Oath Keepers is an American far-right militia largely composed of current and former military, police, and first responders, founded by Yale law school graduate, former paratrooper, and known right-wing extremist Elmer Stewart Rhodes in 2009, coinciding with the upsurge of the Tea Party movement.
The name "Oath Keepers" refers to the oath that members pledge, to "defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic," the latter, in their view, including leftists, Democrats and moderate Republicans as well as proponents of taxes or fire arm restrictions, and other forms of governmental intervention unfavorable to capital interests. Oath Keepers encourage their members to not obey orders which they allege would violate the US Constitution, and that way pit them against various governmental activities. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the group espouses a number of conspiracy and legal theories associated with the sovereign citizen movement and the white supremacist posse comitatus movement, "which believed that sheriffs are the highest law enforcement authorities in America."1
"Orders We Will Not Obey," a foundational charter of the Oath Keepers.
As of 2016, the organization claimed a membership of 35,000, while the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has estimated its membership at several thousand,2 but the difference in numbers does not take away from the danger the Oath Keepers pose.
Mark Pitcavage of the ADL describes the group as "heavily armed extremists with a conspiratorial and anti-government mindset looking for potential showdowns with the government."3 For example, armed formations of the Oath Keepers have appeared in the context of several government, particularly land, disputes on the side of the accused, such as the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014 or the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, in some cases, such as the Sugar Pine Mine standoff, clearly having served private capital interests.
Oath Keepers have also served as Freikorps-style shock troops to intervene in governmental affairs, such as threatening Oregon capitol officials in issues regarding the lowering of Greenhouse emissions. Members of the group were indicted on conspiracy charges for allegedly staging a planned mission during the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol.42 All the while, Oath Keepers enjoy the sympathy of some hard-right legislators, such as Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs and Marjorie Taylor Greene, and have provided security services to prominent far-right figureheads such as Michael Flynn, Alex Jones and Roger Stone.
In other cases Oath Keepers pretend to support local law enforcement, often in connection with left protests against police violence, as of late particularly those organized by the Black Lives Matter movement. Oath Keepers were present wearing military fatigues in Ferguson, Missouri, during the 2014 and 2015 unrest in the city, when members armed with semi-automatic rifles patrolled streets and rooftops.^
The Oath Keepers emerged in the period following the 2008 financial crisis and the election of a democratic and black president, Barack Obama, along many other "protest movements," such as the pro-austerity Tea Party movement, to which the Oath Keepers had early connections. But the Oath Keepers' emergence in 2009 has to be seen in the larger context of the re-emergence of the "Patriot Movement" after its rise and fall in the 1990s, whose roots, of course, reach even further back. The SPLC reported5:
The 1990s saw the rise and fall of the virulently antigovernment "Patriot" movement, made up of paramilitary militias, tax defiers and so-called "sovereign citizens." Sparked by a combination of anger at the federal government and the deaths of political dissenters at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, the movement took off in the middle of the decade and continued to grow even after 168 people were left dead by the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City's federal building — an attack, the deadliest ever by domestic U.S. terrorists, carried out by men steeped in the rhetoric and conspiracy theories of the militias. In the years that followed, a truly remarkable number of criminal plots came out of the movement. But by early this century, the Patriots had largely faded, weakened by systematic prosecutions, aversion to growing violence, and a new, highly conservative president.
In order to understand the context, in which the Oath Keepers emerged, it is worth looking into the founder's biography. According to the SPLC6:
[Elmer] Stewart Rhodes grew up in the Southwest and joined the Army after finishing high school. He became a paratrooper, receiving an honorable discharge due to an injury in a night parachuting accident. Then Rhodes attended college at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, graduating in 1998. Rhodes has said that he taught street crime survival and rape prevention at the college women’s center and also worked as a certified Nevada concealed-carry firearms instructor.
After college, his first politically oriented job was supervising interns in Washington, D.C., for libertarian Ron Paul, then a Republican congressman from Texas. Rhodes subsequently attended Yale Law School, graduating in 2004, and clerked for Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan. A trial lawyer and libertarian, he later volunteered on Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.
