The names of hundreds of U.S. law enforcement officers, elected officials and military members appear on the leaked membership rolls of a far-right extremist group that’s accused of playing a key role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, according to a report released Wednesday.
The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism pored over more than 38,000 names on leaked Oath Keepers membership lists and identified more than 370 people it believes currently work in law enforcement agencies — including as police chiefs and sheriffs — and more than 100 people who are currently members of the military.
In December 2021, the Pentagon issued rules aimed at stopping rise of extremism: “The new policy lays out in detail the banned activities, which range from advocating terrorism or supporting the overthrow of the government to fundraising or rallying on behalf of an extremist group or “liking” or reposting extremist views on social media. The rules also specify that commanders must determine two things in order for someone to be held accountable: that the action was an extremist activity, as defined in the rules, and that the service member “actively participated” in that prohibited activity.” “Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other leaders launched a broader campaign to root out extremism in the force after it became clear that military veterans and some current service members were present at the Jan. 6 insurrection.”
It also identified more than 80 people who were running for or served in public office as of early August. The membership information was compiled into a database published by the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets.
The data raises fresh concerns about the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military who are tasked with enforcing laws and protecting the U.S. It’s especially problematic for public servants to be associated with extremists at a time when lies about the 2020 election are fueling threats of violence against lawmakers and institutions.
“Even for those who claimed to have left the organization when it began to employ more aggressive tactics in 2014, it is important to remember that the Oath Keepers have espoused extremism since their founding, and this fact was not enough to deter these individuals from signing up,” the report says.
Appearing in the Oath Keepers’ database doesn’t prove that a person was ever an active member of the group or shares its ideology. Some people on the list contacted by The Associated Press said they were briefly members years ago and are no longer affiliated with the group. Some said they were never dues-paying members.
“Their views are far too extreme for me,” said Shawn Mobley, sheriff of Otero County, Colorado. Mobley told the AP in an email that he distanced himself from the Oath Keepers years ago over concerns about its involvement in the standoff against the federal government at Bundy Ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, among other things.
The Oath Keepers, founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, is a loosely organized conspiracy theory-fueled group that recruits current and former military, police and first responders. It asks its members to vow to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” promotes the belief that the federal government is out to strip citizens of their civil liberties and paints its followers as defenders against tyranny.
More than two dozen people associated with the Oath Keepers — including Rhodes — have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. Rhodes and four other Oath Keeper members or associates are heading to trial this month on seditious conspiracy charges for what prosecutors have described as a weekslong plot to keep then-President Donald Trump in power. Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers say that they are innocent and that there was no plan to attack the Capitol.
The Oath Keepers has grown quickly along with the wider anti-government movement and used the tools of the internet to spread their message during Barack Obama’s presidency, said Rachel Carroll Rivas, interim deputy director of research with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. But since Jan. 6 and Rhodes’ arrest, the group has struggled to keep members, she said.
That’s partly because Oath Keepers had been associated so strongly with Rhodes that the removal of the central figure had an outsized impact, and partly because many associated with the group were often those who wanted to be considered respectable in their communities, she said.
“The image of being associated with Jan. 6 was too much for many of those folks,” she said.
Among the elected officials whose name appears on the membership lists is South Dakota state Rep. Phil Jensen, who won a June Republican primary in his bid for reelection. Jensen told the AP he paid for a one-year membership in 2014 but never received any Oath Keepers’ literature, attended any meetings or renewed his membership.
Jensen said he felt compelled to join because he “believed in the oath that we took to support the US Constitution and to defend it against enemies foreign and domestic.” He wouldn’t say whether he now disavows the Oath Keepers, saying he doesn’t have enough information about the group today.
“Back in 2014, they appeared to be a pretty solid conservative group. I can’t speak to them now,” he said.
ADL said it found the names of at least 10 people who now work as police chiefs and 11 sheriffs. All of the police chiefs and sheriffs who responded to the AP said they no longer have any ties to the group.
