Oath Keepers has made inroads across the country with thousands of law enforcement officers, soldiers and veterans. Still, it’s still not common for elected officials to openly identify as members, said Sam Jackson, a University of Albany professor who wrote a new book about the organization. After all, Jackson said, this is a group that, in 2014, was prepared to shoot at police who weren’t on their side during the Bundy standoff, when hundreds of armed civilians confronted federal rangers trying to impound a Nevada rancher’s cattle that had been grazing on protected land.
Depending on whom you ask, Oath Keepers is either “the last line of defense against tyranny” or an extremist militia. They describe themselves as a nonpartisan association of tens of thousands of current and former military, police and first responders who pledge to defend the Constitution and refuse to obey orders they consider unconstitutional. The Southern Poverty Law Center on the other hand lists Oath Keepers as “one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the U.S. today” and has kept tabs on incidents involving members that may betray the idea that the group is just about defending the Constitution.
What’s happening in Hood County, Texas, may represent a shift for a group that was once seen as a governmental antagonist but is now establishing itself inside the halls of the elected officialdom. And it is setting up potentially dangerous conflicts between officials with different ideas of what constitutes legitimate government authority. Over the past 10 months, Shirley has promoted protests over orders to slow the spread of COVID-19 and cast doubt on a peaceful local demonstration against police brutality. And despite their avowed neutrality, the group’s attention of late has focused on defending one individual—Donald Trump—who himself has been accused of undermining the constitutional transfer of power by refusing to concede an election he lost resoundingly.
It’s long article, and very difficult to summarize, Politico
The group rose in 2009 along with the Tea Party months after the election of President Barack Obama. Founder Stewart Rhodes had worked and campaigned for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a gun-libertarian Republican.
A national director of the Las Vegas-based Oath Keepers, John D. Shirley, moved to rural Hood County in 2015 and has been appointed by county commissioners as a constable, giving him both access to confidential information and a political platform to recruit more militia members.
Shirley, a retired Houston police officer, has said he was one of Rhodes’ first allies in 2009 and spoke at a 2009 Tea Party rally, calling for law officers and veterans to organize. He has been described as the group’s law enforcement recruiter.
The SPLC says the group is known for supporting the oaths they took on joining law enforcement or the military to defend the constitution, but also a list of 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey”.
In 2017, after a mass shooting at Sutherland Springs church in Texas, Mr Rhodes wrote on the organisation’s website that people should be armed at all times.
“Go armed at all times, in all places, and be ready for it when (not if) the attack comes,” he wrote. “Prepare for the worst – a wave of left wing terrorism targeting conservatives, libertarians, Christians, police, military, veterans, etc (anyone the left considers on the right or part of the system). Expect it. Prepare yourselves in case this does lead to a full blown civil war.”