Oath Keepers logo
|Motto||“Not on our watch!”|
|Purpose||"To defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic"|
|Stewart Rhodes, Michele Imburgia, Rex H. McTyeire, Richard Mack, John D. Shirley, Steven C. Homan, Jim Ayala, Jay Stang|
Oath Keepers is an American organization associated with the anti-government patriot movement. 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 group is best known for its controversial presence in Ferguson, Missouri during protests and unrest in the city, and during which its members were armed with semi-automatic rifles and were described as a far-right militia group by the media. The group espouses a number of false conspiracy theories and scam legal theories associated with the sovereign citizen movement and the white supremacist posse comitatus movement's Richard Mack.
The organization describes itself as a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders, who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The Anti-Defamation League describes the group as "heavily armed extremists with a conspiratorial and anti-government mindset looking for potential showdowns with the government". 
Oath Keepers was founded in March 2009 by Stewart Rhodes. Rhodes is a Yale Law School graduate, a former US Army paratrooper, and a former staffer of Republican Congressman Ron Paul. Rhodes was disbarred by the Montana Supreme Court for conduct violating the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct on December 8, 2015 after refusing to respond to disciplinary action regarding grievances filed against him in the Federal District of Arizona.
Rhodes is reported to have taken inspiration from the idea that Hitler could have been stopped if German soldiers and police had refused to follow orders. In this same context, Stewart has compared Hillary Clinton to Hitler, writing in S.W.A.T. Magazine in 2008, '“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." Imagine that Herr Hitlery is sworn in as president in 2009. After a conveniently timed “domestic terrorism” incident (just a coincidence, of course) or yet another Prozac induced mass shooting, she promptly crams a United Nations mandated, Great Britain style, total ban on the private possession of firearms through a compliant, Democratically controlled Congress.'
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 firefighters as members, though this figure has been questioned by some critics.
Journalist Harman Leon tested the group's application process and found that despite the group's claims about the level of membership being restricted to "service members", there were no practical checks on membership, in a column exploring how "America's Scariest Police Chief" Mark Kessler was able to join the group. Leon discovered that the group does no actual background checking on their applicants. 
Protesters have accused the group of racism, especially after groups of all-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. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, 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 August 2015, John Karriman, a teacher at Missouri Southern State University's Police Academy and head of the Missouri chapter of the Oath Keepers used the term “mulatto” to describe U.S. President Obama on CBC Radio’s As It Happens program.
St. Louis County police officer Dan Page was relieved of duty in 2014 after pushing CNN journalist Don Lemon on live television in Ferguson. Subsequently a YouTube videotaped speech was found in which he had criticized President Barack Obama, Muslims, and denounced hate crime laws while addressing an Oath Keepers meeting. The YouTube video had a disclaimer stating that Mr. Page's opinions did not reflect those of the local chapter nor of the national organization.
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.com, 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.”
Pacific Northwest mine disputes
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 US Forest Service said the mine had engaged in illegal construction and tree-felling.
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.
On September 10, 2015, the Oath Keepers announced that they would travel to Rowan County, Kentucky to "protect" Kim Davis from federal marshals should she be held in contempt for a second time for violating a court order prohibiting her from interfering with marriage licensing in her office.
Members were advised the following day that Kim Davis' legal team, acting on her behalf, had declined their offer. While members were still welcome to visit Rowan County, it would be in an unofficial capacity only with Kim Davis' right to the "...time honored, respectable, and honorable American tradition" of civil disobedience being acknowledged.
In the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) 2009 report The Second Wave: Return of the Militias, Larry Keller wrote 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."
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."
Fox News Radio host Lou Dobbs spoke with founder Stewart Rhodes on his radio show in 2009 and criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center 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."
The Oath Keepers have sponsored a film, Midnight Ride, by filmmaker James Jaeger. The film purports to show how the "militia system" could maintain "constitutional order" if the United States were hypothetically under martial law. According to Jaeger, the film is inspired by lawyer and Oath Keepers member Edwin Vieira's book, By Tyranny Out of Necessity: The Bastardy of Martial Law, and will feature interviews with politician Ron Paul, writer and conspiracy theorist G. Edward Griffin, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, Richard Mack, and Oath Keepers national Chaplain Chuck Baldwin.
Jaeger has been criticised as anti-Semitic by the editor of The American Interest magazine, Adam Garfinkle. Jaeger's websites feature a number of antisemitic articles, including, "Who rules America" and, "Stunning Jewish Success Dominates American Media". Jaeger has accused Mossad and Israel of being behind 9/11.
- About Elmer Stewart Rhodes
- 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.
- Duara, Nigel. "'Oath Keepers' with rifles roam among Ferguson protesters, raising concerns". Los Angeles Times. August 11, 2015. 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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- OATH KEEPERS RALLY REVEALS RADICAL POLITICS OF GROUP
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- "Herr" is German for "Mr.", indicating a male person. The proper German word for "Mrs." (Clinton) is "Frau".
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- 'No' Sheriff in Town: Some Lawmen Refuse to Enforce Federal Gun Laws