A Zeldin spokeswoman acknowledges that last month he addressed the Long Island chapter of Oath Keepers, a group of retired military, police and fire department employees who say they are committed to fighting "the tyranny we experience in our local, state and federal governments." The organization has dabbled in what critics call "fringe conspiracy theories," citing concern about concentration camps and martial law in the United States. The chapter's website includes postings by a member embracing a film that claims the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and calling President Obama a "Muslim/Extremist."
Even among right-wing groups, the Oath Keepers organization is a pretty alarming bunch. As recently as May, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes told a conservative gathering that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) should be tried for treason and "hung by the neck until dead" for going "along with the program of the destruction of this country."
A month later, Rhodes was in New York, insisting that President Obama is "trying to" create "a race war." He added, "[T]he leftists in this country hate this country, they hate it, and they will get in bed with radical Islamists because they have a common enemy, western civilization."
With this in mind, it was of interest to see the New York Daily News report that Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) recently spoke to an Oath Keepers chapter.
The congressman's office doesn't deny Zeldin, an Iraq war veteran, attended the Oath Keepers event. Rather, the Republican lawmaker's spokesperson said he's met with a variety of groups "representing all sides of the ideological spectrum."
"It is completely absurd to make it a litmus test for a member of Congress to agree with every individual or group 100% in order to meet with them," Zeldin spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena told the Daily News.
At first blush, that might seem vaguely compelling. Lawmakers often have diverse constituencies, so they're bound to meet with a variety of organizations, some of which they'll like, some of which they won't.
That said, is there really no limit? Zeldin apparently doesn't agree with "100%" of the Oath Keepers' message, and I'm glad to hear it. But what percentage does he agree with?
Is there any group that Zeldin might consider too extreme for a member of Congress to meet with? And if so, why doesn't Oath Keepers meet that standard?