Orange County ain't big enough for sheriff candidate Bill Hunt and an internationally known nonprofit civil rights group.
Hunt, who is running against appointed Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Anaheim deputy police chief Craig Hunter in next Tuesday's election, has ties to a loosely based national movement known as Oath Keepers.
The so-called "patriot" group is enlisting law enforcement and military personnel to vow to refuse 10 orders they say are unconstitutional, from confiscating guns to warrantless searches.
The movement is gaining traction in at least a dozen sheriffs races across the country, including Orange County's, the Associated Press reports.
That alarms the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.
The nonprofit civil rights organization--it has fought hate, bigotry, and injustice against the most vulnerable members of society since being founded in 1971 by civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr.--considers the Oath Keepers a dangerous anti-government group.
The Oath Keepers, claims the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a "particularly worrisome example of the Patriot revival" getting too cozy with the hate groups the SPLC tracks. That the militia movement is making inroads into law enforcement is of particular concern to the SPLC.
Its "Rage on the Right" report from 2009 classified the Oath Keepers as "a Patriot outfit formed last year that suggests, in thinly veiled language, that the government has secret plans to declare martial law and intern patriotic Americans in concentration camps."
It continues, "Politicians pandering to the anti-government right in 37 states have introduced 'Tenth Amendment Resolutions,' based on the constitutional provision keeping all powers not explicitly given to the federal government with the states."
"They think we're on the verge of the end of the world with [President Barack] Obama," a solemn-faced Hunter said of the Oath Keepers at a Republican women's gathering April 10 in Los Alamitos.
As reported in our R. Scott Moxley's Moxley Confidential column on the presentation, Hunter went on to say, "These people, military and police, say that if they believe the feds try to violate our rights, they will stand down, refuse to follow orders.
"Not following orders--that's called a coup, a junta."
The Orange County Register Editorial Board on Sunday endorsed Hunter for sheriff, and had about as many praise-worthy words for Hutchens, saying she came in a close second to winning the Register nod.
However, despite sharing libertarian principles with many tea party types that Hunt has also aligned himself with, the Editorial Board tellingly said little about him--other than noting he was part of disgraced former Sheriff Mike Carona's regime.
In other recent setbacks, police associations in La Habra and Santa Ana recently yanked endorsements of Hunt because of his private investigator work for criminal defense attorneys.
That seems to indicate Hunt is losing the political traction the Oath Keepers are supposedly experiencing to the chagrin of the SPLC.
But if "Hunt for Sheriff" campaign signs outnumbering those for Hunter and Hutchens by my unofficial count of 746 to 0/0 over Memorial Day weekend in Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa means anything, Hunt isn't hydroplaning.
(My daughter, visiting from Europe, thought the "Hunt 4 Sheriff" signs announced a new game.)
Hunt can also point to this: like many in the tea party crowd, several Oath Keepers disagree on what exactly their movement represents, beyond the vague principles outlined in the 10 orders.
The candidate can therefore cherry pick the rhetoric that sounds like music to teabagged ears, while distancing himself from the whole taking-up-arms-against-meddling-feds thing.
"Leadership is meeting with the other agencies in government," Hunt says in the AP report, "and letting them know it if they are outside their jurisdiction."
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See, he's just going to strongly state his objections whenever the feds inevitably step over the line. It's not like he's going to grab a shotgun and strike a menacing pose against them.
You know, like he does in the photo that began this post.
Uh, Billy, that shotgun isn't loaded, right?