The Oath Keepers in Oregon

About Spencer Sunshine

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This an excerpt from Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement co-published with Rural Organizing Project.

Oath Keepers chapters have been active in Oregon since the national organization was founded in 2009.1)“Active ‘Patriot’ Groups in the United States in 2009,” Southern Poverty Law Center, March 1, 2010, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2010/active-patriot-groups-united-states-2009. However, most chapters seem to have been established since 2014 in the wake of the events at Bundy Ranch. Oregon Oath Keepers came to the December 2014 gun rights rally in Washington state, where then Oregon Oath Keepers Coordinator Jeff Ford spoke.2)“We Will Not Comply – Come and Take Them—Part 4 of 4,” YouTube video, 37:49, posted by “RealEstateinMoto,” December 17, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrh7FvKxrg&noredirect=1. They were also involved in both the February and May 2015 anti-SB 941 Salem rallies, and the Josephine County chapter was the main organizer of the Sugar Pine Mine action. However, as of August 2016, the organization seems to be losing its position in Oregon, with the disaffiliation of its most prominent group, the Oath Keepers of Josephine County.

From late 2013 to late 2014, Jeff Ford was the Northern Oregon Coordinator and Tom McKirgan was Southern Oregon Coordinator; Ford then became the sole state coordinator until after the May rally.3)In October 2013, Ford (then described as a “recent transplant from California”) and McKirgan were described as the Northern and Southern Oregon Oath Keepers’ leaders, respectively. See Volubrjotr, “Oath Keepers Unite With P.A.N.D.A. To Stop McCain’s NDAA In Oregon: Rotate Honor Guards To Ensure WWII Veterans’ Access To Memorial,” Political Vel Craft, October 16, 2013, https://politicalvelcraft.org/2013/10/16/oath-keepers-unite-with-p-a-n-d-a-to-stop-mccains-ndaa-in-oregon-rotate-honor-guards-to-ensure-wwii-veterans-access-to-memorial. In April 2015, Ford is referred to as the sole state Coordinator (as well as a member of the Oath Keepers National Board); see “Calling all Oath Keepers to help with Security at the Sugar Pine Mine, April 17, 2015,” Meetup event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/221921869.Today, McKirgan is part of Oregon III%, and is the leader of Zone 4 (Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Coos, and Curry counties). He is also one of the two national administrators of the “3%ERS” Facebook group, which has over 24,000 members (www.facebook.com/groups/THE3PERCENTERS/admins). Facebook post, August 2016, screenshot in possession of author. (Currently the Oregon coordinator position is listed as “TBA.”)4)“Oath Keepers of Oregon” Oath Keepers, www.oathkeepers.org/Oregon. Brandon Rapolla is the state Community Preparedness Team coordinator. He is also the leader of Oregon Tactical, a founder of Pacific Patriots Network, and was part of the Sugar Pine Mine camps, Bundy Ranch standoff, and was in Burns, Oregon.5)For CPT leader, see Stewart Rhodes, “Historic ‘Militia’ Moment: Pacific Patriot Network (Including Oath Keepers) Calls On FBI,” Oath Keepers, January 10, 2016, www.oathkeepers.org/9435-2; for Sugar Pine Mine and Bundy Ranch, see James Pogue, “The Oath Keepers Are Ready for War with the Federal Government,” VICE, September 14, 2015, www.vice.com/read/miner-threat-0000747-v22n9; for Rapolla at Bundy Ranch with weapons, see “Bundy Ranch, III%, Militia, Independence,” YouTube video, 7:19, posted by “Brandon Rapolla,” July 4, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vXYAJPrp-I. Rice confirmed with me that Rapolla was a Pacific Patriots Network founder; Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016.

The state Oath Keepers took most of its public communications offline around the time of the Sugar Pine Mine encampments; their Facebook group has only been updated once since June 2015, and the sparse website (which went offline in May 2016) does not list staff or even local chapters.6)Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org. The last capture on archive.org was April 30, 2016, and the website is presently offline. There is only one post on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/OathKeepersofOregon, between June 2015 and July 2016. All of this is a rather odd public face for an organization that takes great pains to claim not to be a clandestine paramilitary. With the disaffiliation of the Josephine County chapter  in August 2016, there is only one public website in the state, run by the Baker County chapter.7)See Baker County Solutions, https://bakercountysolutions.wordpress.com.

