In recently published open letter in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, a group of West Point graduates called on Republican Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, himself a graduate of the elite military academy, to resign from elected office.
Eastman is a lifetime member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government militia. His affiliation became public last month, after the group’s membership logs were leaked to the press. Eastman confirmed to an Anchorage Daily News reporter that he’d joined the group shortly after it formed more than a decade ago.
“We give it as our fixed opinion that, as a serving member of the Alaska State Legislature who has repeatedly emphasized your status as a veteran and a graduate, you have discredited yourself and betrayed the values of West Point. We call on you to do the honorable thing and resign from office,” the letter reads.
“I thought that the decent thing to do would be to offer an opportunity for resignation,” said Ivan Hodes, a West Point graduate who lives in Anchorage and authored the letter.
Hodes also served in the same military police battalion at Fort Richardson as Eastman, and said the effort to reach out to other West Point grads who had served in the military’s officer corps did not come from a place of personal animus, but concern that Eastman was violating his duties as a legislator.
“We took an oath to protect and defend the constitution. He is a member of an organization that doesn’t view the current government as legitimate,” Hodes said in an interview. “It’s serving two masters. You can’t be loyal to the U.S. government and the government of Alaska and at the same time belong to this militia.”
The letter was signed by 70 members of the so-called “Long Gray Line,” the name for the collected living alumni of West Point, regardless of whether they are active duty or retired from military service. None of the signatories are currently in active duty.
[From ProPublica: Oath Keepers in the statehouse: How a militia movement took root in the Republican mainstream]
Hodes said there’s nothing illegal about being in the Oath Keepers, although nearly two dozen have been charged with crimes connected to their participation in the January 6th siege on the Capitol. However, Hodes sees the group and Eastman’s insistence that the current federal government is illegitimate as directly clashing with his responsibilities to uphold state and federal laws.
“It’s OK for him to be an Oath Keeper as a private citizen,” Hodes said. “David Eastman has a duty here: he can choose to choose Oath Keepers or he can choose state government.”
After multiple messages and calls requesting an interview, Eastman emailed a vague two-sentence response that read, in part, “I find it a very good thing that as Americans we have the right to choose our own elected representatives, rather than those outside Alaska and outside the Mat-Su choosing our elected representatives for us based on their values and what passes for journalism in other parts of the country.”
Eastman did not respond to subsequent requests for clarity or questions.
Since coming into office in 2017, Eastman has built a reputation for outlandish, offensive and divisive statements that have at times alienated him from fellow Republicans in the House.
In September, Eastman drew a comparison between President Joe Biden and Adolf Hitler, in the process posting a link on social media that lead to a Holocaust denial website. Subsequently, Eastman was disinvited from events sponsored by the West Point Society of Alaska.
One of the letter’s signatories is Justin Raphael, who was in the same graduating class as Eastman at West Point, and now lives in Washington state.
“His participation, anybody’s participation (in the Oath Keepers) is just utterly counter what being a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about upholding the constitution and the constitutional process. Not a violent usurpation of that process,” Raphael said. “The fact that he’s a lawmaker, even in a state capacity, is deserving of rebuke.”
Raphael saw a version of Hodes’s letter and posted it to a Facebook group he’s a part of made up of West Point alumni who grew concerned over the last few years about what they viewed as ethical and moral lapses among graduates working inside the Trump Administration. From there, dozens of people signed the letter asking Eastman to step down from office.
“If you’re silent about this, you’re condoning,” Raphael said. “I don’t want to be on the side of silence.”
Hodes doesn’t believe the open letter, published in a newspaper local to Eastman’s Wasilla district, will provoke any major acts of contrition, but he hopes it will take away the option of claiming “the mantle of West Point” in his reelection campaign.
“I can’t guarantee that it will do any good, but we can’t do nothing,” Hodes said of the letter. “The reputation of the Academy is at stake.”