Page semi-protected

Oath Keepers

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Oath Keepers
Oath Keepers logo
Motto"Not on our watch!"
FormationMarch 2009; 11 years ago (2009-03)
FounderStewart Rhodes
United States
LeaderStewart Rhodes
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[1][2][3][4][6] American far-right[5] organization associated with the militia movement.[7][8] 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".[9] 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.[10]

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."[11][12] 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".[13] 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.[14][15][16] 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".[13]

Oath Keepers had a controversial presence in Ferguson, Missouri, during the 2014[8] and 2015[5] unrest in the city, when members armed with semi-automatic rifles patrolled streets and rooftops.[17][18]

Organizational history

Oath Keepers was founded in March 2009 by Elmer Stewart Rhodes.[19][20][21] Rhodes is a Yale Law School graduate, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, and a 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 idea 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]


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.[9] The organization claims to have up to 30,000 members, though this figure has been questioned by some critics.[26]


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.[27] 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".[27]

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 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.[28]

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][29][30][31] 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.[32] St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told the newspaper that the Oath Keepers' "presence was both unnecessary and inflammatory."[32]

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.[33]

The group's activities in Ferguson led to them being labeled "vigilantes" by some journalists.[34]

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.[35] 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."[35]

Members were advised the following day 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 be in an unofficial capacity only.[36]

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.[37] 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".[38]

Other activities

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.[39][40]

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.[41][42] 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.[43][44]

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.[45]

In August 2017 a permit was issued by the NPS for the August 26th use of Crissy Field[46] to hold a rally by a group calling itself 'Patriot Prayer'.[47] The group's spokesman, Joey Gibson, announced that the Oath Keepers would be providing event security,[48] confirmed to The San Francisco Examiner on August 18 by Stewart Rhodes.[49]

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".[50][51][52][53]


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.[29] 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.[54]

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.[55] 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."[55] 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").[55] The YouTube video contained a disclaimer stating that Page's opinions did not reflect those of the local chapter or national organization.[56]

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."[57][58] Later in 2016, Stewart Rhodes called on members to visit polling places incognito to "hunt down" and document suspected voter fraud.[59]


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."[60] Keller described Richard Mack, an Oath Keeper, as a "longtime militia hero"[60][61] 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."[60] 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."[62][63] 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."[64]

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."[65]

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."[66][67]

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."[68] On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews questioned Rhodes about his "vigilante group" and on his "strange view of the world."[68]

Members of the group have been "protecting" visitors and acting as armed security for several Republican Party funded events for Donald Trump political rallies in Dallas Texas and Tupelo Mississippi in the fall of 2019. "[69]

