orders the Oath Keepers say they will not obey – there is no proof that the government is building detention camps around the country. And there are no proposals coming from the White House or Democratic leaders in Congress for new gun control laws. The Department of Homeland Security has no comment on the group.