Clampitt’s Oath Keeper membership comes as no surprise
Western North Carolina Republican Rep. Mike Clampitt is an Oath Keeper.
The Swain County native has been up front about that since at least 2012, through five Primary Elections and five General Elections — two of them successful — but a recent story in the nonprofit online journal ProPublica goes to great lengths to paint its “outing” of Clampitt as the triumphant unmasking of a wall-scaling Capitol insurrectionist.
“I think everybody knows the playbook of the liberal agenda and how they want to paint people as something that they’re not in order to achieve an agenda to disparage, discredit and cause reputable harm to individuals,” Clampitt said.
According to the story, published Oct. 20, Clampitt’s name appeared on a list of more than 35,000 Oath Keepers that was presented to ProPublica by a “whistleblower group” that acquired it from an anonymous hacker.
The stolen list, according to ProPublica, contained Clampitt and “47 more state and local government officials … all Republicans: 10 sitting state lawmakers; two former state representatives; one current state assembly candidate; a state legislative aide; a city council assistant; county commissioners in Indiana, Arizona and North Carolina; two town aldermen; sheriffs or constables in Montana, Texas and Kentucky; state investigators in Texas and Louisiana; and a New Jersey town’s public works director.”
But ProPublica didn’t need to wait until 2021 to rely on a stolen list to identify Clampitt; they could have just read the April 9, 2014, issue of The Smoky Mountain News in which Clampitt plainly states , “I am an Oath Keeper.”
Or, they could have researched any of Clampitt’s submissions to online voter education website ivoterguide.com. The site publishes candidate biographical and positional surveys submitted by the candidates themselves.
Under the heading, “affiliations,” Clampitt discloses his membership in the group in questionnaires submitted in 2012 , 2014 and 2020 . Candidate surveys for his 2016 and 2018 state House bids couldn’t immediately be located on the site, but the previous and subsequent ones have been there all along.
The Oath Keepers, founded about a decade ago, are widely known as a far-right militia group that claims to hold the line against federal government overreach. Perhaps the most clear definition of the group’s goals comes from its own “ Declaration of Orders We Will Not Obey,” which includes disarming Americans, conducting warrantless searches and anything that would “subjugate” state sovereignty.
In recent years, the group has taken on a far more sinister reputation due to the actions of some during the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. At least four members of the group have pled guilty to a variety of federal charges and as prosecutions continue, more pleas may come.
Clampitt said he considers those particular Oath Keepers “bad apples” and “outliers,” and that plenty of other groups — on the left, and on the right — experience similar behavior.
For his part, Clampitt disavowed the violent actions of those individuals and points to anti-riot legislation he supported in the General Assembly.
“I don’t advocate violence or any of that,” he said. “You have the right to peaceably assemble. Our constitution from North Carolina and then our government allow for free speech but when you pick up a brick, bat or a stick or any kind of item that you could use for a weapon and you just start destroying other people’s property or you harm someone, then you’ve crossed that line. It’s gone from peaceful protest to air your grievances, to a riot.”
Despite Clampitt’s self-proclaimed membership in the group, he said the group is not very active, at least here. He said he doesn’t receive any sort of newsletter, hasn’t been asked for dues and hasn’t been to any organized meeting since at least 2015, although he still supports the group’s central beliefs.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Oath Keepers as an extremist anti-government organization, but Clampitt takes issue with that, and with the depiction of the group as a militia.
“I would not say it’s a militia. I never attended a meeting in the past that there was any armed participation and organized attempt to conduct any kind of paramilitary training or education,” he said. “[It’s] concerned citizens that wanted to ensure that their rights aren’t infringed upon by the federal government.”
Clampitt ran against Waynesville native and incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Sam Queen in 2012 and 2014, losing both times. In the 2016 rematch, he beat Queen on the heels of Donald Trump’s surging popularity, but then lost the seat back to Queen in 2018. Bucking the trend of national Democratic gains in 2020, Clampitt defeated Queen again and is expected to seek reelection in 2022. The filing period for candidates wishing to run in the 2022 General Elections in North Carolina begins Dec. 6.