Where Have The Oath Keepers Been Seen Before? The Vigilante Group Has Been Making Small Appearances For Years
Protests have lit up again in Ferguson as the city remembers the one year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. The presence of four right-wing militia members has been generating a lot of controversy and unease, given that they have been openly carrying firearms while at the protests. The group consists of former and active members of the military and police who have taken an oath among themselves to protect the constitution. How exactly this connects to their presence in Ferguson now, and also at the original protests a year ago is an argument built on tenuous and extremely conservative rationale, but suffice it to say that the group wants to be seen and heard, and that's exactly what's happening. While their appearances in Ferguson both now and in 2014 are likely their most visible ones to date, the Oath Keepers have been showing up around the country for years.
The Oath Keepers were formed in 2009 by the group's leader, Stewart Rhodes, roughly the same time the Tea Party sect of the Republican party began gathering some steam. Since then, they've been popping up in small numbers in various locations, primarily making appearances and speeches at Tea Party events, and being invited as guests on far-right talk shows.
In the same year as their formation, Rhodes sent members of the Oath Keepers to more than 30 Tea Party events on 4th of July, according to Mother Jones. The purpose of their appearance was to "give the oath" to event attendees. This is typical of the sort of event where the Oath Keepers will turn up. And members of the group have frequented conservative talk shows in the past.
Oath Keepers member Gunter Spens appeared on Infowars Nightly News hosted by Alex Jones in 2011 to discuss his experience in the East German army, and he and Jones compared The Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to the start of the totalitarian state in Germany. The two of them went so far as to conclude that, as of December 2011, U.S. citizens had fewer "rights on paper" than in totalitarian Germany.
In August of 2011, several members of the Oath Keepers showed up in the small town of Quartzsite, Arizona, to march on their town hall in protest of an alleged financial controversy, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC argued that as "a group that traffics in conspiracy theories about government plots, [the Oath Keepers] were determined to use the controversy for their own ends." The group evidently decided to take a stand in Quartzsite after hearing about a blogger from this town of approximately 3,800 residents was arrested for refusing to leave a town hall meeting after demanding answers to the financial conspiracy theory. The group stayed in Quartzsite only very briefly, just long enough to declare that "If every community across the country simply did what's being done right here — right here, right now — we would restore our republic."
Even more controversial than these events, where they have mostly been preaching to their own choir and garnering attention for their cause, was a 2009 statement from the Oath Keepers that they had infiltrated the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The SPLC released a report around this time warning Congress that the group was dangerous, and asked Congress to take measures to "that the armed forces [were] not inadvertently training future domestic terrorists."
Since their inception six years ago, the Oath Keepers seem to prefer to show up in small numbers with the apparent goal of spreading their anti-government ideas and garnering momentum for their militia-like cause without ever creating too much of a rumble. More than anything, this fringe group's public appearances speak to their desire for attention over all else. Making their case on conservative talk shows and brief stints in various small towns across the U.S. seems to be their typical M.O., and one that doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon.