This is particularly the case with the Oath Keepers’ reach into the ranks of law enforcement. ADL researchers identified 373 people named in the database currently serving in a number of law enforcement agencies around the United States. They also found an estimated 1,100 individuals who previously served in law enforcement.
“This number is far higher than any previously identified number of extremists within law enforcement,” the report said, noting that a 2021 ADL report was able to identify only 76 cases in which extremists were working in law enforcement.
The report found that these 373 law-enforcement employees included a variety of positions, “including officers, detectives, sergeants, lieutenants, and captains. However, COE also identified individuals who we believe are currently holding senior leadership positions within their respective agencies, including at least ten chiefs of police and eleven sheriffs.”
The ADL’s thorough review of the data also confirmed earlier assessments finding that the Oath Keepers’ rolls included a number of elected officials—though its final tally of 81 such members is nearly double that found in earlier reports. “These individuals run the gamut from local office—mayors, town councilmembers, school board members—to state representatives and senators,” it reported.
There were also significant numbers of members of the military among the Oath Keepers. ADL researchers identified 117 people currently serving in one of the branches of the U.S. military, as well as another 11 people serving in the reserves, and 31 who are either military contractors or hold civilian positions.
The presence of far-right extremists within the ranks of the military has been a matter of acute concern at the Pentagon since the Jan. 6 insurrection, after which it was revealed that a large number of the people arrested for attacking the Capitol have military backgrounds or were active in the forces. Subsequently, we’ve found that not only was there an explosion of infiltration of the military by extremists after 2017, but that they have become much more deeply entrenched than anyone anticipated.
More generally, the ADL found a broad range of employment in the Oath Keepers membership beyond law enforcement, public office, and the military. They’re also first responders, government employees, teachers, religious figures, and businessmen, among others.
But the size of their presence within the ranks of police departments found in the data is particularly worrisome. From the outset, the Oath Keepers have represented a subtle but significant threat: namely, the infiltration of law enforcement and the military with conspiracist far-right ideologies, which has always posed the likelihood that extremist violence will be enabled both by police officers who permit it or enable it, and by the heightened competence of far-right terrorists who have received training in handling arms and materiel.
“It’s really problematic if you have members of law enforcement saying, for example, that they’re not going to comply with federal court orders because they think those federal court orders are unconstitutional,” Sam Jackson, a University of Albany professor and author of Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group, told OPB.
When joining the Oath Keepers, a number of enrollees made a variety of written comments explaining their interest and offering their own particular skill sets as assets for the organization. They also offered to use their positions within their departments to help recruit new members.
“I’ve already introduced your web site to dozens of my Deputies,” wrote Major Eben Bratcher, of the sheriff’s office in Yuma County, Arizona.
Others offered to put their law-enforcement skills and connections to work for the Oath Keepers. Anaheim Police Department Sergeant Michael Lynch wrote that he has “a wide variety of law enforcement experience, including undercover operations, surveillance, and SWAT. I am also a member of the executive board for my police labor association.”
When contacted by ADL researchers, Lynch claimed he didn’t renew his membership because “I didn’t get anything out of it.” Similarly, Bratcher claimed that he had dropped out of the Oath Keepers several years ago because it sent too many emails.
Indeed, a number of the law-enforcement officers who appear in the database now claim they had dropped out previously, while others turned away from the Oath Keepers after Jan. 6. Rachel Carroll Rivas of the Southern Poverty Law Center told the Associated Press that the Oath Keepers have had trouble keeping members in the aftermath of the insurrection, particularly after founder Stewart Rhodes was charged with seditionist conspiracy earlier this year.
Many of the people who joined Oath Keepers were people who wanted to be considered respectable in their communities. Rivas said, “The image of being associated with Jan. 6 was too much for many of those folks.”
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