... Also in 2008, Rhodes had what he described as a pivotal epiphany, described in a long profile published by Mother Jones magazine in March/April 2010. Rhodes had been writing a weapons-oriented column called “Enemy at the Gates” for S.W.A.T. Magazine, a monthly firearms publication that focuses on police SWAT teams. Rhodes said he received a wake-up call response to one of his columns from a retired colonel arguing that the Bill of Rights and Constitution were in peril and that soldiers, veterans and police “is where they will be saved, if they are saved at all!” ... After hearing from the retired colonel, Rhodes posted a now-notorious article on his blog, referring to Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton as “Hitlery” and spelling out how he thought she might impose a dictatorship.
Rhodes then took a hard-right turn away from electoral politics, putting up the Oath Keepers blog and beginning grassroots organizing among military officers, veterans and police officers.
Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in March 2009,6 right after Republican Congressman Ron Paul's unsuccessful run for the presidency,7 who subsequently became a prominent representative of the pro-austerity Tea Party movement, which was relaunched just around the same time.89 The modern Tea Party movement has its origins in a 1984 Koch brothers project, the Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), a conservative political group whose self-described mission was “to fight for less government, lower taxes, and less regulation.”10 Congressman Ron Paul was appointed as the first chairman of the organization.
In 2004, the Koch brothers oversaw the creation of Americans for Prosperity, a 501(c)(4), serving as the brothers’ primary political advocacy group. After the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, AFP helped transform the Tea Party movement into a political force. Rhodes' commitment to Ron Paul's presidential campaign seamlessly led over to his support of the fledgling Tea Party movement as well as the establishment of the Oath Keepers, in which, according to the SPLC, Rhodes "had assistance from Tea Party and Ron Paul strategists."6
According to the religious right expert James Scaminaci, "Ron Paul’s post-presidential network of organizations" included "the Campaign for Liberty, the National Precinct Alliance, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and Oath Keepers," and had links to over 40% of the 1,096 active Patriot groups that the SPLC had counted in 2013.11
Banner on the Oath Keepers website in 2009.
From the start, conspiracy theories were at the core of the Oath Keepers believe system, which is echoed in the list of "Ten Orders We Will Not Obey," a foundational charter of the group, which was prominently featured in older versions of the website.15 According to the SPLC6:
The core idea of the group is that its members vow to forever support the oaths they took on joining law enforcement or the military to defend the Constitution. But just as central is the group’s list of 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey,” a compendium of much-feared but entirely imaginary threats from the government — orders, for instance, to force Americans into concentration camps, confiscate their guns, or cooperate with foreign troops in the United States. These supposed threats are, in fact, part of the central conspiracy theory advocated by the antigovernment “Patriot” movement of which the Oath Keepers is a part — the baseless claim that the federal government plans to impose martial law, seize Americans’ weapons, force those who resist into concentration camps, and, ultimately, push the country into a one-world socialistic government known as the “New World Order.” In 2013, the group took on a more aggressive stance, announcing the planned formation of “Citizen Preservation” militias meant to defend Americans against the New World Order.
Shortly after their foundation in March, on April 19, 2009, the Oath Keepers were performing a first "mustering" of their new recruits in Massachusetts, where "Rhodes officially set forth the 10 'orders' Oath Keepers must not obey and officially launched the group before an audience of several hundred."6 According to the SPLC1:
... on the site in Lexington, Mass., where the opening shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in 1775, members of Oath Keepers ... "muster" on April 19 to reaffirm their pledge to defend the U.S. Constitution. "We're in perilous times … perhaps far more perilous than in 1775," says the man administering the oath. April 19 is the anniversary not only of the battle of Lexington Green, but also of the 1993 conflagration at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the lethal bombing two years later of the Oklahoma City federal building — seminal events in the lore of the extreme right, in particular the antigovernment Patriot movement.
