The law enforcement officers described what they could offer the Oath Keepers:
“I have a wide variety of law enforcement experience, including undercover operations, surveillance and SWAT,” one wrote on the membership application.
“Communications, Weapons, K9 Officer for local Sheriffs office 12 years to present,” wrote another.
” “I am currently working in Texas as a deputy sheriff,” wrote another.
These men had previously sworn to uphold law and were now signing up to join an extremist, anti-government, armed group. The conspiracy theories and wild interpretations that the Oath Keepers offer of the U.S. Constitution are what they trade in They have been involved with armed standoffs against the federal government. Several are facing charges for their involvement in the Jan. 6 rebellion.
The statements are part of a massive trove of data hacked from the Oath Keepers website. The data, some of which the whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets made available to journalists, includes a file that appears to provide names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of almost 40,000 members.
A search of that list revealed more than 200 people who identified themselves as active or retired law enforcement officers when signing up. USA TODAY confirmed 20 of them are still serving, from Alabama to California. Another 20 have retired since joining the Oath Keepers. One man filled out the form claimed that he was a federal officer and had previously worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
These men represent a very small percentage of law enforcement officers who joined militia over the years. The vast majority of those listed didn’t give any information about their employment. The data leaked does not show whether people on the list have paid dues.
Founded after the election of Barack Obama in 2009 by Yale Law School graduate Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers refuse to acknowledge the authority of the federal government. Members must abide by a declaration of conspiracy-laden orders they will refuse to enforce, including disarming the American people.
Rhodes has long claimed that the group, which experts believe is the largest unauthorized militia in the country, is made up primarily of active and retired law enforcement officers and military personnel.
Just one Oath Keeper serving in a police or sheriff’s department is too many, said Daryl Johnson, a security consultant and former senior analyst for domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security.
“The Oath Keepers believe in anti-government conspiracy theories. This puts into question officers’ discretion and ability to make sound judgements.
More concerning is the fact that the Oath Keepers make their members swear an oath of allegiance, much like the police and military, Johnson said. This creates a conflict of interests.
” They see the U.S. government in this light,” he stated. “When it comes to a crisis situation, or an investigation involving another militias. Where is this person? Most likely with the Oath Keepers and not the police department.”
Oath Keepers sought
Scott Dunn, who left the Oath Keepers board of directors in 2019 after disagreements with Rhodes, said the group’s membership form asked people to list their relevant skills.
Rhodes “wanted to use that information as a searchable database, so we could punch in Oklahoma and it would show us all the different specialties around Oklahoma, or we could search for a specific type of skill and it would show which members had that skill,” he said.
James Holsinger is a lieutenant in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Maryland. Holsinger is running to be the county’s sheriff, Hagerstown being one of his targets. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
On the form, Holsinger apparently wrote that he “designed and implemented tactical rescue drills” and had “experience with an assortment of weapons (lethal and nonlethal).”
Officers around the country joined the Oath Keepers
USA TODAY contacted dozens of active-duty and retired officers to ask why they joined the Oath Keepers. Nearly all of those who responded said that they no longer were members. One former Marine and correctional officer stated that he supports the group.
In 20 cases, law enforcement agencies or the men themselves confirmed they were still employed there. Among the officers identified on the membership list are:
- An officer at the Louisville Metro Police Department who was involved in an officer-involved shooting in 2018.
- A former U.S. Army member who joined the New York Police Department and a former U.S. Army captain who joined the Chicago Police Department. They are both still police officers.
- An 80-year-old, part-time officer at the Ashley County Sheriff’s Office in Arkansas.
- A corrections officer in Riverside, California.
Major Eben Bratcher, operations chief with the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona, is among them. Bratcher said that he remembered receiving newsletters from this group for “sometime”. “
” I may have signed up years ago, but don’t recall any details,” Bratcher stated. “I know I unsubscribed sometime ago because of the volume of emails I received. “
When Bratcher signed up, he apparently wrote this note: “We have 85 sworn officers and Border (of) Mexico on the South and California on the West. I have already shown your website to many of my Deputies. “
Bratcher stated that he doesn’t remember writing that. He said that he spoke with many people about the new organization.
Constable Joe Wright, of Collin County, Texas, said he joined in 2012, when he was running for office for the first time.
“To be honest, I felt pressured to join it in this county for political support,” Wright said. “The Oath Keepers were going to give you bad reviews if you didn’t support them. “
Wright said he didn’t know much about the group at the time. After signing up, he said that he received a box of Oath Keepers paraphernalia including stickers and brochures. After signing up, he said that he put the box in the trash and hasn’t been in touch with the group since he was elected to the county northeast Dallas.
” I don’t support their policies,” Wright stated. “I am not into radical. “I’m focused on my job. “
Officers say they’re no longer members
Several officers admitted signing up but claimed their membership expired long ago. Michael Lynch, an Anaheim Police Department officer, stated that he signed up for the Oath Keepers years ago but didn’t renew it after learning more about the group.
” “I didn’t get any out of it,” he stated in an interview. “There was no local chapter or anything, so when it came time to renew I was like, I’m not sending another $40. “
Lynch was the officer who boasted of his undercover, surveillance and SWAT training.
“Obviously we had no knowledge of this,” said Anaheim spokesman Sgt. Shane Carringer. “We will examine the options available to us as a department and consider what rights our officer may have. “
Always an extremist group, but lately more extreme
It’s unclear from the hacked data exactly when the officers in question signed up. Experts on the Oath Keepers said the militia has certainly changed since its founding in 2009.
What started during the Obama administration as a group to fight what it saw as federal government overreach has developed into a more hateful and paranoid organization, said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. Since their inception, she has been following the Oath Keepers.
“Rhodes and company have become much more radical,” Beirich said.
Nonetheless, the Oath Keepers was always an extremist group, she said. It was founded on nonsensical conspiracy theories that were hateful and had always been anti-government.
She and other experts said they were concerned about law enforcement officers who joined the Oath Keepers at any point. Beirich stated that police officers shouldn’t be involved in extremist groups. Beirich stated that police officers are part of the government and should not be involved with extremist groups.
Lynch, the officer in Anaheim, said he joined in 2016 after talking to recruiters at a booth at a gun show in Las Vegas. He stated that he believed they were an alternative for the National Rifle Association.
MacNab purchases that.
” People join stuff all the while not doing any due diligence,” she stated. “And for many years, the only due diligence that you could have done was on Southern Poverty Law Center’s website. Most police officers would instantly dismiss that as biased. “
For most Americans, joining the Oath Keepers is an act protected by the First Amendment. However, several Supreme Court cases have shown that police departments have broad rights to restrict what their employees can say and write and which organizations they can belong to.
Most officers believe that the First Amendment grants them the right to speak or write on social media. Valerie Van Brocklin is a former federal prosecutor and teaches police departments how to use social media.
“The vast majority of cops in the country don’t understand this,” Van Brocklin said. “A public employer doesn’t have to pay you for insubordination or dishonorable behavior that sullies badge and uniform. “
Contributing: Aleszu Bajak, Dan Keemahill, Mike Stucka