Rhodes is calling on the tens of thousands of members of his far-right militia group to work unpaid, rotating shifts at schools at all levels, including colleges.
“Oath Keepers, in the wake of the horrific attack … it is time to step up nationwide and defend our schools against the threat of mass murder. Enough is enough,” Rhodes said in a statement on the group’s website. “We call on you to post up armed outside your local school, as close as the local laws allow, and stand guard in defense of the children of your community.”
Some members, Rhodes said, already are — such as Oath Keeper Mark Cowan, who posts himself outside a North Side High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., even though school district officials say his presence isn’t necessary.
Cowan told WPTA21, an ABC affiliate, that he is among 100 other members defending schools in Eastern Indiana in the wake of the Florida shooting, in which 17 people were killed and scores of others wounded.
“These are kids. Ain’t none of those kids in there allowed to carry a gun to protect themselves,” he told the news station. “There’s one school resource officer … take a look at the size of this school, look at the size of your school where you’re at. One officer ain’t enough.”
“If somebody comes to this school or another school where we’re at, that school shooter is going to know, we’re not going to play games,” he added. “You come to kill our kids, you’re dead.”
Krista J. Stockman, a spokeswoman for Fort Wayne Community Schools, told WPTA21 that the school district respects Cowan’s right to watch over the school, as long as he is not on school property. But the district’s schools, she said, already have security procedures in place and armed police officers in their buildings.
The Oath Keepers, which comprise current and former law enforcement officials and military veterans, are among the largest extremist anti-government groups in the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. While the group claims to protect the Constitution, the organization was built from conspiracies about the federal government’s mission to strip Americans of their liberties, according to the center.
The group was formed after Rhodes wrote a 2008 manifesto calling on men and women to protect a complacent America overtaken by what he said were dictatorial leaders. “If a police state comes to America, it will ultimately be in your hands,” wrote Rhodes, a graduate of Yale Law School. “That is a harsh reality, but you had better come to terms with it now, and resolve to not let it happen on your watch.”
Rhodes could not be immediately reached by The Washington Post for comment.
Armed members of Rhodes’s militia patrolled the streets during the protests in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, positioning themselves on the roofs of second-story apartments overlooking the crowds. Some said they felt safer having them around, but police disagreed, threatening the Oath Keepers with arrest.
The idea of arming more people on school campuses — especially teachers, who Trump has proposed be given firearms and training — has been met with backlash from teachers’ groups nationwide.
“Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence. Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union. The group represents 3 million educators in K-12 schools and on college campuses.
But Rhodes suggests the more armed people, the better, especially when teachers are already trusted to look after children.
“Until the idiotic laws and policies that demand disarmed teacher zones full of helpless children are changed here in the U.S., we military and police veteran Oath Keepers will fill the void by being as close to the schools as we can be,” he said.
Rhodes commends Trump for declaring he would have rushed into the Florida high school to protect students had he been there.
“I really believe I’d run in, even if I didn’t have a weapon,” Trump said during a White House meeting with governors from across the country. He added that he thought the governors assembled also would have rushed into the school.
“That’s the spirit!” Rhodes said about Trump’s assertion. “We who are trained and equipped to do it right have the highest duty, and the highest honor, of stepping in between the children and evil incarnate.”