Peas in an Oregon Pod: Right-Wing Paramilitaries & The GOP

The Republican Party of Multnomah County, Oregon (which includes Portland) disregarded public outcry when it passed a resolution last week to allow private, paramilitary groups to provide security functions at GOP events. Chairman James Buchal said they would work with two groups—the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters—that are part of the Patriot movement. This heavily armed Hard Right political movement is famous for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and armed confrontations in Nevada in 2014 and in southeast Oregon in 2016. Giving semi-official sanction to an armed and unaccountable paramilitary opens the door to legally tolerated extra-parliamentary violence, and helps link radical right-wing elements directly to the mainstream.

What Is the Patriot Movement?

The Patriot movement seeks to undermine democratic structures, often through threats and use of violence, and its political views are rooted in various conspiracy theories. It promotes radical, right-wing decentralization, particularly regarding the economy and federal regulations. Many members support the legally spurious idea that county sheriffs can decide which laws to enforce, and they frequently form paramilitary groups. Last, they are deeply opposed to progressive social movements.

The Oath Keepers, led by disbarred lawyer Stewart Rhodes, is a national organization of current and former military, police, and first responders that formed in 2009. The Three Percenters, launched in 2008, are more a decentralized grouping—individuals can declare themselves to be Three Percenters, although groups exist as well—and they are frequently more extreme in their views and practice. Together, these two groups are the most important armed groups in the Patriot movement.

Both the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters have been part of numerous armed encampments and standoffs with law enforcement, including in Nevada at the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, and at the Sugar Pine Mine encampment in southwestern Oregon in 2015. Both groups were also part of a “buffer zone” between law enforcement and armed Patriot movement members who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters outside of Burns, Oregon in January and February 2016. (A handful of Three Percenters took part in the occupation itself.) In Oregon, Patriot movement activists have a history of harassing and making threats against progressive organizers, which have included property invasions, and disruptions of events; elected officials and law enforcement have also been threatened. Rhodes has gone so far as to call on his “civil defense units” to “fight in the street” against “these radical Black Lives Matter people and the black anarchists, the black flag anarchists.”

Since February 2017, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters have acted as security or otherwise attended events where neo-Nazis and other avowed white supremacists have been in attendance. These have included a rally in Lake Oswego, a suburb of Portland. Oath Keepers have also appeared at rallies alongside fascists from Identity Evropa both in Berkeley in April 2017, as well as in New York City in June. Also, at an April 2017 rally Pikeville, Kentucky, Oath Keepers helped law enforcement protect neo-Nazis from protesters as they were leaving a rally.

Patriot movement paramilitaries have also acted as security at events held by elected officials in Washington State. For example, a video shows well-known activist Ken Barker among those guarding a Republican Party meeting in Colville in May 2017, which was attended by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).

Links Between the Patriot Movement and Republican Party in Oregon

As I documented in Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement, a report jointly issued in 2016 by Political Research Associates and the Rural Organizing Project, Patriot movement paramilitaries have close ties with the Oregon Republican Party. A number of Oregon elected officials have appeared at Patriot movement events, including ones where paramilitaries sported firearms. They have included State Senator Kim Thatcher and State Representatives Bill Post and Mike Nearman. In February 2015 in Salem, they even appeared alongside Three Percenter co-founder Mike Vanderboegh (now deceased) as he openly threatened “civil war” against the administration of Oregon Governor Kate Brown. There are also a number of county-level officials, such as Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer, who are directly tied to the movement.

In addition to officials who are Patriot movement sympathizers, in Oregon the movement attempted to take over the Republican Party structure itself during the spring 2016 elections. Between fifty and a hundred movement activists were elected Precinct Committee People, the lowest position in the party. At the June 2016 Oregon Republican Party state convention, at least five Patriot movement activists and sympathizers were elected to state party positions or as delegates to the national convention.

The movement failed to overtake the state GOP leadership, however. Paramilitary leader Joseph Rice recently came in a distant second to become the state GOP leader. Rice was a Trump delegate at the 2016 Republican Convention; at that time he lead a group that was still called the Oath Keepers of Josephine County, which was described as the national group’s “flagship” organization. Three Percenter Tim Harris also ran for Vice Chair in the 2017 party election—although he received only 1 percent of the vote.

Oath Keepers in Distress in Oregon

The Oath Keepers have had major defections in Oregon. Rice’s group broke away from the national organization in the fall 2016, changing their name first to Citizen Patriots of Josephine County, and then to Liberty Watch of Josephine County. Rice told the Southern Poverty Law Center that potential members “would not join the group as long as Stewart Rhodes was in charge.” Two state leaders also left the Oath Keepers over Rhodes’s insistence they attend a June 4, 2017 rally in Portland.

This supposed “Free Speech” rally occurred after Jeremy Christian—who had attended a ultra-nationalist rally (also masquerading as a free speech rally) in Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood in April 2017—murdered two men who intervened against his Islamophobic and racist harassment of two young women on mass transit. Thousands protested the June 4 march.

Rhodes Strikes a Deal

The agreement with the Multnomah County GOP apparently was struck by Rhodes himself. He was in touch with both Buchal and the Portland Police Department to coordinate with them before the June 4 rally. At the event, Buchal encouraged the crowd-—filled with Alt Right activists, Patriot movement paramilitaries, and fascists from Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Party—to get involved with the Republican Party. At the rally a Patriot movement activist also attracted national attention when he assisted law enforcement in arresting a counter-protester.

The Multnomah County GOP’s contract with private paramilitaries is yet another step in legitimizing unaccountable paramilitary violence in support of a Trumpist Republican Party. This is particularly troubling as the Oath Keepers’ leader has called his armed followers to “fight in the streets” against political opponents, long before Trump’s election.

Hiring Oath Keepers and Three Percenters won’t prevent violence, but in fact will invite it. And it helps form an unbroken link in the chain between neo-Nazis and the Republican Party.

Further readings:

The Oath Keepers in Oregon

Click here to read the full report.

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.

Profile on the Right: Oath Keepers

Oath Keepers Logo

Oath Keepers is one of the largest anti-government “patriot” groups in the nation.  The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) includes the organization in its list of Hate and Extremist Groups and its Patriot Movement Timeline.1 Oath Keepers differs from the 1990s wave of patriot movements in that “full members” of the organization are former and current military and police.

Oath Keepers was registered as a nonprofit in Nevada in 2009.2  Stewart Rhodes, founder and president of the organization, is a Yale graduate and former Congressional staffer for Ron Paul. Founding directors included Richard Mack, who continues as a director and the organization’s most prominent
spokesperson.3 4

The stated purpose of the Oath Keepers is to organize and train current and former military, police, and first responders to refuse to “obey unconstitutional orders.” 5  New members make an oath affirming “ten orders we will not obey” and liken their mission to resisting the tyranny of Nazi Germany. In 2014, the organization claimed 40,000 members in chapters in all fifty states,6 up from 30,000 reported in a 2011 interview with Rhodes in the libertarian Reason Magazine. 7 8  Full membership is available for current and former members of the military, National Guard, Reserves, police, firefighters, and first responders.  Other are eligible for associate membership.

The “Friends of Oath Keepers,” listed on the organization’s website, include the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), Gun Owners of America (GOA), the Tenth Amendment Center, and S.W.A.T. Magazine.

CSPOA9, an organization for “oathkeeper sheriffs,” was founded in 2011 by Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff who is known for challenging the Brady Bill in Mack and Printz v. United States. Mack has also been a lobbyist for GOA and co-authored a book with Randy Weaver about Ruby Ridge, the 1992 incident which has served as a rallying cry for Patriot and militia groups.  CSPOA is specifically for sheriffs who would “be willing to interpose on behalf of the people to protect their freedom.”10   The mission is to “train and vet them all [county sheriffs], state by state, to understand and enforce the constitutionally protected Rights of the people they serve, with an emphasis on State Sovereignty and local autonomy.”11  The mission statement continues, “In short, the CSPOA will be the army that sets our country free.”

For both the Oath Keepers and the CSPOA, the enemy keeping the country from being free is the federal government. Both groups promote and train for resistance to “unconstitutional” actions of federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration.  They prioritize fighting any type of gun control.