See also


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Skocpol, Theda; Williamson, Vanessa (2012). The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. Oxford University Press. p. 33. ISBN 9780190633660. 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Crowley, Michael (August 10, 2016). "Trump's long dalliance with violent rhetoric". Politico. Retrieved December 1, 2016. the popular anti-government group Oath Keepers
  5. ^ a b c "Return of armed militia group Oath Keepers to Ferguson raises concern". Chicago Tribune. Associated Press. August 11, 2015. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
  6. ^ "The far-right anti-government group largely consists of former and current members of the military, first responders and police officers." [5]
  7. ^ Dearden, Lizzie (August 11, 2015). "Oath Keepers: Who are white militia at Ferguson protests and why are they allowed to carry guns?". The Independent. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  8. ^ a b McCoy, Terrence (January 1, 2014). "The Oath Keepers: The Little-known Militia Now Roaming the Streets of Ferguson". Washington Post. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  9. ^ a b "About Oath Keepers". Oath Keepers. November 6, 2014. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  10. ^ Mahler, Jonathan; Wines, Michael (November 7, 2016). "Fear Is Driving Voting Rights Advocates and Vigilantes to Watch Polling Stations". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "Press Release: ADL Report Exposes Tactics of Anti-Government "Oath Keepers"". Anti-defamation League. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  12. ^ "The Oath Keepers Anti-Government Extremists Recruiting Military and Police". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
  13. ^ a b "Oath Keepers: What anti-hate groups are saying about them". Cox Media Group. August 11, 2015. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  14. ^ Lenz, Ryan (July 25, 2013). "Oath Keepers Rally Reveals Radical Politics of Group". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  15. ^ Keller, Larry. "Evidence Grows of Far-Right Militia Resurgence". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  16. ^ Lenz, Ryan. "Are the Oath Keepers Fighting 'Martial Law'?". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  17. ^ Sakuma, Amanda; Rayford, Bradley J (August 11, 2015). "'Oath Keepers' armed with guns roam streets of Ferguson". MSNBC. Retrieved September 7, 2015. 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Acosta, Jim (November 18, 2009). "Who are the Oathkeepers". CNN. Archived from the original on November 19, 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2009.
  20. ^ "Elmer Stewart Rhodes". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  21. ^ "Incorporation Information for the Oath Keepers, Inc". Nevada Secretary of State. E0559982009-3. State of Nevada. October 22, 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ Maimon, Alan (October 18, 2009). "Ready To Revolt: Oath Keepers pledges to prevent dictatorship in United States". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved October 24, 2009.
  23. ^ In the Matter of Elmer S. Rhodes (Mont. Dec. 8, 2015).
  24. ^ a b Fowler, Sarah (August 12, 2015). "Ferguson unrest: Who are the mysterious 'Oath Keepers'?". BBC News. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  25. ^ Rhodes, Stewart. "Just Following Orders." S.W.A.T. Magazine Apr. 2008. Web. August 20, 2015.
  26. ^ Fowler, Sarah. Ferguson Unrest: Who Are the Mysterious 'Oath Keepers'?, BBC News (August 12, 2015).
  27. ^ a b Tritten, Travis (July 22, 2015). "Army to recruiters: Treat armed citizens as security threat". Stars & Stripes. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
  28. ^ Bogan, Jesse (December 2, 2014). Oath Keepers' are back on the rooftops in Ferguson despite St. Louis County ordinance, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  29. ^ a b Laughland, Oliver, Jon Swaine, and Joanna Walters, White Militiamen Roam Ferguson with Rifles While Black Men Wrongly Arrested, The Guardian (August 11, 2015).
  30. ^ "Heavily armed 'Oath Keepers' inject new unease in Ferguson". The Irish Times. August 11, 2015. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
  31. ^ "Oath Keepers arrival at Ferguson protest 'inflammatory,' top cop says". Fox News Channel. August 11, 2015. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
  32. ^ a b Larimer, Sarah; Phillip, Abby (August 11, 2015). "Who are the Oath Keepers, and why has the armed group returned to Ferguson?". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  33. ^ Bambury, Brent. "An Oath Keeper on guns, race and Ferguson". CBC Radio. Retrieved September 11, 2015.
  34. ^ Paul Vale (December 1, 2014). "Vigilante 'Oath Keepers' Offering Free Security In Ferguson Told To Stand Down By St. Louis Police". The Huffington Post.
