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Oath Keepers

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Oath Keepers
Oath Keepers logo
Motto"Not on our watch!"
FormationMarch 2009; 11 years ago (2009-03)
FounderStewart Rhodes
Region
United States
LeaderStewart Rhodes
Stewart Rhodes, Michele Imburgia, Rex H. McTyeire, Richard Mack, John D. Shirley, Steven C. Homan, Jim Ayala, Jay Stang
Websiteoathkeepers.org Edit this at Wikidata

Oath Keepers is an American far-right[1] anti-government[2][3] militia organization[4] composed of current and former military, police, and first responders who pledge to fulfill the oath that all military and police take in order to "defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic".[5] It encourages its members to not obey orders which they believe would violate the United States Constitution. The organization claims a membership of 35,000 as of 2016, though the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has estimated its membership at several thousand.[6][7]

The group describes itself as non-partisan, though several organizations that monitor domestic terrorism and hate groups describe it as extremist or radical. Mark Pitcavage of the ADL describes the group as "heavily armed extremists with a conspiratorial and anti-government mindset looking for potential showdowns with the government."[8][9] The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists the group's founder as a known extremist and describes his announced plans to create localized militia units as "frightening".[10] According to the SPLC, the group espouses a number of conspiracy and legal theories associated with the sovereign citizen movement and the white supremacist posse comitatus movement.[11][12][13] SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok describes the group as a whole as "really just an anti-government group who believe in a wild set of conspiracy theories".[10]

Oath Keepers were present wearing military fatigues in Ferguson, Missouri, during the 2014[4] and 2015[1][14] unrest in the city, when members armed with semi-automatic rifles patrolled streets and rooftops.[15][16] Members of the group were indicted on conspiracy charges for allegedly staging a planned mission during the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol.[17][18]

Organizational history

Oath Keepers was founded in March 2009 by Elmer Stewart Rhodes,[19][20][21] a Yale Law School graduate, former U.S. Army paratrooper, and former staffer for Republican Congressman Ron Paul.[22] On December 8, 2015, Rhodes was disbarred by the Montana Supreme Court for conduct violating the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct after refusing to respond to two bar grievances filed against him in the federal district court in Arizona.[23]

Rhodes is reported to have taken inspiration from the notion that Adolf Hitler could have been stopped if German soldiers and police had refused to follow orders.[24] Writing in S.W.A.T. Magazine in 2008, Rhodes asserts, "'It' (a full-blown totalitarian police state) cannot happen here if the majority of police and soldiers obey their oaths to defend the Constitution and refuse to enforce the unconstitutional edicts of the 'Leader'."[25]

In an October 2020 interview, reporter Mike Giglio of The Atlantic stated that in the preceding years, the Oath Keepers regarded President Donald Trump as "someone in the White House that they fully support", in contrast to their skepticism of previous Republican administrations.[26] He also said that in recent years Rhodes's statements had become more "radical" and that because of this some members of the group with military experience, concerned by the possibility of the types of violence they had witnessed overseas occurring in the United States, left the group.[26]

Membership

According to the ADL, the Oath Keepers “aim much of their propaganda at members of military and police, reminding them that they swore an oath to defend the Constitution ‘from all enemies, foreign and domestic,’ and asking them to pledge to disobey theoretical unconstitutional orders they might get from superiors—orders that explicitly or implicitly reference militia‐related conspiracy theories.” The Oath Keepers urge military and law enforcement personnel to stop the New World Order’s plans.[27]

The organization states that full membership is open to "currently serving military, reserves, National Guard, police, fire-fighters, other first responders (i.e. State Guard, Sheriff Posse/Auxiliary, Search & Rescue, EMT, other medical 1st responders, etc.) AND veterans/former members of those services," and that others who support the organization's mission can become associate members.[5] The organization says that it has up to 30,000 members, though this figure has been questioned.[28]

Activities

Unauthorized recruitment center presence

Following the 2015 Chattanooga shootings at a strip mall military recruitment center and a naval operational support center in Tennessee, Oath Keepers and other militia groups began organizing armed gatherings outside of recruiting centers in several states, with the stated objective of providing protection to service members, who were barred from carrying weapons while on duty in civilian recruitment centers.[29] In response, the Army Command Operations Center Security Division issued a letter ordering soldiers not to interact with or acknowledge armed civilians outside of recruitment centers, and that "If questioned by these alleged concerned citizens, be polite, professional and terminate the conversation immediately and report the incident to local law enforcement," noting that the issuing officer is "sure the citizens mean well, but we cannot assume this in every case and we do not want to advocate this behavior".[29]

Ferguson protests

In late November 2014, during the unrest in Ferguson, the Oath Keepers put out a national request to its members to help in the city after the grand jury decision was released in the case of the shooting of Michael Brown. In reference to the perceived failure of the government's response to the unrest, the organization's founder, Stewart Rhodes, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "We thought they were going to do it right this time, but when Monday rolled around and they didn't park the National Guard at these businesses, that's when we said we have got to do something." On December 2, 2014, volunteer security guards associated with the Oath Keepers kept armed watch on Ferguson rooftops, ignoring a police order to stop.[30]

