Veterans Group Behind Pro-Snowden Billboards Now Forming 'Preservation' Cells

'Training cadres' are necessary, leader says, because 'we see a severe weakness in the American people.'

A man walks past Oath Keepers' new Metro ad in Washington, D.C.

A man walks past an Oath Keepers ad inside the Farragut West Metro station in Washington, D.C.

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The anti-surveillance veterans group Oath Keepers rolled out a call-to-arms this week to its 30,000 dues-paying members, urging them to activate into small "civilization preservation" cells modeled on special operations units in the U.S. military.

Stewart Rhodes, the Army veteran and Yale-educated lawyer who founded Oath Keepers in 2009, told U.S. News his organization has received an outpouring of enthusiasm since making the call.

"It's the right time for it," he said. "We have been kind of lax and negligent in our duties of citizenship."

A majority of Oath Keepers members are military veterans, but it also includes current and former police and first responders. It earned national attention during the summer with billboards supporting National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden. "Snowden honored his oath," the ads said. "Honor yours! Stop Big Brother!"

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Rhodes lives in Montana with several Oath Keepers colleagues, but he says the group has members in all 50 states. His vision is for chapters to serve as relief teams during natural disasters and community defense units during times of civil unrest.

The cells, and their laundry list of community-securing objectives, are necessary because of an impending economic collapse, possibly caused by devaluation of the dollar, leaders of Oath Keepers say.

"The reason why we are doing this right now is because we see a severe weakness in the American people and their capacity to absorb the kind of civil disruption that would be in the wake of catastrophic economic collapse," Rhodes said.

The Oath Keepers cells, Rhodes added, will serve as "training cadres" that emulate special forces units – whose "main purpose is to train the local population in how to provide their own security and to help lead them," he said. "We're doing it within our own chapters, but the main point it to lead by example, to have a working model so that other organizations – whether it's a neighborhood watch or veterans organizations – can do the same thing."

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According to a member alert posted to the Oath Keepers website, cells will have a local government team to "draft and introduce militia bills, posse bills, and nullification bills, among other items to support liberty" and another sub-group to "[make] sure the local sheriff is a 'constitutional sheriff' who understands the Constitution and the duty to defend it."

"We urge you to presume the worst in the short term, and to work in three or four month sprints – assume that a collapse will be triggered this fall/winter and do all you can to get yourselves and your communities ready," Rhodes says in the online post.

The group has some detractors. Aside from a few irate Pentagon workers who didn't appreciate the pro-leaking ads, the Southern Poverty Law Center – which keeps an eye on domestic extremists – dubs Rhodes "one of the Ivy League's most conspiratorial minds."

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Corrected on : Updated 10/07/13: This article's headline has been altered.