The organization seems to have grown very quickly and got entrenched in Tea Party politics. According to the SPLC "On July 4, 2009, Rhodes dispatched speakers to more than 30 Tea Party rallies around the U.S., administering the new group’s 'oath.' He also began to organize rallies of his own and aggressively recruit new members at the Oath Keepers web site."6
It would not take long for Elmer Rhodes to appear on the "Alex Jones Show" of far-right conspiracy pundit Alex Jones, and for the Oath Keepers to pick up on the conspiracy theories he pumps out to this day. And just as Alex Jones, the Oath Keepers became specialists at cashing in on the hysteria they create, by soliciting online donations and selling plenty of merchandise, as well as emergency food, prepper supplies, and tactical gear.
In a series titled "Return of the Militias" from August 2009, already shortly after the Oath Keepers' appearance, the SPLC dubbed the Oath Keepers as "a particularly worrisome example of the Patriot revival." 5 In The Second Wave: Return of the Militias, Larry Keller described Richard Mack, a former sheriff and 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."16 The Mormon Mack, a two-time candidate for United States Congress, and former lobbyist for Gun Owners of America (GOA) as well as a plaintiff for the National Rifle Association, denied these claims17 but his subsequent involvement in the group suggests otherwise.
A few months after the Oath Keepers' foundation, in August 2009, their name was appearing as an affiliate organization of the American Liberty Alliance (ALA), the successor to the short-lived Tea Party-affiliated DontGo campaign.18 ALA, in which far-right grifter Ali Alexander was involved, advertised its presumed connections to the Oath Keepers, among other groups, as evident from an archived website copy.18
Screenshot from an archived version of the American Liberty Alliance website.
It would not take long for members of the Oath Keepers to make negative headlines. In April 2010, Matthew Fairfield, then president of the Cleveland chapter of Oath Keepers, was arrested on charges involving explosives and child abuse images. Law enforcement found a live napalm bomb and other explosives in a storage locker. Fairfield was indicted on 97 charges and was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2011.19
Charles A. Dyer, a former United States Marine Corps sergeant who operated as a prominent advocate for the Oath Keepers, was charged in 2010 with child rape and illegal weapons possession. Dyer, who maintained a popular YouTube channel and acted as a representative at Tea Party rallies, evaded authorities and a manhunt ensued, followed by capture ten days later. Known online as “July4Patriot,” Dyer made his anti-government videos during the administration of President Barack Obama. As the criminal case against him developed he continued to make videos claiming that he was being targeted by law enforcement for his role as a “patriot.”20 In 2012, Dyer was convicted of raping his seven-year-old daughter. The Oath Keepers severed ties with Dyer after his conviction, and later denied a relationship with him.^
An archived who.is entry from 2011 reveals that the Oath Keepers website, at least back then, had been registered to Elmer Rhodes.21
Who.is entry for the Oath Keepers website from October 2011.
Brian D. Hill the former Founder and head reporter of USWGO Alternative News (uswgo.com, site shut down), with Alex Jones the founder of Free Speech Systems LLC (Infowars.com), and the founder of Oath Keepers (oathkeepers.org), Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Photo taken at the Hyatt Place Chantilly Dulles Airport South hotel on June 1, 2012.
In April-May 2014, armed Oath Keepers were present at the Bundy standoff in Bunkerville, when agents of the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seized cattle that a rancher, Cliven Bundy, was judged to be illegally grazing on federal land in Clark County, Nevada.22 Bundy had lost a 21-year legal dispute in which the BLM obtained court orders directing him to pay over $1 million in withheld grazing fees for his use of federally owned land adjacent to his ranch in southeastern Nevada. As a result, grazing fee resistors and their supporters took up arms against BLM and law enforcement officials, joined by half a dozen conservative Arizona state legislators, including Paul Gosar.23
One of the leading figures in the standoff was the Oath Keepers longtime hero Richard Mack, who in 2011 had founded the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), an organization with a similar mission to the Oath Keepers, encouraging members to refuse to enforce laws that they believe are unconstitutional.24 According to the SPCL1:
One Oath Keeper is longtime militia hero Richard Mack, a former sheriff of a rural Arizona county who collaborated with white supremacist Randy Weaver on a book and who, along with others, won a U.S. Supreme Court decision that weakened the Brady Bill gun control law in the 1990s. "The greatest threat we face today is not terrorists; it is our federal government," Mack says on his website. "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's views echo those of the Posse Comitatus, which believed that sheriffs are the highest law enforcement authorities in America. "I pray for the day that a sheriff in this country will arrest an IRS agent for trespassing or attempting to victimize citizens in that particular sheriff's county," Mack said in a video he made for Oath Keepers.
