Groups: Uphold ‘law of the land’
TOWNSEND — Richard Selfridge believes it’s time for the federal government to get back to basics.
That means a return to the Founding Fathers’ documents — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — as the government’s guiding force.
Eight years ago, the longtime independent voter joined the Constitution Party.
“I just felt the other parties were forsaking their duty to abide by the Constitution,” said Selfridge, who is now the state party’s chairman. “As time has gone on, things have continued to go downhill in that respect. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.”
The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the Constitution Party among the growing ranks of
Patriot groups, organizations that, according to the center, believe the federal government has turned its back on the American people.
According to a recent study by the law center, Patriot groups grew by 61 percent in one year, from 512 groups in 2009 to 824 in 2010.
The study also found that 38 Patriot groups have chapters in New England, including six in Massachusetts, 12 in Maine, eight in Connecticut, five in New Hampshire, four in Rhode Island and three in Vermont.
Groups range from militia organizations to “common law” courts, publishers, ministries and citizens’ groups, according to the report.
As to whether he considers the 70-member Constitution Party a Patriot group, Selfridge said it depends on your
definition of a Patriot group.
“If you consider a Patriot group people who believe in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, then yes,” he said. “But if you’re considering it to be one of these wild groups that are out to overthrow the government, then no. I don’t believe in armed conflict. I believe everything should be done peacefully.”
For now, he considers the group a political party, noting that there are chapters of the Constitution Party all across the country, with the national organization based in Pennsylvania.
Another Patriot group identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center is the Oath Keepers, an organization of police officers and veterans that also looks to the Constitution as its guiding document.
Celia Hyde, who operates an inn in Stow, sits on the national board of directors of Oath Keepers. She said the group vows to follow what the Constitution dictates and not orders from a ruling political party. She estimates there are a “couple hundred” Oath Keepers in Massachusetts.
“All our members are either active or retired police, fire or military, and we all swore an oath to the Constitution,” Hyde said. “We’re living up to what the forefathers did for us as far as creating this elegant piece of paper that gave us what we have today.”
Hyde said the popularity of Patriot groups is not surprising.
“I think people are realizing and finding out that we’ve been taking so many things for granted that we have to start paying attention to what’s going on around us,” she emphasized.
Among the principles members swear to uphold: refusing to disarm Americans; disobeying orders for warrantless searches of people or homes; and disobeying any order to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants.”
Like Selfridge, Hyde is worried the government is not taking the Constitution seriously.
“It’s gotten swept to the side, and it should be brought back into the forefront,” she said of the Constitution.
A former police chief in Bolton, Hyde said some people associate organizations like Oath Keepers negatively, but once they look into them, their thoughts change.
“I think people sometimes are a little ignorant, and once they dive into what the organizations are all about, they’re mildly surprised to find they are good, basic people who just want to fight for the freedom they have,” she said.
Frank Talty, a political-science professor at UMass Lowell, said he is not surprised by the rise in Patriot groups.
“I think in difficult economic times, people generally are questioning the competence and the motivation of leaders,” he said.
Talty said this political climate exists not only in the United States but across the globe.
“The Irish voters just threw the whole party out of office,” he said. “It’s not just here.
“It’s understandable,” Talty added. “A lot of it can be attributed to political prosperity. I don’t mean to minimize the convictions of people that feel radical changes are needed.”
But Talty said it worries him as a political-science teacher that some groups “look to historic documents to legitimize positions that really aren’t directly derived from those documents.”
“People on both sides of a lot of issues, like health care or stimulus funding, believe in the Constitution,” Talty said. “They all believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence. I don’t think one group can claim a bigger fidelity to that over another.”
But Selfridge cites the health-care reform law as one of the many unconstitutional creations of government.
“There is nothing constitutional about it,” he said. “That’s an infringement on everyone’s freedom of choice. They are restricting people’s choices. They passed hate-crime legislation, which violates free speech.”
Selfridge said many elected officials fail to uphold their oath to the Constitution.
“Our government has overstepped its bounds,” he said. “They’re more concerned in spreading wealth, which is stealing from one group to give to another. That is morally wrong, and I’m not just pinpointing our president. This goes way back.
“I can’t agree with what they’re doing,” he added. “I think it’s wrong and immoral and unethical, and I definitely think it’s unconstitutional.”
Hyde said her involvement in the movement has made her more aware of what’s going on in the world. She is hopeful the state of politics can turn around.
“I’m able to pay more attention to what is going on in the country and abroad,” she said. “I think we’re in a confused state, and I think that people don’t know which end is up. People are losing their jobs and they’re running scared. I’m hoping we’ll wait it out and things will start turning around.”