Oath Keepers

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Oath Keepers
Oathkeepers logo.png
Oath Keepers logo
Motto “Not on our watch!”
Formation March 2009
Founder Stewart Rhodes
Purpose "To defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic"
Leader Stewart Rhodes
Stewart Rhodes, John D. Shirley, Jay Stang, Jim Ayala, Joseph Santoro, Michele Imburgia, Denny Peyman, John Kerriman
Website oathkeepers.org

Oath Keepers is an American organization associated with the patriot movement.[1] It encourages members—some of whom are current and former U.S. military and law enforcement officers,—not to obey orders which violate the United States Constitution. The group is best known for its controversial presence in Ferguson, Missouri during protests and unrest in the city, and during which its members were armed with semi-automatic rifles[2][3] and were described as a far-right militia group by the media.[4][5][6][7]

The organization describes itself as a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders, who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”[8]

Organizational history

Oath Keepers was founded in March 2009 by Stewart Rhodes.[9][10] Rhodes is a Yale Law School graduate, a former US Army paratrooper, and a former staffer of Republican Congressman Ron Paul.[11] Rhodes was disbarred by the Montana Supreme Court for conduct violating the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct on December 8, 2015 after refusing to respond to disciplinary action regarding grievances filed against him in the Federal District of Arizona.[12]

Rhodes is reported to have taken inspiration from the idea that Hitler could have been stopped if German soldiers and police had refused to follow orders.[13] In this same context, Stewart has compared Hillary Clinton to Hitler, writing in S.W.A.T. Magazine in 2008, '“It” (a full-blown totalitarian police state) cannot happen here if the majority of police and soldiers obey their oaths to defend the Constitution and refuse to enforce the unconstitutional edicts of the "Leader." Imagine that Herr[14] Hitlery is sworn in as president in 2009. After a conveniently timed “domestic terrorism” incident (just a coincidence, of course) or yet another Prozac induced mass shooting, she promptly crams a United Nations mandated, Great Britain style, total ban on the private possession of firearms through a compliant, Democratically controlled Congress.'[15]

Orders Oath Keepers Will Not Obey

Central to Oath Keeper ideology is the list of orders they will not obey.

  1. We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.

  2. We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people
  3. We will NOT obey orders to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to military tribunal.

  4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state.
  5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.
  6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.
  7. We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.

  8. We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control."

  9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.

  10. We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.


The organization claims on its website that full membership is open to "currently serving military, reserves, National Guard, police, fire-fighters, other first responders (i.e. State Guard, Sheriff Posse/Auxiliary, Search & Rescue, EMT, other medical 1st responders, etc.) AND veterans/former members of those services," and that others who support the organization's mission can become associate members.[8] The organization claims to have up to 30,000 firefighters as members, though this figure has been questioned by some critics.[16]

Racism accusations

Unnamed protesters have accused the group of racism, especially after groups of all-white members armed with rifles congregated in Ferguson during riots related to allegations of police brutality and racial inequality.[17] The group says its bylaws prevent potential members from joining if they have a history of bigotry or have been associated with any discriminatory organization.[18] Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in an interview that the group has no history of political violence. NPR. NPR, August 12, 2015. Web. August 13, 2015. NPR</ref>

In August 2015, John Karriman, a teacher at Missouri Southern State University's Police Academy and head of the Missouri chapter of the Oath Keepers used the term “mulatto” to describe U.S. President Obama on CBC Radio’s As It Happens program.[19] The context of the comments was that with the USA having elected minorities to government, we should see improvements in race relations. The term mulatto refers to a person that is half white and half black, and it not a negative reference. This was not a racial slur, and it was used in the context of hoping for better race relations because Obama was president. When reading the full paragraph spoken by Karriman, it is obvious that no slur was intended.

Southern Poverty Law Center is itself a radical organization that has developed a list of targeted persons and organizations. SPLC has declared that many Christian groups are "hate" groups because of their adherence to the bible as it is written. Apparently SPLC also targets groups that strictly adhere to the US Constitution, as in the case of Oath Keepers. SPLC has recently been found to be parking large amounts of cash in foreign accounts and has been unwilling to give an accounting of that. When SPLC comments on organizations like Oath Keepers, it is from a super-partisan, super progressive stance, and therefore SPLC comments on Oath Keepers should be discarded due to the flagrant bias.[20]

Statements against a few members of Oath Keepers side-step the fact that every large organization has some members that hold unpopular views and that these views are not positions promoted by the organization. As an example, Reverend Wright's views of militant black theology were not held against President Obama despite a multi-decade personal association. Reverend Wright's views were not taken to represent the protestant church for example. And by these same guidelines, picking and choosing a few members of the Oath Keepers as being representative of the entire group is clearly political bias and is a double standard.


