Houston, We Have an Oath Keepers Problem

While investigations into the Jan 6th attack on the US Capitol produce several arrests and more leads, one thing has become apparent - the Proud Boys aren't the only domestic terrorist game in town.

A man, who has obscured his face and identifying features and who wears an Oath Keepers badge on a protective vest, stands watch during a protest outside the Supreme Court on Jan. 5, 2021 in Washington DC, just one day before the Capitol insurrection incited by then President Trump. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/via Getty Images)

When Donald Trump stood on the stage for a nationally televised Presidential Debate last September and was asked by moderator Chris Wallace to disavow white supremacy by urging alt-right militant groups to"stand down," Trump notably responded with: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” Then, Trump proceeded to pivot to the perils presented by Antifa, and inaccurately blame primarily peaceful protestors for the racially-stoked violence in America.

“I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem-this is a left-wing problem.” Trump never denounced any far-right or white supremacist groups that night. Instead, “stand by” was the crux of the message — and it was left lingering in the air as America’s next big national security problem was officially given a name.

The Proud Boys heeded that call. On the account for the organization on the social media app Telegram, the white nationalist group confirmed that Trump’s statement constituted their next marching orders. "Standing down and standing by sir," the account wrote. Trump’s public ‘shout-out’ to the militant extremists constituted what Megan Squire, a professor at Elon University who tracks online extremism, calls a long-sought ‘fantasy.’

Protestors from the Oath Keepers militant group protest gun limitations and oppose proposed local and federal gun control legislation that further limit any firearm restrictions on Saturday, February 23, 2019 at the Minnesota State Capitol. . (Photo by Education Universal Images Group/via Getty Images)

Even worse: it fueled other domestic terrorist organizations in America to strive to prove themselves to Trump, and garner the same attention and recognition that the Proud Boys had just triumphantly achieved. Telling the Proud Boys to “stand by” was Trump’s call to take up arms and get ready, and it was the direct spark from the racism flint that would smolder for months and later ignite a bonfire at the US Capitol.

With the new attention awarded to the Proud Boys last fall, came an intense competition among white nationalist tribes — a fascist, violent Olympics of sorts — and the gold medal was Donald Trump’s public recognition. The Oath Keepers is one such group — yet another contingent of military rejects, turned misguided soldiers, that erroneously believe they are not, and have never been prioritized. While the Oath Keepers have been primarily overlooked when compared to the level of notoriety achieved by the Proud Boys, they now seem to be taking a prominent role, showing no signs of slowing.

Earlier this month, SHERO reported on the connection between Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and a very active chapter of the Oath Keepers militia group in Yavapai County, Arizona. Jim Arroyo, the self-described leader of Chino Oath Keepers that is based in Prescott, Arizona, has created a video and podcast hub that relays the outlandish theories of the group as well as their plans to take back their rightful place of prominence in America’s economy. It is comprised of YouTube videos and radio shows that can be likened to an old-school public broadcasting station.

A member of the right-wing group Oath Keepers stands in front of the Supreme Court on Jan. 5, 2021, during a rally just one day before the attack on the US Capitol. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/via Getty Images)

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism (COE) has identified 212 of the roughly 800 individuals who are believed to have breached the US Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. According to the ADL, “the emerging snapshot of the insurrectionists shows a range of right-wing extremists united by their fury with the perceived large-scale betrayal by “unprincipled” Republican legislators.”

While the ADL has confirmed that six Oath Keepers participated in the Capitol attack, The New York Times estimates that additional members were actually involved. In addition to the three confirmed Oath Keepers leaders who have been arrested so far, The Times claims there were at least 10 other members who accompanied them, coordinated the plan and wore Oath Keepers insignia.

On Jan 8, 2021, a Grand Jury handed down indictments for Thomas Caldwell, Donovan Crowl and Jessica Watkins on charges relating to their alleged crimes at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. On February 19, Sandra Parker, Bennie Parker, Graydon Young, Laura Steele, Kelly Meggs and Connie Meggs were added as co-defendants to the superseding indictment in federal court. All of those named have been arrested and charged with crimes relating to conspiracy, obstruction, destruction of government property, trespassing and tampering.