  35. ^ a b Badash, David (September 10, 2015). "Kim Davis wont be arrested again promise patriot militia group". Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  36. ^ "Kim Davis' Legal Team Declines Oath Keepers' Offer to Protect Her Against Unlawul Arrrest [sic]". September 9, 2015. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  37. ^ "Far-right group calls for armed militias to stand watch outside US schools". The Independent. February 28, 2018. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  38. ^ Eltagouri, Marwa (February 27, 2018). "A militia group hopes it can stop shootings by posting armed volunteers outside each school". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  39. ^ Henandez, Daniel (April 3, 2014). "Federal rangers face off against armed protesters in Nevada 'range war'". The Guardian. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  40. ^ Botkin, Ben (April 13, 2014). "Bundy ranch dispute with federal land agency draws variety of foot soldiers". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  41. ^ Urquhart, By Jim (April 23, 2015). "Oregon mine that summoned armed guards in land dispute files appeal". Reuters. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  42. ^ Moriarty, Thomas (April 23, 2015). "Armed protesters gather at Medford BLM office over Sugar Pine Mine dispute". Mail Tribune. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  43. ^ Puckett, Karl (August 6, 2015). "Constitution advocates issue cease, desist order at mine". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  44. ^ Swearingen, Marshall (August 12, 2015). "Dispatch from White Hope Mine dispute in Montana". High Country News. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  45. ^ Boggioni, Tom (January 16, 2016). "Militia head warns feds: Don't 'Waco' the Oregon occupiers unless you want a 'bloody, brutal civil war'". The Raw Story. Washington, D.C.: Raw Story Media, Inc. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  46. ^ "NPS - Page In-Progress".
  47. ^ "News Conference".
  48. ^ "UPDATE: Guns banned from Saturday's 'Patriot Prayer' in San Francisco". August 23, 2017.
  49. ^ "Oath Keepers confirm militia will attend controversial Crissy Field rally". August 18, 2017.
  50. ^ Zimmerman, Sarah; Flaccus, Gillan (June 22, 2019). "Militia threat shuts down Oregon Statehouse amid walkout". Associated Press. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  51. ^ Radnovich, Connor (June 22, 2019). "Saturday Senate session canceled after potential threat of militia protest violence". Salem Statesman Journal. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  52. ^ Szekely, Peter (June 23, 2019). "Oregon Capitol building closed as precaution amid partisan dispute". Reuters. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  53. ^ Lubben, Alex (June 25, 2019). "Let's Check In on Those Oregon Republicans Who Fled the Capital, Shall We?". Vice News. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  54. ^ Oath Keepers Official Website - Bylaws "BYLAWS OF OATH KEEPERS, Article VIII 8.02b". Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  55. ^ a b c Heather Saul (August 23, 2014). "Ferguson riots: St Louis police officer Dan Page suspended over video". The Independent. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  56. ^ McLaughlin, Michael. St. Louis County Police Officer Dan Page Suspended Following Inflammatory Video, Huffington Post (August 22, 2014).
  57. ^ "Oath Keepers Website Warns Clinton Victory Could Lead To 'Outright Civil War'". Right Wing Watch. People for the American Way. April 21, 2016. Retrieved April 29, 2016.
  58. ^ Smith, Brandon (April 14, 2016). "The Weirdest Possible Outcomes For The Strangest Election In U.S. History". Oath Keepers. Retrieved April 29, 2016.
  59. ^ Sullivan, Kevin (October 27, 2016). "Militia group calls on members to patrol polls on Election Day" – via
  60. ^ a b c Keller, Larry (August 2009). "The Second Wave: Return of the Militias". A Special Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Montgomery, Alabama: 5–10. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
  61. ^ Fausset, Richard (September 18, 2009). "Oath Keepers organizer sees need to sound an alarm". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 2, 2009.
  62. ^ "Sheriff Richard Mack (RET) Responds to Southern Poverty Law Center Smear Attack on Oath Keepers and on Sheriff Mack" (Press release). Oath Keepers. August 14, 2009. Archived from the original on August 27, 2009. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
  63. ^ Johnson, Jon (September 2, 2009). "Local man appears on Internet news show". Eastern Arizona Courier. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
  64. ^ Wang, Hansi Lo. Oath Keepers Say They're Defending Ferguson; Others Say They're Not Helping. NPR (August 12, 2015).
  65. ^ Rage Grows in America: Anti‑Government Conspiracies: Oath Keepers, Anti-Defamation League (November 2009), p. 26.
  66. ^ Patrick J. Buchanan (October 20, 2009). "Alienated and Radicalized". MSNBC.
  67. ^ Maimon, Alan (October 18, 2009). "Oath Keepers pledges to prevent dictatorship in United States". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Las Vegas, Nevada: Stephens Media LLC. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  68. ^ a b Maimon, Alan (October 25, 2009). "Ready To Defend: Oath Keepers speak out at inaugural conference". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved October 25, 2009.
  69. ^ Maimon, Alan (October 25, 2019). "Ready To Defend: Oath Keepers recruit for Trump rallies". Oath Keepers Home Pagel. Retrieved October 25, 2019.

External links