Who are the Oath Keepers?

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A release of data obtained by the non-profit group Distributed Denial of Secrets claims to contain chat logs, emails, membership rolls and donor lists of the extremist militia group the Oath Keepers. A report released Tuesday by Rolling Stone claims South Dakota state legislator, Phil Jensen (R) of Rapid City has been identified in the leaks as a member of the group. But who are the Oath Keepers?

Founded in 2009 by a man named Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers are an extremist anti-government, right-wing political organization with strong ties to the larger right-wing militia movement in the U.S., according to the Centers for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).

CSIS describes the group as being “committed to supporting and defending their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.” They also note that the name ‘Oath Keepers’ stems from the oaths of service taken by the military, law enforcement and other first responders.

Rhodes is a graduate of Yale Law School and an Army veteran. Joining the Army out of high school, he became a paratrooper and received an honorable discharge from the military due to an injury sustained in a parachuting accident.

After leaving the military, Rhodes attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating and going on to enter politics, supervising interns for then-congressman Ron Paul. After this, he earned his law degree and spent time clerking for Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan. Rhodes also volunteered for Paul’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.

Rhodes formed the Oath Keepers as a Nevada nonprofit organization and began recruiting current and former military members, and police officers. After launching the organization officially on April 12, 2009, Rhodes moved his operation to Montana.

By 2011, Rhodes said the Oath Keepers had members in every state, with the group claiming to have a membership of over 30,000 people, though this was not verified.

Since then, Rhodes and the Oath Keepers have been frequently featured within the fringe-right media sphere. Rhodes has made multiple appearances in places such as Alex Jones’ Infowars radio show, a program on which Jones has made false claims, including that no children were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting.

Helping to define their ideology is a ‘declaration’ of orders on their website that the Oath Keepers swear not to obey. These orders offer a glimpse into the beliefs of the group, which include unfounded fears that the government will declare martial law, confiscate guns and force Americans into concentration camps.

  1. We will NOT obey any order to disarm the American people.
  2. We will NOT obey any order to conduct warrantless searches of the American people, their homes, vehicles, papers, or effects – such as warrantless house-to house searches for weapons or persons.
  3. We will NOT obey any order to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to trial by military tribunal.
  4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state, or to enter with force into a state, without the express consent and invitation of that state’s legislature and governor.
  5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty and declares the national government to be in violation of the compact by which that state entered the Union.
  6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.
  7. We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.
  8. We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control” during any emergency, or under any other pretext. We will consider such use of foreign troops against our people to be an invasion and an act of war.
  9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies, under any emergency pretext whatsoever.
  10. We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.

Beyond appearances on fringe media programs, Oath Keepers have been tied to real world danger. In February 2010, 52-year-old Daniel Knight Hayden, a self-proclaimed Oath Keeper was sentenced to eight months in prison for tweeting threats of violence against Oklahoma state officials.

In April 2010, Oath Keeper Darren Huff of Georgia was arrested and charged with federal firearms charges stemming from a plot to force the President Obama out of office by carrying out an armed takeover of a Tennessee courthouse.

In 2012, Matthew Fairfield, a Cleveland man described by prosecutors as the president of a local Oath Keepers chapter was found guilty of various counts of illegally harboring explosive devices in his home. Fairfield was sentenced to 16 years in prison for storing bombs at his home and for obstructing justice.

In 2012, Charles Dyer, an ex-Marine who claimed to be the Oath Keepers liaison with the Marines was sentenced to 30-years in prison for raping a 6-year-old girl. Dyer was also in possession of a grenade launcher stolen from Fort Irwin, Calif., in 2006. Despite Dyer’s claims of affiliation with the Oath Keepers, Rhodes said he was not in fact a member.

In 2014, the Rhodes and his Oath Keepers rose to further prominence due to their involvement in an armed standoff between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Bundy family in Nevada. In this conflict, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers joined with fellow militia groups such as the three-percenters to support Cliven Bundy, a rancher who grazed his cattle on public land for more than 20 years in defiance of court orders, ignoring subsequent penalties and fees.