Ferguson protests

In late November 2014 during the unrest in Ferguson, the Oath Keepers put out a national request to its members to help in the city after the grand jury decision was released in the Shooting of Michael Brown case. In reference to the perceived failure of the government's response to the unrest, the organization's founder, Stewart Rhodes, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “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." On December 2, 2014, volunteer security guards associated with the Oath Keepers kept armed watch on Ferguson rooftops, ignoring a police order to stop.[21]

In August 2015, four members of the group appeared again on the streets of Ferguson, following peaceful street demonstrations on the anniversary of Brown's shooting.[17][13][22][23][24] According to an article in the Washington Post, "The men — all of them white and heavily armed — said they were in the area to protect someone who worked for the Web site Infowars.com, which is affiliated with talk-radio conspiracy theorist and self-described 'thought criminal against Big Brother' Alex Jones." The Oath Keepers claimed to be on the side of the protestors.[25] St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told the newspaper that the Oath Keepers' "...presence was both unnecessary and inflammatory.”[25]

The group's activities in Ferguson led to them being labeled "vigilantes" by some journalists.[26][27]

Pacific Northwest mine disputes

In 2015 armed Oath Keepers in the Pacific Northwest attended two disputes between gold miners and federal authorities. In April they gathered in Medford, Oregon at the request of the owners of the Sugar Pine Mine near Galice, after the owners were ordered to stop working the mine by the Bureau of Land Management,[28][29] despite pending litigation challenging the BLM's authority over the land. In August they patrolled the White Hope Mine in the Helena National Forest, about 20 miles from Lincoln, Montana; the US Forest Service said the mine had engaged in illegal construction and tree-felling.[30][31]

Bundy standoff

In 2014 Oath Keepers were present at the Bundy Ranch standoff, when agents of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seized cattle that a rancher was judged to be illegally grazing on federal land in Clark County, Nevada.[32][33]

Kim Davis

On September 10, 2015, the Oath Keepers announced that they would travel to Rowan County, Kentucky to protect Kim Davis from federal marshals should she be held in contempt for a second time for violating a court order prohibiting her from interfering with marriage licensing in her office.[34]

Members were advised the following day that Kim Davis' legal team, acting on her behalf, had declined their offer. While members were still welcome to visit Rowan County, it would be in an unofficial capacity only with Kim Davis' right to the "...time honored, respectable, and honorable American tradition" of civil disobedience being acknowledged.[35]


In the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) 2009 report The Second Wave: Return of the Militias, Larry Keller wrote that the Oath Keepers "may be a particularly worrisome example of the Patriot revival."[36] Keller described Richard Mack, an Oath Keeper, as a "longtime militia hero"[36][37] and quoted him as having said, "The greatest threat we face today is not terrorists; it is our federal government. ... One of the best and easiest solutions is to depend on local officials, especially the sheriff, to stand against federal intervention and federal criminality."[36] Mack, a former sheriff, responded by denying the claims, saying, "I have had no contact with any militia group and have never been a member of any militia."[38][39]

In 2009 the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) wrote in a report that, "The 'orders' the Oath Keepers refuse [to obey] reveal their extreme conspiratorial mindset, because the 'orders' are not instructions ever likely to be actually handed down by Obama or his officials; instead, they are reflective of the anti-government conspiracy theories embraced by the extreme right."[40]

Quoting the Las Vegas Review-Journal, MSNBC political commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan said, "Oath Keepers, depending on where one stands, are either strident defenders of liberty or dangerous peddlers of paranoia." Buchanan himself concluded that "America was once their country. They sense they are losing it."[41][42]

Fox News Radio host Lou Dobbs spoke with founder Stewart Rhodes on his radio show in 2009 and criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center for "perpetuating the same kind of intolerance it claims to condemn."[43] On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews questioned Rhodes about his "vigilante group" and on his "strange view of the world."[43]

Midnight Ride

The Oath Keepers have sponsored a film, Midnight Ride, by filmmaker James Jaeger. The film purports to show how the "militia system" could maintain "constitutional order" if the United States were hypothetically under martial law. According to Jaeger, the film is inspired by lawyer and Oath Keepers member Edwin Vieira's book, By Tyranny Out of Necessity: The Bastardy of Martial Law, and will feature interviews with politician Ron Paul, writer and conspiracy theorist G. Edward Griffin, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, Richard Mack, and Oath Keepers national Chaplain Chuck Baldwin.[44]

Jaeger has been criticised as anti-Semitic by the editor of The American Interest magazine, Adam Garfinkle.[45] Jaeger's websites feature a number of antisemitic articles, including, "Who rules America"[46] and, "Stunning Jewish Success Dominates American Media".[47] Jaeger has accused Mossad and Israel of being behind 9/11.[48]


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External links