A news report released this month showed a Western North Carolina state representative is a member of one of the largest anti-government groups in the country. Republican Mike Clampitt told BPR that he wasn’t trying to hide his affiliation:
Clampitt doesn’t see what was newsworthy about his name on a list of members of the Oath Keepers.
“No, it's not new information. I feel like it's been very open and out there,” said Clampitt.
He’s been an open member since 2014.
Non-profit news organization ProPublica released a hacked list of Oath Keepers, an organization defined as mostly former police, firefighters and military who pledge their allegiance to the constitution – with a focus on anti-government overreach. The list included some of those arrested in the Jan. 6th insurrection along with Clampitt and North Carolina House deputy majority whip Keith Kidwell.
Clampitt says the Oath Keepers have sworn to uphold the constitution – even when that doesn’t align with federal law.
“If you read the Oath Keepers and what they say - and I don't know whether you have or not - but, you know, federal overreach, disarming a population and things like that. I won’t speak and give names of sheriffs but I've had the conversation with other individuals in communities that the federal government overreach just sometimes it gets absurd. And that's not how our country was founded,” said Clampitt.
He says he doesn’t think there has been any organized Oath Keeper meetings since 2015.
Clampitt cites a 2013 article in Police Magazine as a clear description of the organization.
The article explains that “there are some fringe elements that are not so much pro-Bill of Rights as anti-government.” It also shows examples of those elements including one Oath Keeper, who participated in a plot to take over a Tennessee courthouse to free a man who was arrested for trying to enforce a citizen's arrest on a judicial official who refused to investigate President Barack Obama's citizenship. The article also details the group's "Declaration of Orders We Will Not Obey."
At least 18 alleged associates of the Oath Keepers have been charged for their part in the insurrection, and at least two members have already plead guilty, according to the Washington Post. Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers (who is interviewed in the Police Magazine article) is also being investigated . Clampitt says he doesn’t support the violent actions of January 6th.
"I would say that would be your outliers and bad apples for that it doesn't reflect the entire mentality of the group or anything,” he said.
Clampitt also says the Oath Keepers are not a militia. He sees a militia as narrowly defined in the constitution but says that any individual has a right to defend themselves.
“Everyone has the right with to defend themselves, whether you're part of the militia or not being a militia, doesn't segregate that you have the right to protect yourself,” said Clampitt.
Last summer, Clampitt spoke at an Armed Patriot rally for the a 2nd Amendment and President Trump in Bryson City. A group of armed men that called themselves the NC Security Forces attended the event. They said they attended to protect the people there – many of whom were also armed. Clampitt said he sees supporting 2nd amendment rights and the consitution as part of his job as a representative.
“Let's focus on the representing of North Carolina and the elected position. We have the constitution with inalienable rights and a federal constitution for the right to bear and keep arms. People have that right and we identify inalienable rights to individuals, and I consider that to be one of them. You have the right to protect yourself anywhere at any time,” he said regarding his speech the event.
When asked about the Oath Keepers place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group list, Clampitt responded:
“I think everybody knows the playbook of the liberal agenda and how they want to paint people out to be something that they're not in order to achieve an agenda to disparage, discredit and cause reputable harm to individuals,” he said.
While on the topic of affiliations, Clampitt is also a registered member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“Yes. I am a Son of Confederate Veterans. I'm a sixth-generation mountaineer. My great-grandfather as well as three of his other brothers served in the Confederate army,” said Clampitt. “He did desert the South. He joined the North. He was part of a calvary regiment. Family lore has that there were some things going on that he was not, appreciative of what was happening. So in order to save his neck, skin and hide, he deserted the South and joined the calvary regiment of Tennessee. As far as being paramilitary, no. The purpose and reason for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, our mission statement, is to conserve and honor the dead members of the Confederacy with honor guard services and tombstones.”
The conspiracy trial against the Oath Keepers for their role in organizing the insurrection was postponed earlier this month as the FBI continues to gather evidence. The trial isn’t expected to take place until at least January.
Politics Editor Cory Vaillancourt from the Smoky Mountain News also contributed reporting for this article.