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Oath Keepers

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Oath Keepers is a far-right, anti-government militia organization founded by Elmer Stewart Rhodes (1966–) in 2009.[1] Oath Keepers is considered to be part of the broader 'patriot movement', which includes other militias, sovereign citizens and tax protesters.[2] Their membership consists 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.'" — but any old gun nut can join as an associate member.[3] That sounds all perfectly reasonable — except that members frequently have a different idea of what "defend the Constitution" means than ordinary people or Constitutional scholars: Oath Keepers' belief that they will prevent tyranny revolves around the New World Order conspiracy theory.[2] In practice, this can mean inciting members to intimidate voters they don't like,[4] or engaging in an insurrection against a democratically-elected government.[5]

Rhodes, who once worked for Ron Paul, has been described by his ex-wife as expressing paranoid views about the government.[6] According to Jason Van Tatenhove, former spokesman for the Oath Keepers, Rhodes' appearance is comparable to a performance, a claim that is confirmed to some degree by Rhodes' inability to draw large live audiences and his not actually training a militia.[6] Rhodes' followers are largely armchair militants whom Rhodes grifts according to Van Tatenhove, and that would seem to be confirmed by Rhodes' allegedly leading a force of only 18 Oath Keepers a the 2021 U.S. Capitol riot — from a safe distance.[6]

Origins[edit]

Left-right: failed alt-right business nobody, Alex Jones, Rhodes

According to the ADL, Oath Keepers is similar to a less-successful organization founded by Jack McLamb in the 1990s, Police Against the New World Order.[2] Oath Keepers was founded in 2009.

Rhodes' foundational idea was that Hitler's rise to power could have been prevented if German soldiers and police had disobeyed unconstitutional orders:[7]

"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 problem with this Nazi analogy is twofold:

  1. Hitler did not rise to power all at once. He first attempted a coup (the Beer Hall Putsch) in 1923, for which he was sent to prison. After release from prison, he ran for President in 1932 and lost to von Hindenburg, who then appointed Hitler as Chancellor. Hitler then bent the law and constitution to his liking using the Reichstag Fire Decree (a series of key decrees, legislative acts, and case law).[8]
  2. Rhodes was aiming this insurrectionist ideology at Hillary Clinton (whom he referred to as "Hitlery"), who at that time was making her first run for POTUS. Clinton, it should be noted, has at no time violated her Constitutional oath (first as US Senator in 2001, then as Secretary of State in 2009), nor has she proposed changes to the constitution except through the democratic means of Constitutional Amendment (a proposed campaign finance reform amendment to counter Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission[9]).

Leadership and membership[edit]

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.
—Richard Mack, echoing Posse Comitatus ideology[10]

Their website is only known to have listed members of the Board of Directors from 2010-2016. The Board of Directors has been composed of:[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18]

  • E. Stewart Rhodes (2009-), Founder and President — veteran, disbarred[19] Yale Law School graduate[note 1]
  • Elias Alias (a.k.a., L. Franklin Shook III) (2010-2015) — veteran
  • Jim Ayala (2015-2016) — emergency medical technician, veteran
  • Rand Cardwell (2010-2013) — veteran
  • Jeff W. Ford (2014-2015), Northern Oregon Coordinator for Oath Keepers — veteran
  • Dave Freeman (2010) — veteran
  • Robert A. Gomez (2010) — veteran
  • Gregory Gooch (2010-2011) — veteran
  • James Hanna (2012-2015) — veteran
  • David T. Helms (2010-2011, 2015) — veteran
  • Steven C. Homan (2010, 2014-2015),[note 2] Western States VP — veteran
  • Celia S. Hyde (2010) — former police chief, Bolton, Massachusetts
  • Michele Imburgia (2014-2016), Texas State VP
  • John Karriman (2016-2017), Missouri Oath Keepers State Coordinator — serving as Police Academy Defensive Tactics Instructor (c. 2016)
  • Rex H. McTyeire (2010-2016), National Vice President for Eastern U.S. — retired army major
  • Richard Mack (2011-2016), former Sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, founder of Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which is ideologically similar to the sovereign citizen movement[21]
  • Chauncey Normandin (2010) — veteran
  • Denny Peyman (2016) — ex-sheriff
  • David J. Rivers (2011-2013) — veteran
  • Joseph Santoro (2015-2016) — veteran
  • John D. Shirley (2011-2013), retired police officer
  • Jay Stang (2016), Texas Chapter President — veteran

Since 2017, Karriman was shoved out for demanding reforms against alleged embezzlement by an IT administrator, and other board members have resigned.[20] The membership list was leaked to the Southern Poverty Law Center.[20] Membership from the list indicated that two-thirds had a background in the military or law enforcement; alarmingly there were a "20-year special agent in the Secret Service, and two people who said they were in the FBI."[20] The total membership was claimed by the organization to be 35,000 in 2016,[22] but is more likely to be closer to a couple of thousand,[23] at least in part due to fleeting membership.[20]

Besides being part of the massive data breach of the Epik web hosting company, Oath Keepers separately suffered another data breach a few days later that exposed "10,000 emails from the inboxes of high-profile members including state chapter leaders".[24] In addition, numerous members of the Oath Keepers, as well as at least one Republican party member, were revealed to be active members of various police forces across the US.[25]

Activities[edit]

Oath Keepers' billboard
Myself and Nick established a defensive security position in front of Pepperoni Bill's Pizza.
—Adam Boyle, former Oath Keeper[20]

Cliven Bundy[edit]

Oath Keepers provided support during the 2014 federal standoff with Cliven Bundy at his ranch over grazing rights,[20][26] and again at the Bundy-related standoff at the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.[27] During the ranch standoff, Rhodes "claimed to have intelligence that the Obama administration was planning a drone strike on the Patriot encampment,"[20] which needless to say did not eventuate.

Civil war threats[edit]

Rhodes has on several occasions made threats that civil war was forthcoming.

  • 2009: At the founding of Oath Keepers[20]
  • 2014: Regarding the Malheur standoff[27]
  • 2016: If Hillary Clinton won the 2016 U.S. presidential election[28]
  • 2019: Regarding forcing legislators back to work to vote on cap-and-trade climate change legistlation[29]
  • 2020: After the killing of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum allegedly by Kyle Rittenhouse, and Aaron Danielson allegedly by Michael Reinoehl[30]

Black Lives Matter[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Black Lives Matter

During the 2014 and 2015 Black Lives Matter protest, heavily armed members of Oath Keepers — all white men — showed up uninvited and unannounced.[31] The Oath Keepers claimed that they were on the protesters' side,[31] but St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar found their presence to be "unnecessary and inflammatory."[31] One of the protesters found the presence of the Oath Keepers to be intimidating and frightening, stating:[32]

Had protesters showed up that night looking the same way that these Oath Keepers did, that night would have turned out a lot differently for us. The officers there — there's already a huge tension, and we're unarmed. They've weaponized our blackness, so our very presence is threatening to them. And had we shown up with guns, in camouflage and vests, undoubtedly they would have used extreme force; much deadlier force than they had already used against us.

Rhodes has explicitly stated that Oath Keepers is not a racist or anti-semitic organization, using a variant of the friend argument by appealing to his Mexican and Apache ancestry.[15][33] The Oath Keepers bylaws explicitly bans openly-racist people from joining in Article VIII, Section 8.02(b):[34]

No person who advocates, or has been or is a member, or associated with, any organization, formal or informal, that advocates discrimination, violence, or hatred toward any person based upon their race, nationality, creed, or color, shall be entitled to be a member or associate member.

However, when a group of heavily armed white men shows up uninvited to 'protect' a mostly African American peaceful protest, it denies African Americans a voice and is a form of racism.

2021 U.S. Capitol insurrection[edit]

See the main article on this topic: 2021 U.S. Capitol riot
We have met the enemy and he is us.
—Walt Kelly[35]

Rather than support the peaceful democratic transition of government, several members of the Oath Keepers decided to join an insurrection in support of autocratic rule. Nineteen members or affiliates of the Oath Keepers have been accused of conspiracy as well other charges in the 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol,[36] an additional three face non-conspiracy charges.[37] Among those facing conspiracy charges are:[38][39][40]

  • Thomas E. Caldwell — also charged with forcibly assaulting, impeding, interfering any fireman or law enforcement officer (spraying a chemical irritant)[41]
  • Donovan Ray Crowl — didn't vote in the election that he wanted to overturn[42]
  • Jason Dolan — pleaded guilty to two charges while three charges were dropped in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors[43]
  • Mark Grods — pleaded guilty[37]
  • Joseph Hackett
  • William Isaacs
  • Connie Meggs
  • Kelly Meggs
  • David Moerschel[37]
  • Bennie Parker — also charged with destroying government property
  • Sandra Rut Parker — also charged with destroying government property
  • Laura Steele
  • Jessica Marie Watkins — also charged with violent entry or disorderly conduct[41]
  • Graydon Young — pleaded guilty to two felony counts, conspiracy and obstructing Congress[44]

Additional Oath Keepers charged were:

  • Robert Gieswein, charged with assaulting police, civil disorder and obstruction of police and government[45]
  • Roberto A. Minuta, who provided security for Roger Stone on January 6, charged with official proceeding and aiding and abetting, and tampering with documents or proceedings[46][47]
  • Jon Schaffer, guitarist of Iced EarthWikipedia. Membership status disputed, but wore an "Oath Keepers Lifetime Member" hat during his participation in the riot. Charged with six crimes, including unleashing pepper spray intended for bear deterrenceWikipedia on police. On April 16 2021, pleaded guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress (punishable by up to 20 years in prison) and trespassing on restricted grounds of the Capitol with a dangerous weapon, and is intending to cooperate with the government.[48][49]

As of March 2021, Rhodes has not been charged with a crime in connection with the riot, but he was alleged to have been in direct communication with the Oath Keepers who have been charged with conspiracy on January 6.[50] More than a dozen members have been charged with conspiracy (including some of the above).[51]

Allegations of domestic violence[edit]

During a 2018 divorce proceeding, Rhodes wife, Tasha Vonn Adams Rhodes made credible allegations that Stewart Rhodes had a history of violent outbursts against his family, including choking his daughter and making threats with a loaded gun.[52]

Notes[edit]

  1. Do not ask Rhodes for a gun safety lesson — he dropped his loaded handgun, shot himself in the face and blinded his left eye.[20]
  2. Resigned due to conflicting views with Rhodes on the mission of the Oath Keepers.[20]

References[edit]

