Alaska Trial to Decide If GOP State Lawmaker Can Be Barred From Office for Being an Oath Keepers Member

Alaska Trial to Decide If GOP State Lawmaker Can Be Barred From Office for Being an Oath Keepers Member
Alaska state Rep. David Eastman with his family. A lawsuit seeks to bar Eastman from office because he is a member of the Oath Keepers. (David Eastman Photo)
Joseph M. Hanneman

A three-term incumbent Republican lawmaker in Alaska could be removed from office and his 24-point win in the 2022 fall election annulled because he’s a member of the Oath Keepers, according to a lawsuit brought by left-leaning political interests that went to trial on Dec. 13.

The trial in Alaska Superior Court in Palmer will determine if conservative state Rep. David Eastman should be barred from office under a loyalty clause in the Alaska Constitution because he’s an Oath Keeper and attended President Donald J. Trump’s speech at the Ellipse in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.

A lawsuit originally sought to bar Eastman from the 2022 fall ballot. Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna ruled Eastman would stay on the ballot, but he issued a preliminary injunction staying certification of the election, which Eastman won by a 24-point margin. Eastman said the ruling contradicts state election laws.

Eastman has been a member of the Oath Keepers since 2009 and a state lawmaker since 2017. He said his only interaction with the national Oath Keepers organization was when he signed up and issued a life membership 13 years ago. He said he’s never been to an Oath Keepers meeting.

“Every American should know the proposition being made by this case,” Eastman told The Epoch Times in an email. “If you don’t like the outcome of an election, just sue the victor personally.

“If the voters made the wrong choice, just get a judge from another county/borough to step in after the election and elect the candidate who lost by 24 percent. This case will be a nasty political precedent, if not a legal one as well.”

Loyalty Clause at Issue

Randall Kowalke, of Willow, challenged Eastman’s fitness for office (pdf) based on the Disqualification for Disloyalty Clause of the Alaska Constitution. It’s a Cold War-era amendment that bars from office anyone who “advocates or who aids or who belongs to any party or organization or association which advocates the overthrow by force or violence the government of the United States.”

Eastman’s opponents claim that his membership in the Oath Keepers can be equated with advocating for the overthrow of the federal government, despite the premise of the organization being to defend the Constitution and the group’s prohibition from membership anyone who supports the overthrow of the government.

In a Dec. 9 ruling (pdf), McKenna denied Eastman’s motion to throw out the suit or be awarded summary judgment. That paved the way for what could be a precedent-setting trial in Alaska’s Superior Court. Opening statements in the trial began on Dec. 13.

The trial pits accusations from Kowalke that the Oath Keepers is an anti-government organization that seeks to violently overthrow the U.S. government against Eastman, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who wasn’t accused of being at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Rep. David Eastman attended then-President Donald Trump's speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021. He said he didn't go to the Capitol. (David Eastman Photo)
Rep. David Eastman attended then-President Donald Trump's speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021. He said he didn't go to the Capitol. (David Eastman Photo)

The Oath Keepers organization describes itself as a group of current and former military veterans, law enforcement officers, and first responders who pledge to honor and uphold the oath they took to defend the U.S. Constitution “from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

As an Army veteran, former firefighter, and state lawmaker, Eastman said he took such an oath several times.

He disputes the accusation that the Oath Keepers is an anti-government organization, despite the recent conviction of Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes III on a federal charge of seditious conspiracy in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Kowalke ran for the Alaska state Senate in 2018, but was handily defeated in the Republican primary by Sen. Mike Shower (R-Wasilla). Kowalke ran against Eastman in the 2020 House campaign but withdrew from the race. He later left the Republican Party, which he likened to a fascist organization.
Kowalke’s initial complaint against Eastman was rejected by the Alaska Division of Elections, which held that Eastman should remain on the ballot. The Division of Elections was named a defendant in Kowalke’s lawsuit against Eastman.

‘Indisputable’ Facts?

“The relevant facts are indisputable. David Eastman is a member of the ‘Oath Keepers.’ The Oath Keepers is a militia group that supports the violent overthrow of the United States government,” Kowalke’s attorney Savannah Fletcher wrote in an August motion seeking to bar Eastman’s name from the ballot.

“The Alaska Constitution is clear that no one who belongs to a group which advocates for the violent overthrow of the state or federal government is qualified to hold public office.”

Kowalke’s suit points to the Jan. 6-related prosecution of various members of the Oath Keepers for seditious conspiracy and other charges as proof.

In the first Jan. 6 Oath Keepers federal criminal trial that ended Nov. 29, two defendants—Rhodes and Kelly Meggs—were found guilty of seditious conspiracy. Three other defendants were acquitted of seditious conspiracy. All five defendants were convicted of other Jan. 6-related crimes after a more than two-month trial.

When McKenna issued a preliminary injunction in September to delay certification of the November vote until after the Eastman trial, he heard no witness testimony and acknowledged his analysis was based on a “limited record,” according to his injunction ruling.