The Oath Keepers have chapters around state, generally organized by county. Chapters that announced meetings in 2015 or 2016 include Josephine; Central Oregon (including Crook); Douglas; Baker; Linn and Benton; Marion, Polk, and Yamhill; Washington; Columbia; Lane; Malheur; and Klamath. (Chapters that held public meetings in 2014 or earlier include Jackson; Deschutes, Union, Coos, Curry, and Clackamas, and city chapters in Salem and Portland and/or Gresham.)8)For the 2015 and 2016 meetings, see: “Josephine County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” Meetup event for August 11, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/233027958; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Baker County,” MeetUp event for December 15, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/227416404; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Linn and Benton County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for March 6, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229239175; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties,” MeetUp event for June 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/qltlnhyvjbvb; “Oath Keepers of Washington County Monthly Meetings,” MeetUp event for April 28, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/230501466; “Columbia County Oath Keepers Celebrating our 2 year anniversary,” MeetUp event for April 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229980453; “Lane County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 21, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/228741920; Malheur County Oath Keepers Meet and Greet,” MeetUp event, January 9, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/219657841; “Oathkeepers of central Oregon,” MeetUp event for August 25, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224780403; “Oath Keepers of Klamath County,” MeetUp event for August 20, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224691943; for Douglas County, see “Sportsman & Outdoor Recreation Show – Feb 13th–15th,” MeetUp event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/220476710.For chapters that held public meetings in 2014: “Oath Keepers of Oregon Jackson County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 17, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/165172592; “ MeetUp event , May 8, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/179696252; “Oregon Oath Keepers Deschutes Chapter Start Up,” MeetUp event for November 13, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215776232; “Union County Oath Keepers of Oregon – General Meeting – Candidates Forum,” MeetUp event for October 28, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215983172; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for October 15, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/204384772; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for April 30, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/176655182; Oath Keepers of Oregon Coos County Chapter Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 26, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/195777552; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Multnomah County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 14, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/190826222; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Curry County Chapter Formation,” MeetUp event for January 18, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/160026592; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Portland Chapter (Gresham) General Meeting,” MeetUp event for December 2, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/151832752; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Portland Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for June 3, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/119666982; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Salem Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for November 9, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/147819052.

The Oregon Oath Keepers website listed links to organizations like PANDA (People Against the NDAA), Tenth Amendment Center, Oregon Firearms Federation, American Lands Council, and National Liberty Alliance.9)“Oath Keepers of Oregon Links,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org. In Oregon, the Oath Keepers have been building a grassroots movement, partly based on community service work and the creation of emergency-based response teams. The state website said that some of their actions included, “Building wheel chair ramps for the disabled,” “Repairing school playgrounds for disabled access,” and “Community Preparedness Teams to assist in emergencies.”10)“Oath Keepers Oregon,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160406033648/http://oroathkeepers.org/action.html.

In August 2015, the national Oath Keepers leadership—who had previously focused on high-profile, media-friendly actions—was promoting the Oregon’s volunteer service approach. According to the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, national founder Stewart Rhodes called on chapters to both promote militias, as well as to join local “volunteer fire departments and churches, neighborhood watch groups, search and rescue and other first responder groups, and VFW groups.”11)Devin Burghart, “Oath Keepers Roll Out Plan to Infiltrate Local Institutions [Video],” Institute For Research & Education On Human Rights, November 3, 2015, www.irehr.org/2015/11/03/oath-keepers-roll-out-plan-to-infiltrate-local-institutions-video. At the same time, many Oregon Oath Keepers—fresh from the conflict at Sugar Pine Mine—also travelled to Lincoln, Montana to help establish armed camps at the White Hope Mine.12)Elias Alias, “Press Release: Operation Big Sky: Lincoln, Montana,” Oath Keepers, August 9, 2015, www.oathkeepers.org/press-release-operation-big-sky-lincoln-montana

In July 2016, Joseph Rice, leader of the Oath Keepers of Josephine County, said that “in the last year or so a lot of the Oregon Oath Keeper chapters have stopped and they’ve disbanded. But it doesn’t mean those individuals are no longer participating in securing and preserving Constitutional rights. They’ve just named themselves something else.” The next month, his organization website announced they were no longer with the national Oath Keepers, and unveiled their new name: the Citizen Patriots of Josephine County.13)Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016, and email to author, August 25, 2016; see also Citizen Patriots of Josephine County, www.cpjoco.com.

References   [ + ]

