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Robert Schulz has organized marches and rallies across the US. Photo: <a href="http://www.wethepeoplefoundation.org/">We The People's web site</a>
Robert Schulz has organized marches and rallies across the US. Photo: We The People's web site

Bob Schulz: dangerous radical or voice for liberty?

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Next week, Governor Andrew Cuomo's tough new control law will face its first court challenge. The case was brought by Bob Schulz, a long-time conservative activist who lives on the shore of Lake George.

This is only the latest court battle for Schulz, who has made a career as a political gadfly and organizer, battling what he views as government agencies run amok.

His campaign has won Schulz accolades from conservative leaders and media outlets across the country, but also fierce criticism from groups that say he flirts with dangerous radicalism.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Professorial and widely praised…

At first blush, Bob Schulz, founder of the We the People Foundation, seems like a mild guy, soft-spoken, professorial, even sort of dull.

"This is a king with his opinions," Schulz says, referring to Governor Andrew Cuomo, "and an acquiescent parliament or legislature if you will."

In interviews, Schulz tends to wander a bit, his fascination with government and constitutional law taking him deep into the muddle of American history. But over the last thirty years, Schulz, a former GE Engineer who lives on the shore of Lake George, has emerged as one of the most influential and controversial anti-government activists in the country.

In that role, he draws regular praise from scholars like Peter Galie, an expert on New York's constitution and professor emeritus at Canisius College in Buffalo.

"I admire Bob Schulz. He's raised some very important issues and he's held the court and the state's feet to the fire many times," Galie says.

…But also a lightning rod

Schulz also draws fierce condemnation from critics like Heidi Beirich at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups. She describes Schulz as a dangerous radical.

Heidi Beirich, at the Southern Poverty Law Center, has emerged as one of Schulz's critics. Photo: <a href="http://www.splcenter.org/">Southern Poverty Law Center</a>
Heidi Beirich, at the Southern Poverty Law Center, has emerged as one of Schulz's critics. Photo: Southern Poverty Law Center
"There's no question that Bob Schulz espouses extreme anti-government views," she says. "He has been a main player in the revival of the modern militia movement that we're seeing a flourishing of since [President Barack] Obama came to office."

Schulz rejects that portrayal. He says his move into political activism started small, sparked by his outrage over a government sewer project proposed for the shoreline of Lake George.

From that seed, Schulz developed a far-flung, complex ideology, slowly becoming convinced that America's government has gone rogue.

"The Constitution, state and federal, are all that stand between the people and total tyranny and despotism," he argues.

Schulz thinks the federal government has long since expanded beyond its constitutional authority. Schulz himself has filed a wave of lawsuits and petitions and grievances.

He also organized constitutional conventions and rallies, a campaign that draws regular attention from conservative media like Fox News.

Supporters say Schulz is in the forefront of a movement to limit government power to the confines of the Constitution – fighting for limited government, maximum personal freedom.

But critics say Schulz has espoused ideas that range from the far-fetched to the radical.

Birtherism and questioning income taxes

Birtherism? Bob Schulz funded a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, questioning Barack Obama's American citizenship.
Birtherism? Bob Schulz funded a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, questioning Barack Obama's American citizenship.
In 2008, Schulz emerged as one of the most prominent boosters of the idea that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and faked his American birth certificate – Schulz even took out a full-page ad in Chicago's Tribune newspaper.

"We asked him whether or not your birth was in Hawaii," Schulz acknowledges, though he says he himself is uncertain about the validity of "birther" claims.

For years, Schulz also advocated a legal argument that he claimed allowed individuals to simply opt out of paying Federal income taxes.

Dan Evans is an estate and trust lawyer in Pennsylvania who published studies debunking Schulz's arguments. He spoke with North Country Public Radio in 2007, describing Schulz's legal claims as "silly."

Schulz was eventually ordered by the Justice Department to stop spreading his income tax arguments – an order Schulz says he has obeyed. (Read more about how legal experts view the Constitution's 1st amendment and citizens' right to petition the US government.)

Reviving far-right militias?

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, however, Schulz also organized a series of events in 2009 aimed at reviving the far-right Patriot movement, including appeals to armed militias.

"The fact that he gathered literally militia leaders...means that he's speaking directly to people who are arming themselves heavily to take on the government, that's their intended purpose," Beirich says.

"So it's not just that Schulz is about talking. He's also about organizing."

In 2010, Time magazine called Schulz one of the "philosophers" of the far right militia movement
In 2010, Time magazine called Schulz one of the "philosophers" of the far right militia movement
In 2010, Time magazine profiled Schulz, describing him as one of the far right's "philosophers…edging their followers closer to violence."

The magazine pointed to a quote where Schulz seemed to suggest so-called "2nd Amendment solutions" when opposing government oppression.

Time noted that people at one of Schulz's rallies outside the White House wore masks taken from the film "V for Vendetta", in which masked rebels firebomb government buildings.

We're not edging or calling or on the brink of calling for war.
For his part, Schulz is outraged by any suggestion that he's advocated violence or nudged others in that direction.

He points out that his protests have involved court action, civil disobedience and even a lengthy hunger strike. Here he is speaking on a conservative program called "Reality Report."

"We're not edging or calling or on the brink of calling for war," he said. "I am certainly not a member of a militia. I clearly edge people away from violence, not toward violence as they have implied."

But Schulz also often seems to blur the line between legal opposition to America's democratically elected government and the kind of resistance that occurred during the revolution against Great Britain.

Speaking with ultra-conservative radio host Alex Jones, Schulz said the US has "a government that in effect has turned its back on the Constitution," he said. "We have the right to withdraw our money and our resources and our support from that government."

North Country Public Radio could find no evidence to support the idea that Schulz has ever advocated violence.

In several conservative media venues, he has described non-violence as an important part of his agenda.

Far-right ideas now mainstream

What's also clear is that many of Schulz's arguments, including the claims that the Federal government is out of control, regularly violating the US Constitution and civil liberties, and no longer responsive to average citizens, have moved into the mainstream of conservative thought.

Views that were rarely heard when he began his campaign are now a central part of Tea Party rhetoric. Schulz says he's convinced that his grassroots fight is moving the needle, shifting the national dialogue.

"Our rights are natural. You have them simply because you are alive. They are endowed by your Creator," he insists.

Schulz latest high profile court battle, challenging New York's tough new gun control laws, will get a hearing next week in state court.

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