Oath Keepers were present wearing military fatigues in Ferguson, Missouri, during the November 2014 unrest in the city, when members armed with semi-automatic rifles patrolled streets and rooftops.25 The Ferguson unrest began on August 10, 2014, the day after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, and besides peaceful protests, resulted in significant looting and violent unrest in the vicinity of the original shooting, as well as across the city. The unrest sparked a vigorous debate in the United States about the relationship between law enforcement officers and African Americans, the militarization of police, and the use-of-force law. As the details of the original shooting emerged, police established curfews and deployed riot squads to maintain order, and to that end, was joined by members of the Oath Keepers after the Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded Wilson shot Brown in self-defense.
The militia put out a national request to its members to help in the city after the grand jury decision was released. 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.26
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.27 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."27 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").27^
In April 2015, armed Oath Keepers in the Pacific Northwest attended two disputes between gold miners and federal authorities. 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.2829 An Oath Keepers video from the "Sugar Pine Mine Operation" features one Brandon Rapolla, avidly grifting for donations.30
Around June 2015, a website appeared which was subsequently advertised on the Oath Keepers' website, Snakebite Tactical, which was selling military tactical gear, such as a "ThermTac Ghost Suit."31 Judging from the DNS records, it is likely that the website was also run by the leader of the Oath Keepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes. [Thanks to @hiporadic for this clue.]
Screenshot of an archived version of Snakebite Tactical.
Following the July 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.32 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."32
In August 2015, Oath Keepers 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.3334
On August 29, 2015, Oath Keepers came together at an “Appalachian Summit” where Stewart Rhodes "outlined the far-right group’s intention to have members infiltrate local institutions, including volunteer fire departments and churches," according to the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights35:
The three-day summit, held outside of Gilbert, West Virginia, gathered together around one hundred Oath Keepers, Threepers, Tea Partiers and militia members to network and train local activists on “taking back” the country—by force, if necessary.
On September 10, 2015, the Oath Keepers announced that they would travel to Rowan County, Kentucky, to prevent the arrest and jailing of Kim Davis should she be held in contempt a second time for violating a court order prohibiting her from interfering with marriage licensing in her office.36 Davis is a former Rowan County clerk who gained international attention in August 2015 when she defied a U.S. federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 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."36 The following day, members were advised 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 only be unofficial.37
In August 2015, four members of the group appeared again on the streets of Ferguson, following street demonstrations on the anniversary of Michael Brown's shooting.38 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 ... Alex Jones." This was also alleged by Oath Keeper John Karriman, who spoke to a CNN reporter about the Oath Keepers' involvement in the Ferguson unrest.39 The Oath Keepers claimed to be on the side of the protestors.40 St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told the newspaper that the Oath Keepers' "presence was both unnecessary and inflammatory."40
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.41^
On January 2, 2016, an armed group of far-right extremists, including Oath Keepers,42 seized and occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon,43 and continued to occupy it until law enforcement made a final arrest on February 11, 2016.44 Their leader was Ammon Bundy, who participated in the 2014 Bundy standoff at his father's Nevada ranch. Other members of the group were loosely affiliated with non-governmental militias and the sovereign citizen movement. 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. The organizers were seeking an opportunity to advance their view that the federal government is constitutionally required to turn over most of the federal public land they manage to the individual states.
