IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

It's time for law enforcement to wash off the stink of Oath Keepers

Nine Oath Keepers, including its founder, have been charged with seditious conspiracy, one of the most serious federal crimes.
Image: A demonstrator wearing a badge over a protective vest that reads,\"Oath Keepers. Guardians of the Republic. Not on our watch.\"
A demonstrator wearing an "Oath Keepers" badge on a protective vest during a protest outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Jan. 5, 2021.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

According to The Associated Press, the names of hundreds of law enforcement officers, military troops and elected officials were among the names of 38,000 Oath Keepers on a leaked membership list analyzed by the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism. Oath Keepers is a domestic extremist group closely associated with the violence on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol. Nine of its members, including its founder Stewart Rhodes, have been charged with seditious conspiracy, one of the most serious crimes in federal law.

There's a glimmer of hope in this otherwise depressing data.

The ADL identified over 370 individuals who appear to currently work in police agencies, and, disturbingly, some of them are active chiefs of police and sheriffs. There were also more than 100 on the lists who may be actively serving in our military. It gets worse. Analysts also found over 80 Oath Keepers were either running for or were serving in public office as recently as last month.

Even so, there’s a glimmer of hope in this otherwise depressing data. That good news isn’t, of course, the high number of uniformed authority figures listed as members of a militaristic group engaged in “selling the revolution.” Rather, it’s the number of those members who have decided that any association with the Oath Keepers is a stink they need wash off.

Being on a membership list can’t be construed as proving anything more than the likelihood that someone, at some point in time, thought keeping an oath sounded good. Now it seems that daylight and hindsight have some of them singing a different tune.

The Associated Press attempted to contact the 10 known chiefs of police and 11 known sheriffs the ADL says it found in the Oath Keepers membership lists. All who responded claimed to no longer have ties with Oath Keepers:

Shawn Mobley, sheriff of Otero County, Colorado, said, “Their views are far too extreme for me.”

“I don’t even know what they’re posting. I never get any updates. I’m not paying dues or membership fees or anything,” said Mike Hollinshead, sheriff of Elmore County, Idaho.

Benjamin Boeke, chief of police in Oskaloosa, Iowa, said he got “emails from the group years ago” and said he thinks maybe a friend signed him up, but he said he “never paid to become a member and doesn’t know anything about the group.”

These sentiments might be heartfelt and genuine. They may be forced and feigned. But whenever members of a group, which includes people radicalized to violence, decide they need to disassociate, it’s worth asking why. Because it might mean we’re doing something right.

These sentiments might be heartfelt and genuine. They may be forced and feigned.

Rachel Carroll Rivas of the Southern Poverty Law Center told the AP that since the assault on the U.S. Capitol and the arrest of Rhodes, Oath Keepers “has struggled to keep members.” That shouldn’t be a surprise. When an extremist group is so closely wrapped up in a single leader, disempowering that leader can have a de-radicalizing effect. More than two dozen Oath Keepers associates are charged in the Jan. 6 attack. That means that the cost-benefit equation of seeking respect through group membership isn’t working for many members.

Rivas said, “The image of being associated with Jan. 6 was too much for many of these folks.” Painful consequences can do that.

Police Chief Eric Williams of Idaou, Texas, told the AP that he “hasn’t been a member or had any interaction with the Oath Keepers in over 10 years.” He told the wire service that the assault on the Capitol was “terrible in every way” and added, “I pray this country finds its way back to civility and peace in discourse with one another.”

Prayer is good, but it’s going to take action — and plenty of it — to continue to bring consequences and accountability to those who pose a threat to democracy. That means more arrests, more convictions and more public shaming of anti-democratic ideologies, while simultaneously offering better options. Options like membership in another group: a peaceful, democratic and civil society.