  1. Elmer Stewart Rhodes Southern Poverty Law Center.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Oath Keepers Anti-Defamation League.
  3. About Oath Keepers Oath Keepers (archived from April 3, 2016).
  4. Militia group calls on members to patrol polls on Election Day by Kevin Sullivan (Oct. 27, 2016 at 2:45 p.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
  5. U.S. alleges wider Oath Keepers conspiracy, adds more defendants in Jan. 6 Capitol riot by Spencer S. Hsu & Rachel Weiner (Feb. 19, 2021 at 4:15 p.m. PST) The Washington Post.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Oath Keepers founder draws scrutiny from federal officials and followers by By Hannah Allam & Spencer S. Hsu (September 17, 2021) The Washington Post.
  7. Keeping Your Oath: NOT Just Following Orders (May 31, 2009) Oath Keepers (archived from August 14, 2015). Originally published as "Just Following Orders" by Stewart Rhodes (April 2008) S.W.A.T Magazine.
  8. Reichstag Fire Decree] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  9. Clinton patches relations with liberals at campaign's outset by Lisa Lerer (Apr. 19, 2015 8:09 AM EDT) AP (archived from June 23, 2015).
  10. The Second Wave: Return of the Militias (August 01, 2009) Southern Poverty Law Center.
  11. Bios Oath Keepers (archived from April 7, 2010).
  12. Bios Oath Keepers (archived from December 16, 2011).
  13. Bios Oath Keepers (archived from December 14, 2012).
  14. Bios Oath Keepers (archived from December 16, 2013).
  15. 15.0 15.1 Bios Oath Keepers (archived from November 21, 2014).
  16. Oath Keepers Board of Directors Oath Keepers (archived from January 21, 2015).
  17. Oath Keepers Board of Directors Oath Keepers (archived from October 10, 2015).
  18. Oath Keepers Board of Directors Oath Keepers (archived from 1 Nov 2016 05:46:03 UTC).
  19. In the Matter of Elmer S. Rhodes (December 8, 2015) Supreme Court of Montana via Scribd.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 20.6 20.7 20.8 20.9 A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans: An Atlantic investigation reveals who they are and what they might do on Election Day. by Mike Giglio (November 2020) The Atlantic.
  21. The Troubling Sheriffs’ Movement That Joe Arpaio Supports: Trump's pardon didn't just let off a campaign ally. It endorsed a growing push to exempt sheriffs from any federal authority. by Robert L. Tsai (September 01, 2017) Politico.
  22. Kettle Is Set to Boil’: New Evidence Points to Riot Conspiracy: While most arrests in the Capitol riot have been individuals, new charges accused three people tied to a right-wing militia of conspiring to commit violence. by Charlie Savage et al. (Jan. 19, 2021) The New York Times.
  23. The Oath Keepers Anti-Government Extremists Recruiting Military and Police (2015) Anti-Defamation League.
  24. Data from Oath Keepers leaked online after alleged hack: The breach includes emails, chat logs, and details on members and donors. by Mikael Thalen (Updated Sep 27, 2021, 10:17 am CDT) Daily Dot.
  25. Hack Of Oath Keepers Militia Group Includes Names Of Active NYPD Officers, De Blasio Launches Investigation by George Joseph and Micah Loewinger, Gothamist
  26. Federal rangers face off against armed protesters in Nevada 'range war': Dispute over cattle land causes Cliven Bundy, a rancher, to mobilise hundreds in ongoing standoff with government agency by Dan Hernandez & Joseph Langdon (13 Apr 2014 09.36 EDT) The Guardian.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Militia head warns feds: Don't 'Waco' the Oregon occupiers unless you want a 'bloody, brutal civil war' by Tom Boggioni (January 16, 2016) Raw Story.
  28. Oath Keepers Website Warns Clinton Victory Could Lead To ‘Outright Civil War’ by Miranda Blue (April 21, 2016 1:25 pm) Right Wing Watch.
  29. Republicans Who Fled the Capital, Shall We? Oregon police have spent five days, to no avail, searching for 11 Republican state Senators. by Alex Lubben (June 24, 2019, 10:17am) Vice.
  30. With Itchy Trigger Fingers, Some Right Wingers Predict The Next Civil War Has Finally Arrived by Matt Shuham (September 1, 2020 11:07 a.m.) Talking Points Memo.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Who are the Oath Keepers, and why has the armed group returned to Ferguson? by Sarah Larimer & Abby Phillip (August 11, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
  32. An Oath Keeper on guns, race and Ferguson (Aug 14, 2015 3:17 PM ET | Last Updated: August 15, 2015) CBC Radio.
  33. An Interview With Stewart Rhodes: The founder of Oath Keepers explains his vision and responds to his critics. by Radley Balko (2.7.2011 12:00 PM) Reason.
  34. Bylaws Oath Keepers (archived from February 25, 2011).
  35. Pogo: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us by Walt Kelly (1972) Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671212605.
  36. ‘Everything we trained for’: How the far-right Oath Keepers militia planned for violence on Jan. 6 by Samantha Putterman (September 23, 2021) PolitiFact.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Latest alleged Oath Keeper arrested in Capitol riot turned over body armor and firearm by Spencer S. Hsu (July 2, 2021 at 4:26 p.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
  38. U.S. alleges wider Oath Keepers conspiracy, adds more defendants in Jan. 6 Capitol riot by Spencer S. Hsu & Rachel Weiner (Feb. 19, 2021 at 4:15 p.m. PST) The Washington Post.
  39. United States of America v. Thomas E. Caldwell, Donovan Ray Crowl, Jessica Marie Watkins (January 27, 2021) United States Department of Justice.
  40. Four more indicted in alleged Jan. 6 Oath Keepers conspiracy to obstruct election vote in Congress by Spencer S. Hsu (May 30, 2021 at 4:33 p.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
  41. 41.0 41.1 Capitol Hill Siege George Washington University Program on Extremism.
  42. They stormed the Capitol to overturn the results of an election they didn't vote in by Blake Ellis & Melanie Hicken (Updated 2:07 PM ET, Mon February 1, 2021) CNN.
  43. Second alleged Oath Keeper in largest Capitol riot conspiracy case pleads guilty and will cooperate by Spencer S. Hsu (September 16, 2021) The Washington Post.
  44. Second alleged Oath Keepers member pleads guilty in Jan. 6 Capitol riot, will cooperate as prosecutors seek momentum by Spencer S. Hsu (June 23, 2021 at 12:40 p.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
  45. FBI moves on alleged members of extremist groups Oath Keepers, Three Percenters by Devlin Barrett & Spencer S. Hsu (Jan. 17, 2021 at 11:33 p.m. PST) The Washington Post.
  46. New York ‘Oath Keeper’ seen in photo with Roger Stone busted by feds in Capitol riot by Ben Feuerherd (March 8, 2021 | 3:26pm) New York Post.
  47. United States of America v. Roberto A. Minuta (2/24/2021) United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
  48. ICED EARTH's JON SCHAFFER Pleads Guilty To Two Charges For His Role In Capitol Riot, Blabbermouth, 2021 April 16
  49. "Founding member of Oath Keepers enters first guilty plea in Jan. 6 Capitol breach" by Spencer S. Hsu and Devlin Barrett, Washington Post, 2021 April 16
  50. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was in direct contact with rioters before and during Capitol breach, U.S. alleges by Spencer S. Hsu & Aaron C. Davis (March 9, 2021 at 5:00 a.m. PST) The Washington Post.
  51. Proud Boys conspired in multiple encrypted channels ahead of Jan. 6 riot, fearing criminal gang charges, U.S. alleges by Spencer S. Hsu & Rachel Weiner (March 18, 2021 at 5:08 p.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
  52. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes' wife alleges widespread abuse in petition for restraining order (March 15, 2018) Southern Poverty Law Center.