“I don’t even know what they’re posting. I never get any updates,” said Mike Hollinshead, sheriff of Idaho’s Elmore County. “I’m not paying dues or membership fees or anything.”
Hollinshead, a Republican, said he was campaigning for sheriff several years ago when voters asked him if he was familiar with the Oath Keepers. Hollinshead said he wanted to learn about the group and recalls paying for access to content on the Oath Keepers’ website, but that was the extent of his involvement.
Benjamin Boeke, police chief in Oskaloosa, Iowa, recalled getting emails from the group years ago and said he believes a friend may have signed him up. But he said he never paid to become a member and doesn’t know anything about the group.
Eric Williams, police chief in Idalou, Texas, also said in an email that he hasn’t been a member or had any interaction with the Oath Keepers in over 10 years. He called the storming of the Capitol “terrible in every way.”
“I pray this country finds its way back to civility and peace in discourse with one another,” he said.
From the ADL’s The Oath Keepers Data Leak: Unmasking Extremism in Public Life:
Total Number of Oath Keepers Signups in the State: 1471
Elected Officials: 4
Law Enforcement: 13
First Responders: 5
Total Within These Professions: 2
In the wake of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, significant public and legal scrutiny was focused on the Oath Keepers, a large anti-government extremist group associated with the militia movement. Despite the group’s national profile, few specifics were known about its membership.
That changed in September 2021, when the non-profit journalist collective Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets) published – among other data – more than 38,000 names on the Oath Keepers’ membership list. The membership data provides unique insight into the people who signed up and paid dues to the organization over the years and helps illuminate the extent to which the group’s anti-government ideology has permeated mainstream society.
Traditionally, militias have largely eschewed engaging with civic institutions on an organizational level. However, in some ways, the Oath Keepers’ tactics presaged a shift across the far right. The group places a focus on seeking institutional power by specifically targeting current and former law enforcement, military, and emergency services personnel with their messaging and recruitment in the hopes that they will be able to utilize these unique skillsets to advance their cause and that the presence of group members in these institutions will obstruct any order, law, or action that the organization deems unconstitutional.
A review of these membership lists revealed that while there are many members of law enforcement, military, and first responders in the membership rolls, there are also elected officials, government employees, teachers, religious figures, and businessmen, among others. It’s important to acknowledge that some individuals in the Oath Keepers database may have initially joined because they were sold a watered-down version of the group, and some may have disavowed the group since signing up. That said, the range of individuals represented in the Oath Keepers leak shows the extent to which this extremist ideology has gained acceptance. Even for those who claimed to have left the organization when it began to employ more aggressive tactics in 2014, it is important to remember that the Oath Keepers have espoused extremism since their founding, and this fact was not enough to deter these individuals from signing up.
This report uses the leaked data to highlight the number of one-time and/or current Oath Keepers members or supporters in key areas: elected office, law enforcement and the military, and in the general population. Though there is no evidence that the Oath Keepers pursued any plans to “infiltrate” these institutions, the fact that they succeeded in recruiting numerous individuals within these domains to join or support their organization means their extremist ideology has a foothold in mainstream seats of power.
More details in the body of the report.
MSNBC’s Alex Wagner reported on the ADL’s Center on Extremism report.
The Copper Courier earlier reported, These 4 Arizona Lawmakers Have Ties to the Oath Keepers, a Far-Right, Anti-Government Group:
Several Arizona lawmakers have expressed support or admiration for the Oath Keepers during or before their time in office.
The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers—two far-right, anti-government extremist groups—were at the center of Thursday’s first public congressional committee hearing regarding the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Video footage from the Capitol showed a group of Proud Boys arriving at the building well before the rest of the pro-Trump mob arrived.
Once people broke into the Capitol, two groups of Oath Keepers joined the mob and pushed past police barricades.
British documentarian Nick Quested testified at the hearing that he filmed a meeting between leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers on Jan. 5, 2021.
Several Arizona lawmakers have expressed support or admiration for the Oath Keepers during or before their time in office. Stewart Rhodes, the group’s leader and founder, is set to face trial for seditious conspiracy in September.
