The one thing that distinguishes the state from all other organizations is that it is a territorial monopoly that maintains its territory through legalized violence. It will not suffer meaningful competition within the services it claims the sole right to provide, and especially not when others do well what it does poorly. Competition makes the state look bad, every time.

That is what has happened in Ferguson, Missouri since the night of November 24, when a group of civilians, calling themselves the Oath Keepers, began standing guard around local businesses against rioters and looters. You may have heard of the Oath Keepers, but in case you haven’t, they are a group of current and former military and police who have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution even if doing so means disobeying unconstitutional orders and laws. Already, their commitment to the Constitution has earned them the accusation of being “anti-government” and “domestic terrorists” in the past, and now this specific group in Ferguson is being treated as such by the feds.

Since Monday night, the Ferguson Oath Keepers had been keeping the city’s widespread disorder from reaching the parts of the city where they patrol. But that changed on Saturday when police threatened them with arrest for operating security without a license if they did not disperse. According to the founder of the organization, Stewart Rhodes, the federal government and state police had been treating the Oath Keepers as hostiles, including at one point positioning snipers aiming rifles at them.

That the Oath Keepers are being treated as “anti-government extremists” is ironic, in one sense, because their core values center on the Constitution, the very instrument that supposedly establishes and empowers government in the USA. To be for the Constitution is to be very much in favor of government. There are plenty of reasons for someone who distrusts government on principle to oppose the Constitution for that very reason—even a strictly Constitutional government would have a lot of legal room for tyranny, because it establishes in the government a territorial monopoly of arms and jurisprudence, and thereby an enormous power disparity between people and government.

But for that very same reason, a group committed to upholding the Constitution must threaten the state, which makes the “anti-government” appellation appropriate, in a different sense. A jurisprudential monopoly, as such, must expand its scope and power far beyond that which its establishing principles allow in order to maintain its exclusive advantage. By insisting on legal restraints against the power of the state to decide unilaterally when and how the use of force is to be permitted, an organization such as the Oath Keepers directly challenges that power, and calls into question both the right and the ability of the state to police itself.

Without the inefficiency and coercion associated with government, the Oath Keepers put an end to the disorder in the neighborhoods they were policing, which the government had up to that point failed to do. They did not directly challenge the legitimacy of the government in Ferguson, but in treating the symptoms of the disease of unrest caused by the government, they could not help indirectly doing so. The only possible response by the government was to put an end to the embarrassing competition. But by that very act, they have further embarrassed themselves. Only those who lack the moral virtue and competence to succeed on their own merits resort to the suppression of competition.

The state is a monopoly not because it alone is capable of providing for law and order, but rather because it would be so easily outcompeted if it allowed competition to happen. It becomes necessary for the state to bring force to bear against those who are caring for the needs of their neighbors in a way that the state has not licensed, rather than against the threats it claims to exist in order to fight. And so the Oath Keepers continue to make the government look bad, even after having been forced to leave Ferguson.