In August 2015, four members of the group appeared again on the streets of Ferguson, following peaceful street demonstrations on the anniversary of Brown's shooting.[24][31][32][33] According to an article in The Washington Post, "The men—all of them white and heavily armed—said they were in the area to protect someone who worked for the Web site InfoWars, which is affiliated with talk-radio conspiracy theorist and self-described 'thought criminal against Big Brother' Alex Jones." The Oath Keepers claimed to be on the side of the protestors.[34] St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told the newspaper that the Oath Keepers' "presence was both unnecessary and inflammatory."[34]

One Ferguson activist, Ryan Herring, described their presence as intimidating and frightening, and criticized the Oath Keepers for their suggestion that protestors should use their legal right to openly carry firearms by saying that this would have increased the tension with the police. Sam Andrews, a member of the Oath Keepers, contended that the protestors calmed down when the Oath Keepers arrived at the protest.[35]

St. Louis County police officer Dan Page was relieved of duty in 2014 after pushing and threatening with arrest CNN journalist Don Lemon on live television in Ferguson.[36] Subsequently, an hour-long videotaped speech made by Page to an Oath Keepers meeting was found on YouTube. In the speech, Page boasted, "I'm also a killer. I've killed a lot, and if I need to I'll kill a whole bunch more."[36] Page also denounced hate crime laws, disparaged Muslims, and espoused Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories (Page referred to Obama as "that illegal alien claiming to be president").[36] The YouTube video contained a disclaimer stating that Page's opinions did not reflect those of the local chapter or national organization.[37]

The group's activities in Ferguson led to them being labeled "vigilantes" by some journalists.[38]

Kim Davis

On September 10, 2015, the Oath Keepers announced that they would travel to Rowan County, Kentucky, to prevent Kim Davis from being arrested and jailed should she be held in contempt a second time for violating a court order prohibiting her from interfering with marriage licensing in her office.[39] The group aimed to block enforcement of contempt of court rulings against Davis, and said, "If the sheriff, who should be interceding, is not going to do his job and the governor is not going to do the governor's job of interceding, then we'll do it." The Oath Keepers also criticized the judge in the case, David Bunning, saying "this judge needs to be put on notice that his behavior is not going to be accepted and we'll be there to stop it and intercede ourselves if we have to."[39]

The following day, members were advised that Davis's legal team, acting on her behalf, had declined their offer to provide a "security detail" to Davis. The Oath Keepers issued a statement saying that while members were still welcome to visit Rowan County, it would only be unofficial.[40]

Aftermath of Florida school shooting

In February 2018, soon after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, Oath Keepers founder Rhodes publicly called upon "tens of thousands" of the group's members to form militias to protect US schools and colleges.[41] Rhodes posted on the Oath Keepers' website in what he termed a National Call to Action: "Oath Keepers, in the wake of the horrific attack … it is time to step up nationwide and defend our schools against the threat of mass murder. Enough is enough".[42]

Other activities

Charles A. Dyer was a United States Marine Corps sergeant who operated as an advocate for the Oath Keepers, maintaining a popular YouTube channel and acting as a representative at Tea Party rallies. Dyer was charged in 2010 with child rape and illegal weapons possession. Dyer evaded authorities and a manhunt ensued, followed by capture ten days later. In 2012, Dyer was convicted on his child rape charge. The Oath Keepers severed ties with Dyer after his initial forays with the law and denied a relationship with him.[43][44]

In 2014, armed Oath Keepers were present at the Bundy Ranch standoff, when agents of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seized cattle that a rancher was judged to be illegally grazing on federal land in Clark County, Nevada.[45][46]

In 2015, armed Oath Keepers in the Pacific Northwest attended two disputes between gold miners and federal authorities. In April they gathered in Medford, Oregon, at the request of the owners of the Sugar Pine Mine near Galice, after the owners were ordered to stop working the mine by the Bureau of Land Management.[47][48] In August, they patrolled the White Hope Mine in the Helena National Forest, about 20 miles from Lincoln, Montana; the U.S. Forest Service said the miners had engaged in illegal construction and tree-felling.[49][50]

Members of the Oath Keepers arrived at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to offer to provide "perimeter security" for other militants who were illegally occupying the site. On January 15, 2016, Stewart Andrews, leader of the Oath Keepers, issued bellicose warnings on the group's website of a prospective "conflagration so great, it cannot be stopped, leading to a bloody, brutal civil war" if the Bundy-led occupation devolved into armed violence.[51]