In 2015, the militants believed they could do this by protesting the treatment of two area ranchers convicted of federal land arson, who they believed were wrongly convicted. This is despite the fact that the men in question, father and son Dwight and Steven Dwight Hammond, did not want their help.45 The occupation began when Bundy led an armed party to the refuge headquarters following a public rally in the nearby city of Burns.46 On January 15, 2016, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, 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.47
An article posted to the organization's official website on April 14, 2016, opined that if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 United States presidential election, "the result would probably be outright civil war in the U.S."48 Later in 2016, Stewart Rhodes called on members to visit polling places incognito to "hunt down" and document suspected voter fraud.49^
On June 10, 2017, Oath Keepers took part in an anti-Muslim rally titled
In August 2017 a permit was issued by the National Park Service for the August 26th use of Crissy Field51 to hold a rally by a group calling itself Patriot Prayer.52 The group's spokesman, Joey Gibson, announced that the Oath Keepers would be providing event security,53 confirmed to The San Francisco Examiner on August 18 by Stewart Rhodes.54^
In February 2018, soon after the Stoneman Douglas High School 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.55 Rhodes posted on the Oath Keepers' website in what he termed 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."56
In March 2018, Rhodes' wife, Tasha Vonn Adams Rhodes, filed for a divorce and requested a temporary restraining order, alleging her husband would57
... frequently threaten himself and his family with a weapon he always carries, and he has a history of violent outbursts against his family, including an incident in 2016 when he choked his teenage daughter by the throat. ... “Whenever [Stewart Rhodes] is unhappy with my behavior (say I want to leave the house — he doesn’t like me to leave) he will draw his handgun (which he always wears), rack the slide, wave it around, and then point it at his own head, telling me my behavior has caused this,” Vonn Adams Rhodes wrote in the petition, which was filed on February 20. “I filed for divorce a few days ago and am terrified.”
In March 2019, the Oath Keepers published a video on their YouTube channel showcasing how they "assist border patrol in apprehending illegal aliens in Texas.58
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."596061^
In June 2020, a case was reported during a George Floyd protest in Costa Mesa, California, concerning an active duty police deputy who had badges of several right-wing extremist groups on his uniform, including one of the Oath Keepers.62
In July 2020, congressman Paul Gosar appeared at the July 4 festivities in Prescott, Arizona, where he posed for a picture with a member of the Proud Boys militia, while a member of the Oath Keepers was looking on.64 According to Gosar’s brother Dave Gosar, a lawyer in Wyoming, “He’s twisted up so tight with the Oath Keepers it’s not even funny.”65
Paul Gosar in July 2020 posing for a picture with a Proud Boy, while an anti-government Oath Keeper is looking on.
Mike Giglio of The Atlantic reported that at a July 2020 meeting at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Rutherford County, Tennessee, Oath Keepers founder Rhodes, speaking of the events of the racial unrest in the United States that year, said that Antifa and other protesters "are insurrectionists, and we have to suppress that insurrection" and that "[e]ventually they're going to be using IEDs" and consequently "[u]s old vets and younger ones are going to end up having to kill these young kids and they're going to die believing they were fighting Nazis."66
In September 2020, Oath Keepers were "on ground in Louisville, protecting Baders Food Mart" in Louisville, Texas, from potential looters, according to a video on the Oath Keepers' YouTube channel.67
In an October 2020 interview, reporter Mike Giglio of The Atlantic stated that in the preceding years, the Oath Keepers regarded President Donald Trump as "someone in the White House that they fully support," in contrast to their skepticism of previous Republican administrations.68 He also said that in recent years Rhodes's statements had become more "radical" and that because of this some members of the group with military experience, concerned by the possibility of the types of violence they had witnessed overseas occurring in the United States, left the group.68
Their concerns proved right, since the weekend before the Electoral College vote confirming Joe Biden's victory, Rhodes called for Trump supporters to use armed force to ensure that Trump maintained his presidency.69
On December 12, 2020, Stewart Rhodes spoke at an event considered as a practice run for the January 6, 2021, rally.
Now, this is a BIG one.— Quarantined Life (@Real_QL) January 27, 2021
Stewart Rhodes the leader of the Oath keepers also spoke at the rally.
