The Oath Keepers Are Patrolling The Roofs In Ferguson With Guns

There is a new brand of vigilante justice in Ferguson, Missouri, and they go by the name of the Oath Keepers. The group has taken to the roofs of the town in order to keep the peace and fulfill their mission "to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic." But their presence has met with concern from both police officers and residents, who remain somewhat unclear as to who exactly the Oath Keepers are, and why they are patrolling Ferguson's roofs with guns.

Initially, some believed that these men, who wore military fatigues and were armed, might be members of the Ku Klux Klan, or some other radical organization whose presence would only add fuel to the already burning fires of the post-Darren Wilson landscape of the St. Louis suburb. But the Oath Keepers are not the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, they are a 35,000-strong contingency of "current and formerly serving military, reserves, National Guard, veterans, Peace Officers, and Fire Fighters" who have taken an oath to defend the Constitution.

Founded in 2009 by Yale Law School graduate and former Ron Paul aide Stewart Rhodes, the group has taken to Ferguson in order to defend against what Rhodes describes as an "overly militarized police." The group was first noticed earlier in the week by concerned home and business owners, but were initially allowed to stay after being questioned by police. However, following increased media attention surrounding their presence, law enforcement officials reneged on their initial offer, and threatened to arrest them for operating without a license.

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The group left their voluntary posts on Saturday, but Rhodes says that they would return as protestors in the days following. The group's founder told the St. Louis Dispatch that he was disappointed with the way in which local, state and federal officials handled the situation, particularly following the announcement that Darren Wilson would not be charged with any crimes associated with Mike Brown's death. Said Rhodes,

We thought they were going to do it right this time. But when Monday rolled around and they didn’t park the National Guard at these businesses, that’s when we said we have got to do something. Historically, the government almost always fails to protect people.

Sam Andrews, a former Defense Department contractor, concurs with this view, and has been involved in "recruit[ing] and organiz[ing] private security details for businesses in Ferguson," according to the New York Times. Andrews attributes the motivations of many of these civilian militia men to a number of different sources, but told the Times,

I think in most of them, there’s probably something that they probably don’t even recognize: that we have a moral obligation to protect the weakest among us. When we see these violent people, these arsonists and anarchists, attacking, it just pokes at you in a deep place.
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Andrews did not disclose the number of people involved in the Oath Keepers' efforts, saying only that they numbered "more than five, less than 500." He also noted that the demographics of the volunteers are 80 percent men, 80 percent white, and 10 percent black. According to the Post-Dispatch, individuals traveled from states as far away as Nebraska, Texas and Indiana, though some locals also participated.

The group purports to be non-partisan, and has made its mission in Ferguson to keep protestors safe. Other than standing guard on Ferguson roofs, the Oath Keepers have also helped residents board up windows, and provided water and fire extinguishers to particularly incendiary or high-risk areas of the town. Volunteer John Karriman of Joplin, Missouri told the International Business Times, "We are here to volunteer our time and make sure everybody stays safe," and noted that his regret was that the group could not have made an appearance sooner.

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The group itself has a strange history and has never been fully understood by various media outlets that have attempted to create a profile on the Oath Keepers. In 2010, Mother Jones ran an in-depth piece covering the group's actions and their motivations, and found that membership ranged from Ivy League educated intellectuals (like their founder), to serious conspiracy theorists with a great distrust of the government. As Justine Sharrock wrote for the magazine,

In the months I’ve spent getting to know the Oath Keepers, I’ve toggled between viewing them either as potentially dangerous conspiracy theorists or as crafty intellectuals with the savvy to rally politicians to their side. The answer, I came to realize, is that they cover the whole spectrum.
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Rhodes told the Times that he is careful to screen potential volunteers, particularly those who travel to areas like Ferguson to be part of the frontline of defense. Said Rhodes, "I don’t want any racists in my group. I don’t want any people who want to visit violence on any group. I only want professionals with real credentials that can be verified and have experience in dealing with violence."

Regardless of who exactly the Oath Keepers are, their appearance and indeed, their acceptance by Ferguson residents speaks volumes to the perceived continued failures of local and statewide government to protect their citizenry. As David Vo, a restaurant owner in Ferguson told the Times, "When they’re here, there’s definitely a weight lifted off of our shoulders. I’d be lying if I said otherwise."

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