The names of hundreds of US law enforcement, elected officials and military personnel appear on leaked membership lists of a far-right extremist group accused of playing a key role in the riot. Jan. 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol, according to a report released Wednesday.
The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism has reviewed more than 38,000 names on leaked Oath Keepers membership lists and identified more than 370 people it says are currently working in law enforcement – including as police chiefs and sheriffs – and more than 100 people who are currently members of the military.
He also identified more than 80 people running for or holding public office as of early August. Membership information was compiled into a database published by the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets.
The data raises new concerns about the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military who are tasked with enforcing laws and protecting the United States. It is particularly problematic for public officials to be associated with extremists at a time when lies about the 2020 election are fueling threats of violence against lawmakers and institutions.
“Even for those who said they left the organization when it began employing more aggressive tactics in 2014, it’s important to remember that the Oath Keepers have espoused extremism since their founding, and that fact doesn’t matter. was not enough to dissuade these people from signing up,” the report said.
Appearance in the Oath Keepers database does not prove that a person was ever an active member of the group or shared its ideology. Some people on the list contacted by The Associated Press said they were briefly members years ago and are no longer affiliated with the group. Some said they had never contributed.
“Their views are way too extreme for me,” said Otero County, Colorado Sheriff Shawn Mobley. Mobley told the AP in an email that he distanced himself from the Oath Keepers years ago over concerns about his involvement in the clash with the feds at the Bundy Ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada. , among others.
The Oath Keepers, founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, is a loosely organized group fueled by conspiracy theory that recruits current and former military, police and first responders. It calls on its members to pledge to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic”, promotes the belief that the federal government seeks to deprive citizens of their civil liberties, and portrays its supporters as defenders against tyranny. .
More than two dozen people associated with the Oath Keepers – including Rhodes – have been charged in connection with the January 6 attack. Rhodes and four other Oath Keeper members or associates will stand trial this month on charges of seditious conspiracy in what prosecutors have described as a week-long plot to keep President Donald Trump in power. Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers say they are innocent and there was no plan to attack the Capitol.
The Oath Keepers grew rapidly with the broader anti-government movement and used the tools of the internet to spread their message during Barack Obama’s presidency, said Rachel Carroll Rivas, acting deputy director of research at Southern Poverty Law. Center’s Intelligence Project. But since Jan. 6 and Rhodes’ arrest, the group has struggled to keep its members, she said.
This was partly because the Oath-Keepers had been so strongly associated with Rhodes that the removal of the central figure had an outsized impact, and partly because many associated with the group were often those who wanted to be seen as respectable. in their communities, she said.
“The image of being associated with January 6 was too much for a lot of these people,” she said.
Among the elected officials whose name appears on the membership rolls is South Dakota State Rep. Phil Jensen, who won a Republican primary in June in his bid for re-election. Jensen told the AP that he paid for a one-year membership in 2014, never received documentation from Oath Keepers, attended any meetings or renewed his membership.
Jensen said he felt compelled to join because he “believed in the oath we took to uphold the American Constitution and to defend it against enemies foreign and domestic.” I don’t have enough information about the band today.
“In 2014 they seemed like a pretty solid conservative group, I can’t talk to them now,” he said.
ADL said it found the names of at least 10 people who now work as police chiefs and 11 sheriffs. All police and sheriff chiefs who responded to the AP said they no longer have any ties to the group.
“I don’t even know what they post. I never get updates,” said Mike Hollinshead, sheriff of Elmore County in Idaho. “I don’t pay dues or membership fees or anything.”
Hollinshead, a Republican, said he was campaigning for sheriff several years ago when voters asked him if he knew of the Oath Keepers. Hollinshead said he wanted to know more about the band and remembers paying to access content from the Oath Keepers website, but that was the extent of his involvement.
Benjamin Boeke, police chief of Oskaloosa, Iowa, recalled receiving emails from the group years ago and said he thought a friend might have signed him up. But he said he never paid to become a member and knew nothing about the band.
Idalou, Texas police chief Eric Williams also said in an email that he has not been a member or had any interaction with the Oath Keepers in more than 10 years. He called the capture of the Capitol “terrible in every way”.
“I pray that this country finds its way back to civility and peace by talking to each other,” he said.
Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst in Washington contributed to this report.