The Oath Keepers lost face among the militia movement in this standoff after pulling out of the confrontation, claiming they had knowledge that then President Obama was about to attack the Bundy ranch with drones. The rumored drone attack did not happen.

Later that same year, Oath Keepers wearing flak jackets and carrying assault rifles showed up in Ferguson, Missouri, in the midst of the protests following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

The armed men took to rooftops overlooking protests, claiming they were ‘protecting’ stores and apartment buildings. These actions led St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar to tell NBC News that the group’s presence was “both unnecessary and inflammatory.”

In 2016, Rhodes announced plans to have his Oath Keepers ‘patrol’ polling locations in order to ensure the U.S. presidential election was not ‘stolen.’

The Oath Keepers have also participated in anti-Islamic actions, in 2017 participating in “March Against Sharia” rallies organized by the anti-immigrant hate group Act for America, which falsely claims that Muslims are attempting to replace the American legal system with Sharia law. Oath Keepers claimed they were present to provide security.

The March Against Sharia was not the group’s only foray into anti-immigrant action. The Oath Keepers website in December 2018 issued a call for ‘Oath Keepers and Patriots’ to “do all in our power to aid and support President Trump and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in securing our Southern Border with Mexico.”

The web page urges members to travel to the border, claiming that the Oath Keepers would have pilots, ground observers and drone operators active to spot and report migrants to CBP.

Within the call to action, the site asked those who could not personally travel to the border to donate money. The Oath Keepers called for a full-scale deployment of the U.S. military to the border, claiming cartels were taking over whole “border towns, cities, and counties here just as they do in Mexico,” and that women and children were being forced into sex slavery.

The statement went on to call the nation of Mexico a “failed narco-state, and that the “military invasion by the cartels” were part of a political coup by the “Marxist controlled left” in America.

Screenshot of the Oath Keepers website from Dec. 9, 2018 via the Wayback Machine

Rhodes himself has also made overt anti-immigrant sentiments, including pushing elements of the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy. In a July 1 video interview on Infowars, Rhodes broached this subject, claiming that “they (Democrats) are replacing Americans with new voters from other countries through illegal immigration en masse.”

The Oath Keepers have also remained active throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, showing up to provide ‘security’ for business owners who have attempted to reopen businesses against orders from local and state officials. They have turned up armed to places such as Dallas County Jail, where a salon owner was arrested for violating public health orders, and Granbury, Texas, where a gym owner was violating orders.

Throughout the summer of 2020, Oath Keepers showed up to Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Rhodes posted to Facebook during the summer unrest, appearing to advocate violence while writing the following:

I see some of you conflicted about how to handle what’s going on in the streets of this country, I too was conflicted but let me say this. Maybe you better read that Oath again it said protect the constitution from all enemies foreign and or here’s the part you better read slowly … Domestic … Once these thugs turned to burning, killing and looting, they became domestic enemies.

Stewart Rhodes

Following the 2020 presidential election, Rhodes and the Oath Keepers urged Trump to use the Insurrection Act to reject his election loss and remain in power. Rhodes and other Oath Keepers have since been consistent in pushing the false statement that the U.S. presidential election was stolen, and that President Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.

This trend culminated in January 2021 with several members of the Oath Keepers taking part in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. According to CSIS, at least 12 members of the Oath Keepers are facing conspiracy charges connected with the insurrection.

One of these members, 43-year-old David Moerschel of Punta Gorda, Florida, has been charged with federal offenses that include conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, according to a Justice Department news release from July 6, 2021.

According to court documents, Moerschel and others planned and participated in an operation to interfere with the certification of the electoral college vote on Jan. 6, and coordinated with others in advance, using websites and social media to recruit other participants before traveling to Washington.

United States Justice Dept. news release

A March 31, 2021, release from the DOJ also revealed in an indictment the names of 10 other Oath Keepers named as conspirators in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Rhodes himself has not been charged with any wrongdoing in relation to the January 6 event, though his communications with other members on that date have been cited in court filings, with prosecutors referring to Rhodes as “PERSON ONE.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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