Part of the justification, the judge wrote, was based on a January 2022 quotation by former Oath Keepers general counsel Kellye SoRelle, who said she'd lead the Oath Keepers until Rhodes is released. Rhodes was arrested on Jan. 13. SoRelle served as Rhodes’s attorney when he was questioned by the FBI in May 2021.
Alaska State Rep. David Eastman takes the oath of office on Jan. 19, 2021. (David Eastman Photo)
Alaska State Rep. David Eastman takes the oath of office on Jan. 19, 2021. (David Eastman Photo)

“This implies that the Oath Keepers’ current leadership has not disavowed its prior leaders’ and members’ criminal actions on January 6,” the judge wrote in September. “This supports Kowalke’s argument that the Oath Keepers are an organization that advocates the overthrow of the United States government.”

SoRelle told The Epoch Times in March 2022 that she was no longer general counsel for or affiliated with the Oath Keepers. She described the indictments of the Oath Keepers as “all a lie” based on a government “setup” carried out by a weaponized criminal justice system.
SoRelle was indicted on Aug. 31 and charged with four obstruction-related Jan. 6 counts. “So they wait until just before trial to deprive the Oath Keepers of another witness,” Jonathon Moseley, a former attorney for Oath Keeper Meggs, said at the time.

In court filings, defense attorneys said Col. John Siemens, a senior vice president of the Oath Keepers, has served as acting president since early 2022.

Eastman said that because he was sued personally, there’s no state fund for defending against this type of challenge. He has to raise the funds to pay for a case that he said could carry a $300,000 trial cost.

No Discovery or Jury Trial

He said he was compelled to produce more than 30,000 pages of discovery, including 2,000 personal documents. Some of those documents started appearing online “within hours,” he said.

Eastman requested discovery from Kowalke regarding his motives for filing the litigation, but the judge denied the motion on Dec. 9. Eastman said he hasn’t received any documents in discovery.

“This case requires the court to determine whether Representative Eastman is a member of the Oath Keepers and whether that organization has tried to overthrow the United States government by force or has advocated in concrete terms for the same,” the judge wrote in a decision denying Eastman’s discovery demand.

“Kowalke is not a fact witness, so his motive or any potential bias are not relevant,” McKenna wrote. “Similarly, Kowalke’s motive for bringing the suit is not in any way relevant to the claims at issue.”

McKenna also ruled that Eastman wasn’t entitled to his demand for a jury trial. He said that because Kowalke is seeking an injunction—a type of equitable claim—the case “must be decided by the court.”

Eastman argued that Kowalke raised legal claims that must be tried in front of a jury.

Efforts to remove Eastman from office date to days after Jan. 6, 2021. The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) in Anchorage began a campaign against Eastman because he attended Trump’s speech in Washington. Eastman’s Oath Keepers membership wasn’t publicly known or discussed until eight months later.

The PSL website advertises a course called “Civics Class for Radicals: Congress.”

The course description says: “It is not necessary to grasp the ins and outs of the constitution or the legislative process to come to the conclusion that the system has to end—but to actually bring about this profound transformation of society, we need to know in detail how our enemy operates.”

Alaska state Rep. David Eastman sits for a deposition at the office of the Northern Justice Project on Nov. 4, 2022. On the wall is a photo of communist revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. (David Eastman Photo)
Alaska state Rep. David Eastman sits for a deposition at the office of the Northern Justice Project on Nov. 4, 2022. On the wall is a photo of communist revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. (David Eastman Photo)

The self-described Marxist group advocates overthrowing the U.S. constitutional republic and replacing it with socialism.

“Capitalism cannot be voted out of power—it will take a revolution,” the PSL website states.

“The aim of the PSL is to abolish the corrupt, rotten, and anti-people capitalist economy, state and governmental system, and replace it with one dedicated to meeting the needs of the people—a socialist system.”

Kowalke is represented by the Northern Justice Project (NJP), an Alaska civil rights law firm.

The NJP office where Eastman gave his deposition has several framed images on the wall of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentina-born communist who helped Fidel Castro overthrow the government of Cuba in the late 1950s and oversaw Cuba’s firing squads.

Eastman said he also noticed on display memorabilia of the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary anti-government group formed in the mid-1960s.

Oath Keepers who could testify at the trial include Rhodes, Meggs, Michael Greene—who ran operations for the Oath Keepers’ security duties on Jan. 6—Siemens, and Michael Nichols—a retired police sergeant and Oath Keeper who led a rescue of 16 trapped U.S. Capitol Police officers the afternoon of Jan. 6.
Joseph M. Hanneman is a former reporter for The Epoch Times who focussed on the January 6 Capitol incursion and its aftermath, as well as general Wisconsin news. In 2022, he helped to produce "The Real Story of Jan. 6," an Epoch Times documentary about the events that day. Joe has been a journalist for nearly 40 years.
Related Topics