In August 2017 a permit was issued by the NPS for the August 26th use of Crissy Field[52] to hold a rally by a group calling itself 'Patriot Prayer'.[53] The group's spokesman, Joey Gibson, announced that the Oath Keepers would be providing event security,[54] confirmed to The San Francisco Examiner on August 18 by Stewart Rhodes.[55]

In June 2019, Oregon Governor Kate Brown sent the Oregon State Police to bring 11 absent Republican state senators back to the Oregon State Capitol. The Republican state senators had gone into hiding to prevent a vote on a cap-and-trade proposal aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in order to combat climate change. The Oath Keepers reacted on June 20, 2019, by stating: "Gov. Brown, you want a civil war, because this is how you get a civil war". On June 22, 2019, a session of the Oregon Senate was canceled when the Oregon State Capitol was closed due to a warning from the state police of a "possible militia threat".[56][57][58][59]

After three people were killed in Portland, Oregon and Kenosha, Wisconsin, protests, Stewart Rhodes, the founder of Oath Keepers tweeted, “The first shot [of a civil war] has been fired brother.”[60]

National politics

An article posted to the organization's official website on April 14, 2016, opined that if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 United States presidential election, "the result would probably be outright civil war in the U.S."[61][62] Later in 2016, Stewart Rhodes called on members to visit polling places incognito to "hunt down" and document suspected voter fraud.[63]

Threats of violence in 2020

Mike Giglio of The Atlantic reported that at a July 2020 meeting at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Rutherford County, Tennessee Rhodes, speaking of the events of the racial unrest in the United States that year, said that Antifa and other protesters "are insurrectionists, and we have to suppress that insurrection" and that "[e]ventually they're going to be using IEDs" and consequently "[u]s old vets and younger ones are going to end up having to kill these young kids and they're going to die believing they were fighting Nazis."[64]

Following the deaths during protests in Kenosha and the George Floyd protests in Portland, Oregon Rhodes referred to Antifa and Black Lives Matter protestors as attempting an "open Communist insurrection". Stating that they were engaged in civil war he asked President Donald Trump to declare a nationwide insurrection to be opposed by a federalised National Guard to engage with the protestors. If Trump failed to do this Rhodes said that the Oath Keepers would. Twitter responded by banning his and the Oath Keepers' accounts.[65] The weekend before the Electoral College vote confirming Joe Biden's win he called for Trump supporters to use armed force to ensure that Trump maintained his presidency.[66] Members of the group were part of the violent protests in front of and subsequent storming of the United States Capitol on 6 January 2021.[67]

2021 storming of the United States Capitol

Three alleged members of Oath Keepers were federally indicted for conspiracy for planning their activities during the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol. Eight to ten members of the group entered the Capitol wearing paramilitary gear, moving "in an organized and practiced fashion," according to the indictment. The group communicated with portable devices, with one member allegedly receiving a Facebook message, "All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas." That same individual allegedly received directions in navigating the Capitol, including "Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down" and "Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down steps." One alleged participant radioed to others, "We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan."[68][69]

Reception

Larry Keller wrote in the SPLC's 2009 report The Second Wave: Return of the Militias that the Oath Keepers "may be a particularly worrisome example of the Patriot revival."[70] Keller described Richard Mack, an Oath Keeper, as a "longtime militia hero"[70][71] and quoted him as having said, "The greatest threat we face today is not terrorists; it is our federal government. ... One of the best and easiest solutions is to depend on local officials, especially the sheriff, to stand against federal intervention and federal criminality."[70] Mack, a former sheriff, responded by denying the claims, saying, "I have had no contact with any militia group and have never been a member of any militia."[72][73] Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC, said in an interview that the group has no history of political violence, but that, "The core ideas of these groups relate to the fear that elites in this country and around the world are slowly and steadily and nefariously moving us towards a one-world government, the so-called New World Order."[74]

In 2009, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) wrote in a report that, "The 'orders' the Oath Keepers refuse [to obey] reveal their extreme conspiratorial mindset, because the 'orders' are not instructions ever likely to be actually handed down by Obama or his officials; instead, they are reflective of the anti-government conspiracy theories embraced by the extreme right."[75]

Quoting the Las Vegas Review-Journal, MSNBC political commentator Pat Buchanan wrote: "Oath Keepers, depending on where one stands, are either strident defenders of liberty or dangerous peddlers of paranoia." Buchanan himself concluded that "America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right."[76][77]

Fox News Radio host Lou Dobbs spoke with founder Stewart Rhodes on his radio show in 2009 and criticized the SPLC for "perpetuating the same kind of intolerance it claims to condemn."[78] On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews questioned Rhodes about his "vigilante group" and on his "strange view of the world."[78]

Protesters have accused the group of racism, especially after groups of white members armed with rifles congregated in Ferguson during demonstrations related to police brutality and racial inequality.[31] The group says its bylaws prevent potential members from joining if they have a history of bigotry or have been associated with any discriminatory organization.[79]

See also

References

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Further reading

  • Jackson, Sam. 2020. Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group. Columbia University Press.

External links