"... use the insurrection act to drop the hammer on them...If [Trump] does not do it...we are going to have to do ourselves... in a much more desperate, blood war".@RightWingWatch pic.twitter.com/tWbLOzzr2r
Rhodes also appeared in an interview with a MAGA sympathizer in the context of the DC rally, where he answered the question what would happen next after legally contesting the election result would fail, first of all by blaming the Chinese government70:
The judges are compromised along the politicians. The communist Chinese have subverted and taken over this nation from top to bottom along with the globalists. So basically, what we have here, basically we're at war with China. These are the Chinese proxies that they have.
The video also shows Rhodes' prominent "We The People" forearm tattoo, the US constitution preamble abused by many MAGA constituents.
Talks of violence against political opponents and of a coming civil war by Oath Keepers and their sympathizers certainly preceded the January 6, 2021, insurrection by several years. For example, the New York Times reported65:
Mr. Gosar had paid a visit to the local Oath Keepers chapter a few years earlier, Mr. Arroyo [leader of the Arizona Oath Keepers] recounted, and when asked if the United States was headed for a civil war, the congressman’s “response to the group was just flat out: ‘We’re in it. We just haven’t started shooting at each other yet.'" ... Mr. Biggs, the chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus ... has spoken at events hosted by extremists, including one at which a founder of the Oath Keepers called for hanging Senator John McCain. ... Ms. Greene has also displayed a fondness for some of the militia groups whose members were caught on video attacking the Capitol, including the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters. Speaking in 2018 at the Mother of All Rallies, a pro-Trump gathering in Washington, she praised militias as groups that can protect people against “a tyrannical government.”
The night before the January 6 insurrection, Oath Keepers leader Elmer Stewart Rhodes appeared in a Facebook video by Virginia State Senator Amanda Chase.71
I cannot emphasize this enough, Virginia State Senator Amanda Chase made a Facebook live video with Oath Keepers leader Steward Rhodes the night before the Capital Seige. pic.twitter.com/XPttlj515T https://t.co/jMI2hXukWs— Goad Gatsby (@GoadGatsby) February 20, 2021
On the morning of the January 6, the far-right rabble-rouser and grifter, Roger Stone, posed with fans outside the Willard InterContinental Hotel, "flanked by men associated with the Oath Keepers," according to journalist and researcher John Scott-Railton.72 Among them was Rob Minuta, an Oath Keeper who had escorted Michael Flynn and Alex Jones on rallies in the past,73 as well as an off-duty NYPD officer, Salvatore Greco, who was "talking on a cellphone ... while chatting with three unidentified people." In August 2020, Stone, after his sentence was commuted, had publicly thanked Greco on social media 74:
“I would be remiss without mentioning … NYPD officer Sal Greco who helped when off duty and Enrique Tarrio [leader of the Proud Boys] my old friend,” Stone wrote in part in an Aug. 3 post titled “President Trump’s Act of Mercy and Justice.”
3/ In the morning of the 6th, Stone stood outside the Willard InterContinental hotel, again flanked by men associated with the #OathKeepers.— John Scott-Railton (@jsrailton) February 14, 2021
Some of them, like Rob Minuta, have been named in prior reporting.pic.twitter.com/69gkZesR3khttps://t.co/znftvixe13
It is estimated that several dozen members of the Oath Keepers subsequently took part in the January 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington, DC, while about ten were identified to have entered the Capitol, of which three were federally indicted for conspiracy for having planned their activities. According to NPR75:
Among those charged in relation to the storming of the Capitol are Thomas Edward Caldwell, a Navy veteran and alleged leader among the Oath Keepers, and Donovan Ray Crowl, a Marine Corps veteran. They have been charged with conspiracy to obstruct the Electoral College vote, among other alleged crimes.
Another associate of Caldwell and Crowl from Ohio, Jessica Watkins, was also “charged with conspiracy to commit federal crimes,” according to an article in the New York Times.2 Communication data available to the court reveals that the three had been planning to join the January 6, 2021, insurrection in late December, with Caldwell stating2:
It begins for real Jan 5 and 6 on Washington D.C. when we mobilize in the streets. Let them try to certify some crud on capitol hill with a million or more patriots in the streets.
