Details About The Oath Keepers, One Of The Most Controversial Groups In America

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Participant in the Jan 6 Capitol riots

For many years now, the focus on extremist groups in America has increased, with some making quite a name for themselves.

One group in particular, known as the Oath Keepers, has been gaining increasing public attention as one of the largest anti‐government extremist groups in the U.S.

The organization, which claims to have tens of thousands of members, became a household name for many after their alleged involvement in the Capitol riots that took place in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6.

Several members of the Oath Keepers have since been indicted on charges of conspiring to obstruct Congress’s ability to certify Joe Biden as the next President of the United States.

Who are the Oath Keepers and what do they believe?

According to their website, "Oath Keepers is 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 primary difference between the Oath Keepers and other extremist groups is their focus on recruiting current and former military personnel, as well as police officers and first responders such as firefighters, search and rescue workers, EMTs, disaster relief, "and similar emergency personnel."

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The oath referred to in their name refers to Article VI of the US Constitution, which affirms the place of the federal Constitution as the ultimate authority to be obeyed and defended, above and beyond any one political figure or party and any one state's constitution and laws.

They see themselves as charged with a mission to "preserve liberty for our children and grand-children, and for all Americans."

The Oath Keeper motto is “Not on our watch!”

While they do not actively recruit civilians, they do offer them the option of supporting their efforts as Associate Members.

Taking issue with how they have been portrayed in the media, self-proclaimed Oath Keeper Tom Kampert writes, "The Oath Keepers is an association of like-minded people who, at some point in their life, took an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States."

"They are not a militia," he continues. "They are not white supremacist. Their membership is made up of all races. They are not anti-government. Their message is that there is no expiration date on their oath. That they will always honor it. They expect the same from government officials, both appointed and elected."

Still, others beg to differ.

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According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Oath Keepers — which they describe as "a large but loosely organized collection of anti‐government extremists who are part of the broader anti‐government 'Patriot' movement, which includes militia and 'three percenter' groups, sovereign citizens, and tax protesters, among others" — were founded by Montana-based attorney and Army veteran Stewart Rhodes in 2009.

in 2014, Oath Keepers garnered attention from the media for their involvement in the unrest that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri after a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old Black man named Michael Brown Jr.

At the time, the Ferguson police chief announced that they could not openly carry weapons during a state of emergency. Members of the group were also accused of posing as security guards without a license.

Later that year, Oath Keepers participated in the Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada, where many armed members of the group confronted law enforcement, including Richard Lee Cook, who was arrested by FBI agents. He was later indicted on felony charges of possession of a firearm.

In July of 2015, the association launched “Operation Protect the Protectors,” a call-to-action to stand guard outside various military recruitment centers around the nation with the intention of protecting unarmed military recruiters in the wake of attacks on Tennessee military facilities by Mohammad Abdulazeez.

As previously mentioned, many of their members have been linked with the Capitol riots in January.

According to a grand jury indictment from the District of Columbia charging some of the members, Oath Keepers were among a large crowd that stormed the Capitol building.

“Crowd members eventually forced their way through, up, and over Capitol Police barricades and advanced to the building's exterior façade. Capitol Police officers attempted to maintain order and stop the crowd from entering the Capitol building, to which the doors and windows were locked or otherwise secured,” the document reads.

“Nonetheless, shortly after 2:00 p.m., crowd members forced entry into the Capitol building by breaking windows, ramming open doors, and assaulting Capitol Police officers.”

Now, Thomas E. Caldwell, Jessica M. Watkins and Donovan Crowl, all members of the organizations, are among the 400 or so people charged with entering the Capitol illegally and assaulting police officers.

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Are the Oath Keepers alt-right white supremicists?

Some say yes. The Oath Keepers say no.

"I mean right out of the gate, before we had really even done anything, they tried to associate us with racists," Rhodes said in a 2011 interview. "I'm a quarter Mexican. I'm part Apache Indian. I'm hardly a poster child for white supremacy. I'd probably be killed if this country were run by white supremacists."

Asked if he is part-Jewish, Rhodes responded, "No, I'm not Jewish. But that's funny too. Because we don't tolerate anti-Semitism, there are some neo-Nazis who are certain that must mean I'm Jewish. You know, clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right."

What’s next for the Oath Keepers?

As President Biden worries about vaccine rollouts and mass shootings, the Department of Justice and federal prosecutors are focused on closing cases against the people who stormed the Capitol during the riots in January, some of which include Oath Keeper members.

Investigators are also looking into adding sedition to the list of charges they face. This is a serious charge defined as inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state, among other crimes.

Federal prosecutors say that the group “trained in paramilitary combat tactics in advance of the Jan. 6 operation.”

This could provide evidence of premeditated coordination, which may have the most severe consequences of them all.

It’s appears the organization has been growing in number and influence since their formation.

Even with a few members here and there charged and indicted by the government, there seems to be no end to their engagement in US politics in sight.

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Tomás Diniz Santos is a writer living in Orlando, Florida. He covers news, entertainment, and pop-culture topics.