Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla shown in this Feb. 4 photo, has come under scrutiny from the public and some of his legislative colleagues for his membership in the Oath Keepers, a far-right organization whose leaders have been arrested and charged with sedition for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla shown in this Feb. 4 photo, has come under scrutiny from the public and some of his legislative colleagues for his membership in the Oath Keepers, a far-right organization whose leaders have been arrested and charged with sedition for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

State rep defends Oath Keepers, laments ‘cancel culture’

A Q & A with Rep. David Eastman amid public scrutiny, potential disciplinary action.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, is facing potential disciplinary action in the Alaska House of Representatives for his membership in the Oath Keepers, a far-right organization whose leadership has been arrested and charged with sedition for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

In 2017, Eastman was the first member of the House to be censured by that body for saying that women in villages are glad to get pregnant so they can receive a Medicaid-funded trip to cities for an abortion.

The House tabled a vote to strip Eastman of his committee assignments and members of the public have called for his expulsion from the body.

The Empire sat down with Eastman to hear his thoughts on the effort and the Oath Keepers. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Your thoughts on this whole situation?

Cancel culture is a cancer and it’s unfortunate that we just watched on the floor, quite a lengthy amount of time trying to avoid debating and talking about something.

And in the same spirit rather than addressing whatever the disagreements are that we might have, cancel culture tries to avoid that and solve for that by just arguing over whether or not one party to the debate deserves to be heard and the other party deserves to be silenced and not heard.

So no matter how that conversation ends, if that’s what we’re talking about there is no resolution, there is no agreement, there is no compromise, or even understanding, and that’s why it’s a cancer.

The Oath Keepers, to you what is the Oath Keeper organization and what does being a member mean?

Those I’ve talked to have joined Oath Keepers because I think it’s one of only very few, maybe the only organization and their sole purpose is to encourage their members to honor their oaths.

What has your membership in the Oath Keepers been like?

I joined when they first started in 2009. I’ve never been invited to a meeting, we really don’t have an active chapter here in Alaska so I haven’t really paid any dues since 2009, lifetime membership whatnot. I haven’t ever been to any events where Oath Keepers organized or were part of that, So, that’s all I can tell you.

If you’ve already taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, why is it necessary to join this other organization that encourages you to do that?

You know I raised a question in the judiciary committee on that same topic, and I asked the attorney general if his oath to the Constitution was ceremonial and a mere formality or if it had personal meaning to him. It’s interesting because the committee chair refused to let him answer that question. So we don’t know what the answer to that question is.

That’s for the attorney general, but for active service members they’ve taken an oath, aren’t they doing that regularly, upholding their oath to the constitution?

It’s the same oath we take as legislators, and we can hope that people are honoring that oath but unfortunately that’s not always the case.

Isn’t there lots of disagreement of what is constitutional and what isn’t constitutional? Doesn’t the Constitution say the Supreme Court is ultimately the arbiter of that?

Where in the Constitution does it say that?

I’m not (specifically) familiar but that’s what I understand, that’s why we have the Supreme Court, to decide that.

Well if you can point me in the Constitution where it says that, that’d be interesting.

So who is the arbiter of what is constitutional and what isn’t?

Why would you need an oath if all you need is to point to the decision somebody else made and say, that’s what I have to do, they’re my commander they told me to. I’m just following orders. Or a court told me to, I’m just following orders, you wouldn’t need a personal oath in that case.

I think the reason all state officials and our federal officials as well are required to take an oath to the Constitution. And it states that, in the constitution, is because you are going to making decisions that involved the Constitution, and if you choose not to follow the Constitution, at that point in time, then you are not under the Constitution, that is something you have a personal responsibility to have fidelity to the Constitution. You can’t delegate that away to someone else to decide for you, if what you’re doing is right or wrong.

But isn’t that what most both law enforcement and military officers do? Law enforcement officers, isn’t their responsibility to go around and kind of decide when to suspend people’s constitutional rights in the name of public security?

Well the Constitution doesn’t anticipate or give any permission for the government to suspend constitutional rights for any reason.

When you talk about things like the police, the Fourth Amendment, says you need a warrant for search. Police are often under scrutiny for searching people without a warrant. Things like stop and frisk in New York. When a person’s constitutional rights have been violated it’s often law enforcement or the military that’s doing it.

I don’t know that that’s immediately clear. The Constitution and the Fourth Amendment protect against unreasonable searches, and so if you know a firefighter is searching a house for a child because the house is on fire, I don’t think any of us would say you should have gone and got a warrant because that would be unreasonable. And that’s in the constitution.

Who decides what’s reasonable and isn’t that why we have the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court is there to help us, but again, the police officer is the one who is sworn to uphold the Constitution and if they’re trying to circumvent the Constitution and doing things they’re not supposed to then that’s wrong and it’s a violation of that oath.

Who decides what is a violation of that oath? Because we have decades, centuries of court history debating this and there were things that were allowed under the constitution at one time and are no longer. Who decides this?

So the Supreme Court, in the WWII timeframe, said that it’s perfectly constitutional to lock up over 100,000 Japanese Americans, that’s fine, as someone who’s taken an oath to the Constitution are you supposed to say “OK?” Or are you supposed to say, “You know as a member of law enforcement, that’s not in keeping with my oath and I am not going to put Americans who have committed no crime into a concentration camp?” That’s what it comes down to.

Why join this other organization, why not just throw down your guns and say no?

I think when someone asks you to do something wrong you should say no, whether or not there’s organizations or others. Certainly, if there are groups out there that can help give you emotional and other support to be able to do the right thing, then that’s a good thing in my book. And there’s room for lots more organizations like that frankly.

What about some of the language that certain members of the Oath Keepers have about a revolution when they decide that the government is not following the Constitution, that they have a responsibility to try and do away with that government?

In a government that’s based on the consent of the governed, inevitably it’s the people who are going to decide whether or not they consent to anything the government’s doing. And that’s the way this nation was founded.

There’s also a lot of attention on some of the social media posts that you’ve made that some people say, make you appear to be white supremacist. You’ve linked to speeches that Hitler made, to a website that had Holocaust denial. Why do something like that and when it’s revealed that the site that you linked to was full of Holocaust denial, why not say that was a mistake on (your) part?

If we don’t study history, we’re doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, there are some aspects of history I think we’re on a trajectory to repeat because in large part, we’re not talking about it.

Such as?

Such as what happens when government decides that it’s not important to maintain consent of the governed and it’s going to do its own thing. I think you’re seeing some of that going on in Canada right now.

But hasn’t the U.S. government done that? You mentioned rounding up Japanese people, segregation, things like this, and those things were done under the color of law. So why now?

I think government, any government, is not just what we make of it in the present tense. It is a product in part of what has come before, previous generations, the decision they made good and bad they made.

It’s important to realize not only do we have a stake in the policies that we enacted as a government, as a state, but also future generations have a stake in that as well. And if we are doing our duty in honoring our oath to honor the Constitution, then part of that is protecting and securing the rule of law for future generations. And to the extent that we abuse emergency powers.

To the extent that we elevate dubious claims of public necessity or public safety over the letter of the law then we become a nation of men and not of laws. And if that’s the legacy we are passing on to the next generation then we are doing them a grave disservice.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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