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Alaska House committee holds Oath Keepers hearing after lacking votes to punish member Rep. David Eastman

An Alaska House committee held an informational hearing into the Oath Keepers after legislators lacked the votes to punish Rep. David Eastman.
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 4:11 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - An Alaska House of Representatives committee held an informational hearing on Thursday to look into the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group with ties to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, after lacking the vote to punish Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, a life member of that group.

Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, chairs the Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and stressed that the hearing was strictly informational into the Oath Keepers, and not an investigation or inquisition into Eastman.

After the hearing finished, Tuck said that he didn’t know if it would bear fruit in a way that would make anybody on any side happy.

Four Democrats attended Wednesday’s hearing, but the three Republican members of the committee did not. Eastman himself was not invited to speak or in attendance. He said that he did not watch the hearing and he didn’t want to comment on it.

Tuck said the national Oath Keepers did not respond to an invitation to speak at the hearing. He added that a representative of the Virginia branch did respond, but said it wasn’t affiliated with the national organization, and that they weren’t surprised that national Oath Keepers are keeping a “low profile.”

Tuck said that it appears there is no formal Alaska Oath Keepers chapter. He noted that many chapters around the country were not involved in the violence on Jan. 6 or they have disavowed it.

The hearing was held after legislators have heard some public outcry about Eastman’s membership of the Oath Keepers, and claims that his membership makes him constitutionally ineligible to serve in the Legislature.

Tuck said he hoped the hearings could relieve some “public tension” about Eastman, but stressed again that they were intended to be informational about the Oath Keepers and the national organization’s alleged role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Alex Friedfeld, investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, spoke to the committee about far-right militia groups generally and the Oath Keepers specifically.

“Election conspiracies still hold tremendous power in these circles,” he said.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, and several other members, have been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy for their alleged conduct on Jan. 6 last year.

Eastman was in Washington D.C. at that time to protest the 2020 election results. No evidence has emerged of him engaging in any violent activity or of him entering the U.S. Capitol.

He has not denounced the Oath Keepers, but he has said that people who engaged in violence should be prosecuted, along with those who have slandered people who did not.

On Thursday, Eastman posted a lengthy blog post critical of the Anti-Defamation League, suggesting it has “Marxist” priorities. He also called for donations to a legal defense fund “to help defray the costs of legal expenses as he stands on the front lines fighting for Alaska’s future.”

When asked by Alaska’s News Source if he was preparing for some legal fights, Eastman said, “It’s always good to be prepared and there could be some things we’re working on.”

For the past few weeks, the bipartisan House majority coalition has debated punishing Eastman, but they lacked the votes to expel him from the Legislature, which requires support from two-thirds of the House, and some Republican votes. The coalition has also lacked the votes to remove him from his committee assignments or censure him, which requires a simple majority of 21 House members.

On Wednesday, Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, introduced a resolution, known as a sense of the House, that would condemn comparisons between COVID-19 mandates and the Holocaust, as well as the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

It explicitly names Eastman, who has made those comparisons in the past. Eastman claimed a speech he made on Wednesday on the House floor on COVID-19 mandates and the Holocaust was not making the same comparisons.

“Two different topics,” he said.

The informal House resolution was sent to Tuck’s committee on Wednesday. He and Hopkins said there was no plan for what possible actions, if any, would be taken against Eastman after the hearings into the Oath Keepers have concluded.

A second Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing into the Oath Keepers has been planned for next Tuesday.

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