|Motto||"Not on our watch!"|
|Stewart Rhodes, Michele Imburgia, Rex H. McTyeire, Richard Mack, John D. Shirley, Steven C. Homan, Jim Ayala, Jay Stang|
Oath Keepers is an anti-government[a] American far-right organization associated with the patriot and militia movements. The group describes itself as a non-partisan association 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". It encourages members – some of whom are current and former U.S. military and law enforcement officers – not to obey orders which they believe would violate the United States Constitution. The organization claims a membership of 35,000 as of 2016.
Several groups that monitor domestic terrorism and hate groups describe the Oath Keepers as extremist or radical. Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) describes the group as "heavily armed extremists with a conspiratorial and anti-government mindset looking for potential showdowns with the government." 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". 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. 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".
Oath Keepers had a controversial presence in Ferguson, Missouri during the 2014 and 2015 unrest in the city, when members armed with semi-automatic rifles patrolled streets and rooftops.
Oath Keepers was founded in March 2009 by Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Rhodes is a Yale Law School graduate, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, and a former staffer for Republican Congressman Ron Paul. 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.
Rhodes is reported to have taken inspiration from the idea that Adolf Hitler could have been stopped if German soldiers and police had refused to follow orders. 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'."
The organization claims on its website 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. The organization claims to have up to 30,000 members, though this figure has been questioned by some critics.
Following the 2015 Chattanooga shootings at a strip mall military recruitment center and a Navy 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. 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 while 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".
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 Shooting of Michael Brown case. 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.
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. 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. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told the newspaper that the Oath Keepers' "presence was both unnecessary and inflammatory."
One Ferguson activist, Ryan Herring, described their presence as intimidating and frightening, and criticised 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.
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. 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."
Members were advised the following day that Davis' 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 be in an unofficial capacity only.
Aftermath of Parkland High School Shooting
In February 2018, soon after the Stoneman Douglas High School mass 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. Rhodes posted on the Oath Keepers' website in 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".
In 2014, 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.
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. 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.
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 of Reservation devolved into armed violence.
In August 2017 a permit was issued by the NPS for the August 26th use of Crissy Field to hold a rally by a group calling itself 'Patriot Prayer'. The group's spokesman, Joey Gibson, has announced that the Oath Keepers would be providing event security, confirmed to The San Francisco Examiner on August 18 by Stewart Rhodes.
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. 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.
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. 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." 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"). The YouTube video contained a disclaimer stating that Page's opinions did not reflect those of the local chapter or national organization.
An article posted to the organization's official website on April 14, 2016, opined that if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 U.S. presidential election, "the result would probably be outright civil war in the U.S." Later in 2016, Stewart Rhodes called on members to visit polling places incognito to "hunt down" and document suspected voter fraud.
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." Keller described Richard Mack, an Oath Keeper, as a "longtime militia hero" 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." 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." 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."
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."
Quoting the Las Vegas Review-Journal, MSNBC political commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan said, "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."
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." On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews questioned Rhodes about his "vigilante group" and on his "strange view of the world."
- Beckett, Lois; Laughland, Oliver (November 5, 2016). "Specter of election day violence looms as Trump spurs vigilante poll watchers". The Guardian. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
One of America's largest anti-government armed militia groups, the Oath Keepers.
- "The Oath Keepers: Anti-Government Extremists Recruiting Military and Police". Anti-Defamation League. September 16, 2015. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
The Oath Keepers are a large but loosely organized collection of anti‐government extremists who are part of the broader anti‐government "Patriot" movement, which includes militia and 'three percenter' groups, sovereign citizens, and tax protesters, among others...The ideology of the Oath Keepers most closely resembles that of the militia movement...
- Skocpol, Theda; Williamson, Vanessa (2012). The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. Oxford University Press. p. 33. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
Some anti-government extremists have unquestionably found their way into Tea Party groups--for example, members of the Oath Keepers, a group centered on current and former law enforcement officers.. Expecting the Obama Administration to declare martial law across the country and detain citizens en masse, Oath Keepers proclaim their readiness to engage in armed insurrection to counter this supposed threat from the federal government. ... The possibility of such a confrontation is not entirely rhetorical because members of the Oath Keepers have been tied to various militia groups.
- Feuer, Alan (January 16, 2016). "Standoff in Oregon Attracts Supporters Bearing Disparate Grievances". New York Times. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
members of the so-called Patriot movement, an umbrella effort of antigovernment activists that includes groups like the Oath Keepers, an organization of law enforcement officers and military veterans.
- Crowley, Michael (August 10, 2016). "Trump's long dalliance with violent rhetoric". Politico. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
the popular anti-government group Oath Keepers
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With their hands resting casually on the assault rifles strapped across their chests, the men formed a diamond around their subjects, surveying the area in search of a threat.
- Duara, Nigel (August 11, 2015). "'Oath Keepers' with rifles roam among Ferguson protesters, raising concerns". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 31, 2015.
As protests in Ferguson continued on a sweat-soaked Missouri night, at least three men openly carrying assault rifles approached the south end of West Florissant Avenue – and began to attract a crowd themselves.
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- "Elmer Stewart Rhodes". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
- "Incorporation Information for the Oath Keepers, Inc". Nevada Secretary of State. E0559982009-3. State of Nevada. October 22, 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2009.
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- In the Matter of Elmer S. Rhodes (Mont. Dec. 8, 2015).
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- "Heavily armed 'Oath Keepers' inject new unease in Ferguson". The Irish Times. August 11, 2015. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
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- "NPS - Page In-Progress". www.nps.gov.
- "News Conference". www.facebook.com.
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- "The far-right anti-government group largely consists of former and current members of the military, first responders and police officers."