1. “Active ‘Patriot’ Groups in the United States in 2009,” Southern Poverty Law Center, March 1, 2010, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2010/active-patriot-groups-united-states-2009.
2. “We Will Not Comply – Come and Take Them—Part 4 of 4,” YouTube video, 37:49, posted by “RealEstateinMoto,” December 17, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrh7FvKxrg&noredirect=1.
3. In October 2013, Ford (then described as a “recent transplant from California”) and McKirgan were described as the Northern and Southern Oregon Oath Keepers’ leaders, respectively. See Volubrjotr, “Oath Keepers Unite With P.A.N.D.A. To Stop McCain’s NDAA In Oregon: Rotate Honor Guards To Ensure WWII Veterans’ Access To Memorial,” Political Vel Craft, October 16, 2013, https://politicalvelcraft.org/2013/10/16/oath-keepers-unite-with-p-a-n-d-a-to-stop-mccains-ndaa-in-oregon-rotate-honor-guards-to-ensure-wwii-veterans-access-to-memorial. In April 2015, Ford is referred to as the sole state Coordinator (as well as a member of the Oath Keepers National Board); see “Calling all Oath Keepers to help with Security at the Sugar Pine Mine, April 17, 2015,” Meetup event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/221921869.Today, McKirgan is part of Oregon III%, and is the leader of Zone 4 (Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Coos, and Curry counties). He is also one of the two national administrators of the “3%ERS” Facebook group, which has over 24,000 members (www.facebook.com/groups/THE3PERCENTERS/admins). Facebook post, August 2016, screenshot in possession of author.
4. “Oath Keepers of Oregon” Oath Keepers, www.oathkeepers.org/Oregon.
5. For CPT leader, see Stewart Rhodes, “Historic ‘Militia’ Moment: Pacific Patriot Network (Including Oath Keepers) Calls On FBI,” Oath Keepers, January 10, 2016, www.oathkeepers.org/9435-2; for Sugar Pine Mine and Bundy Ranch, see James Pogue, “The Oath Keepers Are Ready for War with the Federal Government,” VICE, September 14, 2015, www.vice.com/read/miner-threat-0000747-v22n9; for Rapolla at Bundy Ranch with weapons, see “Bundy Ranch, III%, Militia, Independence,” YouTube video, 7:19, posted by “Brandon Rapolla,” July 4, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vXYAJPrp-I. Rice confirmed with me that Rapolla was a Pacific Patriots Network founder; Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016.
6. Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org. The last capture on archive.org was April 30, 2016, and the website is presently offline. There is only one post on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/OathKeepersofOregon, between June 2015 and July 2016.
7. See Baker County Solutions, https://bakercountysolutions.wordpress.com.
8. For the 2015 and 2016 meetings, see: “Josephine County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” Meetup event for August 11, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/233027958; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Baker County,” MeetUp event for December 15, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/227416404; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Linn and Benton County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for March 6, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229239175; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties,” MeetUp event for June 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/qltlnhyvjbvb; “Oath Keepers of Washington County Monthly Meetings,” MeetUp event for April 28, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/230501466; “Columbia County Oath Keepers Celebrating our 2 year anniversary,” MeetUp event for April 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229980453; “Lane County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 21, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/228741920; Malheur County Oath Keepers Meet and Greet,” MeetUp event, January 9, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/219657841; “Oathkeepers of central Oregon,” MeetUp event for August 25, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224780403; “Oath Keepers of Klamath County,” MeetUp event for August 20, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224691943; for Douglas County, see “Sportsman & Outdoor Recreation Show – Feb 13th–15th,” MeetUp event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/220476710.For chapters that held public meetings in 2014: “Oath Keepers of Oregon Jackson County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 17, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/165172592; “ MeetUp event , May 8, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/179696252; “Oregon Oath Keepers Deschutes Chapter Start Up,” MeetUp event for November 13, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215776232; “Union County Oath Keepers of Oregon – General Meeting – Candidates Forum,” MeetUp event for October 28, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215983172; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for October 15, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/204384772; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for April 30, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/176655182; Oath Keepers of Oregon Coos County Chapter Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 26, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/195777552; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Multnomah County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 14, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/190826222; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Curry County Chapter Formation,” MeetUp event for January 18, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/160026592; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Portland Chapter (Gresham) General Meeting,” MeetUp event for December 2, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/151832752; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Portland Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for June 3, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/119666982; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Salem Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for November 9, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/147819052.
9. “Oath Keepers of Oregon Links,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org.
10. “Oath Keepers Oregon,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160406033648/http://oroathkeepers.org/action.html.
11. Devin Burghart, “Oath Keepers Roll Out Plan to Infiltrate Local Institutions [Video],” Institute For Research & Education On Human Rights, November 3, 2015, www.irehr.org/2015/11/03/oath-keepers-roll-out-plan-to-infiltrate-local-institutions-video.
12. Elias Alias, “Press Release: Operation Big Sky: Lincoln, Montana,” Oath Keepers, August 9, 2015, www.oathkeepers.org/press-release-operation-big-sky-lincoln-montana
13. Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016, and email to author, August 25, 2016; see also Citizen Patriots of Josephine County, www.cpjoco.com.
Spencer Sunshine, Ph.D. (associate fellow) researches the Patriot movement, unorthodox fascist currents, left/right crossover movements, and left-wing antisemitism. He is the lead author of the 2016 report Up In Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement, which is a collaboration between PRA and Oregon’s Rural Organizing Project. Follow him on Twitter at @transform6789.