The COE arm of the ADL has identified 212 individuals, and 52 (or 25 percent) of those who were identified in the Capitol riot have ties to known right-wing extremist groups. The remaining 75 percent of the 212 are considered to be part of the new pro-Trump extremist movement, a decentralized faction made up of self-described “patriots,” who continue to pledge their fidelity to Trump. Put simply: the remaining 75 percent espouse the same values as those who have pledged allegiance to specific white nationalist organizations, and are up for grabs in terms of a formal affiliation. This means there is still a lot of room for growth in the alt-right.

An Oath Keeper from Idaho attends an event in Bozeman, Montana. The "Oath Keepers" are a national, ultra-rightwing "Patriot" group comprised of former and active military, police and public safety personnel who have taken an oath to "uphold the Constitution" and to refuse to follow orders that they decide are unconstitutional. (Photo by William Campbell/via Getty Images)

These lone Trump supporters, who are clearly willing to step outside of legal boundaries for their cause, are also capable of forming new groups as the movement progresses and evolves. In other words, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers continue to be a security threat on their own, and are now spawning offspring that are capable of mutating to fit the new landscape of this post-Trump era.

Another concerning aspect of these anti-government military groups is that so many of their active members are or were embedded within law enforcement at the local, state and national level. Thomas Cowell, one of the three Oath Keepers who has already been arrested and charged, held a top-secret security clearance for decades and previously worked for the FBI as a section chief from 2009 to 2010, after retiring from the Navy.

Trump supporters storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in an effort to stop Congress from counting the electoral votes that would formally declare Joe Biden to be the winner of the 2020 Presidential Election. (Photo by Brent Stirton/via Getty Images)

Following the Capitol riot, an Orange County Police Officer’s apartment was searched by the FBI, after he was suspected of participating in the far-right insurrection on Jan 6. The Orange County (OC) Sheriff’s Department, which currently serves thirteen contract cities and a total population of over 3 million people, is already in the process of implementing a training program on far-right extremism, after an OC Sheriff’s Officer was identified in a protest skirmish wearing a far-right Oath Keepers patch last summer.

Another investigation has now shown that at least six people who had provided security for Roger Stone broke the law by entering the Capitol on Jan. 6. Stone, the longtime friend of Donald Trump, who was recently pardoned by the former president after being indicted on charges for lying to federal agents, was present in Washington, DC at the time for Trump’s rally. He posted a message online denying involvement in “the lawless acts at the Capitol,” but these six suspects in question who were at the riot, were confirmed to have provided security protection for Stone either the day before or after the attack. All six suspects are also associated with the Oath Keepers organization.

While many Oath Keepers members are currently in custody and facing decades in prison if convicted on the federal charges related to the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, the ongoing investigations have done little to slow the group’s momentum. Stewart Rhodes, the national leader for the Oath Keepers militia group appears to have been emboldened by the previous actions and resulting charges for his fellow white nationalist comrades.

Stewart Elmer Rhodes, the National Leader of the Oath Keepers militia, provides security during a pro-Donald Trump rally to protest the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s speaking engagement, that was held in Martin Luther King Civic Center Park in Berkeley, California on April 27, 2017. (Photo by by Philip Pacheco/via Getty Images)

Rhodes appeared with Alex Jones on his Infowars webcast on January 30 — just 24 days after the riot at the Capitol that left five dead, including a police officer. Rhodes continued to peddle Trump’s propaganda of a rigged election and claimed the election was illegitimate, which was an issue that Trump’s own attorneys would not touch while defending him in his last impeachment trial. Rhodes continued in his quest of provocation: "You gotta to [sic] declare everything that comes out of King Biden's mouth as illegitimate — null and void from the inception because he is not a legitimate president." 

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the dangers posed by the Oath Keepers movement, which shows little sign of losing any traction or momentum, was Rhodes’ next statement that issued warnings about “365 million armed patriots ready to ‘rise up.’" Rhodes continued,"There is going to be resistance. The only question is what will be the spark." Then he launched what could be perceived as a direct and lingering threat: "[Leftists] keep pushing…Let them be the ones who draw first blood-then you defend." 

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Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines and analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.

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