Rhodes has written that he got the idea for organizing Oath Keepers while volunteering for Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, and first started a blog in which he warned about threats to gun rights in a new administration.  He reposted an article he had written for S.W.A.T. Magazine warning that after being sworn in as president, Hillary Clinton (“Herr Hitlery”) would sign a “total ban on private possession of firearms.”12  Rhodes continued, claiming that the “dominatrix-in-chief” would declare “the entire militia movement” to be enemy combatants, and order resisters of gun confiscation to be shot. The article was accompanied by photographs of Nazi atrocities.13  Oath Keeper media products feature former Congressman Paul, GOA’s Larry Pratt, and “New World Order” or one-world government conspiracists including G. Edward Griffin and Alex Jones.

The Oath Keepers capitalized on the emerging Tea Party movement and the “Ron Paul Revolution” to build its membership.14  As noted in a Mother Jones article on the Oath Keepers, Rhodes sent speakers to administer the organization’s oath at 30 Tea Party rallies in the early days of the movement.15  Association with the Tea Party, and the willingness of local authorities to participate, has enabled Oath Keepers and CSPOA to gain more access to the mainstream than many in the patriot movement of the 1990s.

Photo: Stewart Rhodes, Sheriff Brad Rogers<a href=

Stewart Rhodes,  Sheriff Brad Rogers18 (CSPOA member) and Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore speak at the Bundy ranch in April 2014.19

On April 10, 2014, Oath Keepers posted an announcement about their participation with CSPOA in the Cliven Bundy standoff with the federal Bureau of Land Management. “[We must] stand vigil at the Bundy ranch to prevent the Federal Government provocation of violence resulting in another Ruby Ridge or Waco type incident.” 16  Oath Keepers paid for the Elkhart Indiana sheriff to make the trip to participate.17

 

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End Notes

1 http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/summer/meet-the-patriots/the-patriot-movemen

2 http://nvsos.gov/sosentitysearch/CorpDetails.aspx?lx8nvq=s8EtUq7rLzqNBvRDF%252b%252fglQ%253d%253d&nt7=0

3 Other directors listed on the Nevada registration are Jeff Ford, James Hanna, Michele Imburgia, Sharon M. Manery, John Shirley, L. Franklin Shook III, and Jay Stang.  Jay Stang is head of Texas Oath Keepers and the son of the late Alan Stang.

4 Stewart Rhodes continues as president and Richard Mack is on the current board of directors.  Other current directors are Michele Imburgia, L. Franklin Shook III, John D. Shirley, Jay Stang, David Helms, Jeff W. Ford, and Jim Ayala.  http://oathkeepers.org/oktester/board-of-directors/

5 http://oathkeepers.org/oktester/about/

6 https://web.archive.org/web/20140414202439/http://oathkeepers.org/oath/2014/04/10/coalition-of-western-state-legislators-sheriffs-and-veterans-stand-vigil-in-support-of-embattled-nevada-rancher-cliven-bundy-%E2%80%98to-prevent-another-ruby-ridge-or-waco%E2%80%9D/

7 http://reason.com/archives/2011/02/07/an-interview-with-stewart-rhod

8 http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/03/oath-keepers

9 https://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/22/profiles-on-the-right-constitutional-sheriffs-and-peace-officers-association/

10 http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2012/winter/resurrection

11 http://cspoa.org/about/message-from-mack/

12 http://oath-keepers.blogspot.com/2009/05/keeping-your-oath-not-just-following.html

13 http://oath-keepers.blogspot.com/2009/05/keeping-your-oath-not-just-following.html

14 For more on the ideology of the Ron Paul Revolution and the promotion of nullification of federal law, see “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right” beginning on page 2 of the Fall 2014 Public Eye. https://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/12/PEfall2013_finalpdf_onserver.pdf

15 http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/03/oath-keepers?page=2

16 Archive of http://oathkeepers.org/oath/2014/04/10/coalition-of-western-state-legislators-sheriffs-and-veterans-stand-vigil-in-support-of-embattled-nevada-rancher-cliven-bundy-%E2%80%98to-prevent-another-ruby-ridge-or-waco%E2%80%9D/

17 http://www.elkharttruth.com/news/politics/Indiana-Buzz/2014/04/29/Elkhart-County-Sheriff-Brad-Rogers-defends-trip-to-Cliven-Bundy-ranch.html

18 http://www.elkhartcountysheriff.com/sheriff.html

19 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVLJnqwIezs