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Oath Keepers

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For the Game of Thrones episode, see Oathkeeper.
Oath Keepers
Oathkeepers logo.png
Oath Keepers logo
Motto “Not on our watch!”
Formation March 2009
Founder Stewart Rhodes
Purpose "To defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic"
Leader Stewart Rhodes
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.[1] 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[2][3] and were described as a far-right militia group by the media.[4][5][6][7] 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.[8]

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.”[9] 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". [10]

Organizational history

Oath Keepers was founded in March 2009 by Stewart Rhodes.[11][12] Rhodes is a Yale Law School graduate, a former US Army paratrooper, and a former staffer of Republican Congressman Ron Paul.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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[16] 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.'[17]


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 firefighters as members, though this figure has been questioned by some critics.[18]

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. [19]

Racism accusations

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.[20] 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.[21] 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."[22]

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.[23]

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.[24]


Ferguson protests

Main article: Ferguson unrest

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.[25]

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.[20][15][26][27][28] 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, 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.[29] St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told the newspaper that the Oath Keepers' "...presence was both unnecessary and inflammatory.”[29]

The group's activities in Ferguson led to them being labeled "vigilantes" by some journalists.[30][31]

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.[32][33] 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.[34][35]

Bundy standoff

Main article: Bundy standoff

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.[36][37]

Kim Davis

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.[38]

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.[39]


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."[40] Keller described Richard Mack, an Oath Keeper, as a "longtime militia hero"[40][41] 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."[40] 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."[42][43]

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."[44]

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."[45][46]

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."[47] On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews questioned Rhodes about his "vigilante group" and on his "strange view of the world."[47]

Midnight Ride

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.[48]

Jaeger has been criticised as anti-Semitic by the editor of The American Interest magazine, Adam Garfinkle.[49] Jaeger's websites feature a number of antisemitic articles, including, "Who rules America"[50] and, "Stunning Jewish Success Dominates American Media".[51] Jaeger has accused Mossad and Israel of being behind 9/11.[52]


  1. ^ About Elmer Stewart Rhodes 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ McCoy, Terrence. "The Oath Keepers: The Little-known Militia Now Roaming the Streets of Ferguson." Washington Post. The Washington Post, December 1, 2014. Web. August 13, 2015. The Washington Post
  5. ^ Dearden, Lizzie. "Oath Keepers: Who Are White Militia at Ferguson Protests and Why Are They Allowed to Carry Guns?." The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, August 11, 2015. Web. August 13, 2015. The Independent
  6. ^ Tesfaye, Sophia (August 22, 2015). "Far-right extremists patrol Ferguson: Oath Keepers militiamen descend on city". Salon. Retrieved August 14, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Return of armed militia group Oath Keepers to Ferguson raises concern". Chicago Tribune. August 14, 2015. Retrieved August 14, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b Oath Keepers Official Website "About Oath Keepers". Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  10. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ Acosta, Jim (November 18, 2009). "Who are the Oathkeepers". CNN. Retrieved November 18, 2009. 
  12. ^ "Incorporation Information for the Oath Keepers, Inc.". Nevada Secretary of State. E0559982009-3 (State of Nevada). October 22, 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2009. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b Fowler, Sarah (August 12, 2015). "Ferguson unrest: Who are the mysterious 'Oath Keepers'?". BBC News. Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Herr" is German for "Mr.", indicating a male person. The proper German word for "Mrs." (Clinton) is "Frau".
  17. ^ Rhodes, Stewart. "Just Following Orders." S.W.A.T. Magazine Apr. 2008. Web. August 20, 2015.
  18. ^ Fowler, Sarah. "Ferguson Unrest: Who Are the Mysterious 'Oath Keepers'? - BBC News." BBC News. BBC, August 12, 2015. Web. August 13, 2015. BBC
  19. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ a b Laughland, Oliver, Jon Swaine, and Joanna Walters. "White Militiamen Roam Ferguson with Rifles While Black Men Wrongly Arrested." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, August 12, 2015. Web. August 13, 2015. The Guardian
  21. ^ Oath Keepers Official Website - Bylaws "BYLAWS OF OATH KEEPERS, Article VIII 8.02b". Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  22. ^ Wang, Hansi Lo. "Oath Keepers Say They're Defending Ferguson; Others Say They're Not Helping." NPR. NPR, August 12, 2015. Web. August 13, 2015. NPR
  23. ^ Bambury, Brent. "An Oath Keeper on guns, race and Ferguson". CBC Radio. Retrieved September 11, 2015. 
  24. ^ McLaughlin, Michael. "St. Louis County Police Officer Dan Page Suspended Following Inflammatory Video." The Huffington Post., August 22, 2014. Web. August 13, 2015. The Huffington Post
  25. ^ Bogan, Jesse (December 2, 2014). "'Oath Keepers' are back on the rooftops in Ferguson despite St. Louis County ordinance". St Louis Today. Retrieved August 13, 2015
  26. ^ "Heavily-armed white men patrol Ferguson, 'ready to confront authorities to defend US Constitution'". RT. 2015-08-11. Retrieved 2015-08-11. 
  27. ^ "Heavily armed 'Oath Keepers' inject new unease in Ferguson". The Irish Times. 2015-08-11. Retrieved 2015-08-11. 
  28. ^ "Oath Keepers arrival at Ferguson protest 'inflammatory,' top cop says". Fox News Channel. August 11, 2015. Retrieved August 11, 2015. 
  29. ^ 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. 
  30. ^ Annabel Grossman (December 1, 2014). "Ferguson police shut down armed 'Oath Keeper' vigilantes guarding rooftops of besieged town". Daily Mail (London). 
  31. ^ Paul Vale (December 1, 2014). "Vigilante 'Oath Keepers' Offering Free Security In Ferguson Told To Stand Down By St. Louis Police". The Huffington Post. 
  32. ^ Urquhart, By Jim (April 23, 2015). "Oregon mine that summoned armed guards in land dispute files appeal". Reuters. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  33. ^ Moriarty, Thomas (April 23, 2015). "Armed protesters gather at Medford BLM office over Sugar Pine Mine dispute". Mail Tribune. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  34. ^ Puckett, Karl (August 6, 2015). "Constitution advocates issue cease, desist order at mine". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  35. ^ Swearingen, Marshall (August 12, 2015). "Dispatch from White Hope Mine dispute in Montana". High Country News. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  36. ^ Henandez, Daniel (April 3, 2014). "Federal rangers face off against armed protesters in Nevada 'range war'". The Guardian. Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  37. ^ Botkin, Ben (April 13, 2014). "Bundy ranch dispute with federal land agency draws variety of foot soldiers". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  38. ^ Badash, David (September 10, 2015). "Kim Davis wont be arrested again promise patriot militia group". Retrieved September 13, 2015. 
  39. ^ "Kim Davis’ Legal Team Declines Oath Keepers’ Offer to Protect Her Against Unlawul Arrrest (sic)". September 9, 2015. Retrieved September 12, 2015. 
  40. ^ 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. 
  41. ^ Fausset, Richard (September 18, 2009). "Oath Keepers organizer sees need to sound an alarm". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 2, 2009. 
  42. ^ "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. Retrieved November 3, 2009. 
  43. ^ Johnson, Jon (September 2, 2009). "Local man appears on Internet news show". Eastern Arizona Courier. Retrieved November 3, 2009. 
  44. ^ "Rage Grows in America: Anti‑Government Conspiracies." ADL Special Reports: Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies. N.p., November 16, 2009. Web. August 13, 2015.
  45. ^ Patrick J. Buchanan (October 20, 2009). "Alienated and Radicalized". MSNBC. 
  46. ^ 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. 
  47. ^ 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. 
  48. ^ Alias, Elias. "MIDNIGHT RIDE, The Movie: Update From James Jaeger". Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  49. ^ Garfinkle, Adam (2009). Jewcentricity: Why the Jews are Praised, Blamed, and Used to Explain Just About Everything. John Wiley & Sons. p. 137. ISBN 978-0470198568. 
  50. ^ Havibakhshi, S. "Who Rules America?". Jaeger Research Institute. Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  51. ^ Blankfort, Jeffrey. "Stunning Jewish Success Dominates American Media". Jaeger Research Institute. Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  52. ^ Jaeger, James. "THE TERRORIST ATTACKS Was 9/11 a False Flag Operation?". Retrieved August 13, 2015. 

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