The 66-year-old Caldwell appeared as a group leader, according to the New York Times2:
Mr. Caldwell had advised militia members to stay in a particular Comfort Inn in Washington’s suburbs, according to messages cited in court documents, advising that it offered a good base to “hunt at night” — apparently meaning looking for antifa-style left-wing protesters to fight. Ms. Watkins apparently rented a room there under an assumed name, an F.B.I. agent said.
Jessica Watkins is a 38-year-old veteran of the war in Afghanistan and bar manager in Woodstock, Ohio. She is the commanding officer of the Ohio State Regular Militia, which the FBI has named a “dues-paying subset” of the Oath Keepers. According to the Ohio Capital Journal, Watkins formed the militia in 2019. She told the Journal that the militia has patrolled 12 protests in total.76 Watkins had also been the main liaison to two newly recruited Oath Keepers, the married couple Sandra and Bennie Parker from Buckeye State, who have also been charged with conspiracy, illegal entering of the Capitol building, as well as destruction of government property.77 According to Watkins' motion for release to home confinement following the charges raised against her78:
On January 5 and 6, Ms. Watkins was present not as an insurrectionist, but to provide security to the speakers at the rally, to provide escort for the legislators and others to march to the Capitol as directed by the then-President, and to safely escort protestors away from the Capitol to their vehicles and cars at the conclusion of the protest. She was given a VIP pass to the rally. She met with Secret Service agents. She was within 50 feet of the stage during the rally to provide security for the speakers. At the time the Capitol was breached, she was still at the sight of the initial rally where she had provided security. The government concedes that her arrival at the Capitol was a full 40 minute after the Capitol had been breached.
Excerpt of the indictment of Oath Keepers who had taken part in the January 6, 2021, insurrection.
Caldwell, Crowl and Watkins attended President Trump’s rally and then entered the Capitol building in close coordination with ten or more other people wearing Oath Keepers insignia.7919 The group entered the Capitol wearing paramilitary gear, moving "in an organized and practiced fashion," according to the indictment. The group communicated with portable devices, with one member allegedly receiving a Facebook message, "All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas." That same individual allegedly received directions in navigating the Capitol, including "Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down" and "Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down steps." One alleged participant radioed to others, "We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan."80281
In a February 2021 indictment, nine people affiliated with the Oath Keepers were charged on different counts, including (1) conspiracy, (2) obstruction of justice, (3) destruction of government property, (4) entering restricted buildings or grounds, (5) & (6) tampering with documents or proceedings. Included are Thomas Caldwell, Donovan Crowl, Jessica Watkins, Sandra Parker, Bennie Parker, Graydon Young, Laura Steele, Kelly Meggs and Connie Meggs.82 As of September 2021, the number has risen to at least 19.83
February 2021 Oath Keepers indictment
In September 2021, it was reported that the Oath Keepers' web server was hacked, and 5GB of data was leaked to the journalist and transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets).84 The leak includes 38,0000 email addresses, however, it is unclear if these comprise past members as well. In many instances, real names, addresses, IP addresses, as well as amounts donated to the Oath Keepers are also recorded. Furthermore the leak includes roughly 10,000 emails from Oath Keeper leaders, as well as conversations of their private chat server, reaching back to June 2020.83 The Daily Dot reported that the "Oath Keepers leak includes 160 U.S. military, government email addresses."85
On November 23, 2021, the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol subpoenaed the Oath Keepers as well as its leader Elmer Stewart Rhodes.86
Subpoena transmitted to the Oath Keepers by the January 6 Committee on November 23, 2021. Source: https://january6th.house.gov/sites/democrats.january6th.house.gov/files/20211123%20Oath%20Keepers%20Letter.pdf.
Subpoena transmitted to the Elmer Stewart Rhodes by the January 6 Committee on November 23, 2021. Source: https://january6th.house.gov/sites/democrats.january6th.house.gov/files/20211123%20Rhodes%20Letter.pdf.
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