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Tucson/Casa Grande, assumed office in 2015. Less than one year earlier, he posted about an Oath Keepers meetup in Tucson.
Finchem was also at the Capitol on January 6. Mark Finchem was much closer to the Jan. 6 insurrection than he claimed.
Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, known to cozy up to white nationalists who praise Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler like Nicholas Fuentes, is a self-proclaimed member of the Oath Keepers. She met with the Cottonwood chapter two months after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Had a great time speaking to the Cottonwood Oathkeepers tonight. I am a member of the Oathkeepers and I really like their dedication to our Constitution and to our country. Thank you for having me! pic.twitter.com/7CCBY77tQg
— Wendy Rogers (@WendyRogersAZ) March 7, 2021
Rogers was censured in March after she called white nationalists “patriots” and called for her political rivals to be hanged.
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, had “Oathkeeper” in her Twitter bio for months after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
When a Twitter user pointed it out, she obfuscated by saying, “I am an oath keeper, despite the various groups out there….I will never bend from keeping my oath to the Constitution.”
Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, flatly said on Twitter, “I’m an Oath Keeper. Do not ever forget it. Now what?”
I’m an Oath Keeper. Do not ever forget it. Now what?
— Quang Nguyen (@QuangNguyenAZ) May 30, 2022
Former Arizona Capitol Times reporter Julie Shumway also reported that she saw Nguyen’s truck in the Legislature’s parking lot with two Oath Keepers stickers on it.
Spotted in the House parking lot: freshman Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott, has at least two bumper stickers for the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia group. Oath Keepers in the #azleg include Rep. Mark Finchem and Sen. Wendy Rogers. pic.twitter.com/oNISQcyWm5
— Julia Shumway (@JMShumway) April 20, 2021
Nguyen spoke at least twice at Oath Keepers meetings in Yavapai County since late 2020.
Former Rep. Anthony Kern, who is running as a Republican for an Arizona Senate seat in Phoenix and Glendale this year, doesn’t appear to have any explicit ties to the Oath Keepers, but was seen on camera at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
In January, the Associated Press reported, Seditious conspiracy: 11 Oath Keepers charged in Jan. 6 riot and Arizona man accused in Oath Keepers plot jailed until trial:
A Phoenix man accused of coordinating teams that were on standby to deliver guns to members and associates of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot will remain jailed until his trial on seditious conspiracy and other charges, a judge in Arizona ruled Thursday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Boyle concluded Edward Vallejo, 63, posed a danger to the community. The judge said Vallejo has made incendiary comments about violence since the riot, rejected his attorney’s claim that Vallejo was a minor player in the alleged plot and noted that there was no evidence showing he was remorseful for his actions.
Prosecutors say Vallejo coordinated “quick reaction force” teams that kept guns at a hotel in nearby Arlington, Virginia, and were prepared to bring the weapons into Washington if Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes or associates believed the need arose. They say Vallejo, in the end, wasn’t called to transport the guns into Washington.
“If Mr. Rhodes had given that order, you would have complied,” Boyle said during the court hearing.
Vallejo is one of 11 members and associates of the Oath Keepers charged last week with seditious conspiracy. They are accused of working together to use force to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power. Rhodes, who is among those charged in the case, is jailed in Texas and is scheduled for a detention hearing on Monday.
Authorities say those charged in the plot discussed their plans in encrypted chats, traveled to the nation’s capital from across the country, organized into teams, used military tactics, stashed weapons in case they felt they were needed and communicated with each other during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
As the riot was unfolding in Washington, Vallejo sent a message on a chat saying, “QRF (quick reaction force) standing by at hotel. Just say the word.”
During the riot, prosecutor say Vallejo also tried unsuccessfully to launch a drone to use for reconnaissance.
Authorities say Vallejo, Rhodes and others met at a restaurant in Vienna, Virginia, on the evening of Jan. 6 to celebrate the attack on the Capitol.
The Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial is scheduled to begin on September 27.