Reprinted with permission from DailyKos
The recent exposure of the Oath Keepers' membership through hacked data revealed a great deal about their spread—both within the ranks of law enforcement and among elected officials. But the underlying story contained therein goes beyond the relative handful of examples at hand: Namely, how deeply right-wing extremist ideology, particularly the far-right patriot movement, has penetrated mainstream American society at multiple levels.
The normalization of this brand of extremism is reflected in the refusal by the large majority of the people exposed as Oath Keepers to acknowledge the organization's violent extremism—as manifested by its critical role in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, for which the mountain of evidence has grown so large that it has forced a delay in the conspirators' trial—let alone repudiate it. Most of them either blame leftists for the violence, or minimize it.
One examination of the data, by Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson, found that dozens of the people applying to join the Oath Keepers over the past year have done so while using government email addresses. Their review uncovered some 40 memberships associated with public-sector work emails, including such domains as nasa.gov, dmv.virginia.gov, and city.pittsburgh.pa.us.
ProPublica's review of the data identified 48 state and local government officials among the Oath Keepers membership, all Republicans. Among them were county commissioners in Indiana, Arizona and North Carolina; 10 sitting state lawmakers; sheriffs or constables in Montana, Texas and Kentucky; and a smorgasbord of other elective officials or Republican Party candidates.
Their denial that the Oath Keepers represent a violent far-right ideology was a constant refrain among those who were contacted by reporters. Joe Marmorato, a retired New York City police officer, told ProPublica: "I just thought they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. I know most of them are all retired police and firemen and have the best interests of the country in mind," adding: "No matter what you do, you're vilified by the left."
Don Dwyer, a former Republican state delegate from Maryland, said: "I still support the cause. And I'm proud to say that I'm a member of that organization."
He told ProPublica that he was unaware of any Oath Keepers presence Jan. 6 at the Capitol on Jan. 6. "If they were there, they were there on a peaceful mission, I'm sure of it," he said. When he their key role in invading the Capitol while wearing tactical gear was explained to him, Dwyer responded: "OK, that surprises me. That's all I'll say."
One of the Oath Keepers identified in the membership data is Edward Durfee, who was seen outside the Capitol talking with group leaders and wearing an earpiece; he did not enter the building and has not been charged. Durfee is a local GOP committee member in Bergen County, New Jersey, currently running in a predominantly Democratic district for a seat in the state assembly. Durfee has not been charged and said he did not enter the building.
Durfee was the subject of a somewhat airbrushed profile in the New York Times,which examined his unrepentant embrace of the Oath Keepers while seeking office. He claimed that he drove from New Jersey to Washington on Jan. 6 to assist with an Oath Keeper security detail. "We weren't enforcers," Durfee said. "We were just there as eyes."
He added: "It just morphed into something and got out of control. It's just shameful."
However, the story also noted that Durfee had been in close contact with Oath Keepers leadership during the runup to the insurrection, including a videoconference with Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers founder, and dozens of other members 10 days after the 2020 election, (A leaked recording of the call was released by Unicorn Riot, an alternative journalists' collective site.)
During the conversation, Durfee had urged moderation: In the recording, he could be heard urging people to "show the respect that we have for our country and our Constitution."
"We're not coming down there with fisticuffs, unless, you know," he said.
But the full context of that conversation is important: By that point, Rhodes—who earlier that summer had declared all-out "civil war" and urged Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act against "antifa"—had already gone on Alex Jones' Infowars program and urged Trump to invoke the same act in the wake of the "stolen election."
Rhodes told Jones that, in support of Trump, "we have men already stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option in case they attempt to remove the president illegally, we will step in and stop it" and emphasized that these men are "armed" and "prepared to go in, if the president calls us up." In some post-election chats, Oath Keepers talked among themselves about killing members of the media.
On the Nov. 13, 2020, videoconference call in which Durfee participated, Rhodes told the group of 50 men: "I'm telling you straight up, guys, if he doesn't drop the hammer on this communist insurrection, we are going to end up fighting a bloody civil war in this country to defeat them. Horrific. More of us are going to die."
"I think regardless that's going to happen," a member offered.
"Well, sure," Rhodes said. "But it's better to fight it while he's Commander-in-Chief. We're not going to get out of this without a fight, that's a friggin' fact."
Durfee was also interviewed by ProPublica, and he was more bluntly unrepentant about the Oath Keepers. "They were caught up in the melee, what else can I say? For whatever reason, I didn't go in," Durfee said. "They brand you as white supremacists, domestic terrorists. I don't know how we got in this mix where there's so much hatred and so much dislike and how it continues to get fomented. It's just shameful actually."
This extremism is also being condoned by Republican party officials. A local GOP chair in Minnesota's Beltrami County, Rich Siegert, told Pro Publica that he supported a local candidate, Steven K. Booth, not merely in spite of his Oath Keepers membership but because of it. "When tyranny comes, that's when you stop and say you've got to do something about it," said Siegert. "To go out and get violent and kill people like they did in the early days, I'm not really in favor of that. How do you get the attention of liberals and get them to listen? Firing guns, I don't know, it's what they do in some countries. Define what 'radical' is."
The NYT spoke to at least one Republican—Roy Sokoloski, a New Jersey ex-councilman who helps recruit local candidates—who saw the problems with such candidates as Edward Durfee.
"He's the worst candidate that the Republicans could have endorsed," Sokoloski said. "If the Republican Party can only find people like that, what does that say about the party?"
Mother Jones observed the same kind of mainstream infiltration by the Oath Keepers in its review of the hacked data, and set about examining how the organization was able to spread so readily by reading through the emails' contents. One of its primary conclusions is that social media, particularly Facebook, plays a central in providing a platform for their patriot movement conspiracism to readily spread—confirming previous studies showing a similar effect for the far right generally. Facebook was joiners' most frequently cited source for having heard about the Oath Keepers.
It also noted that certain right-wing media outlets and figures, notably Jones and Infowars—on whose show Rhodes has appeared repeatedly—play key roles in spreading the extremism; Jones is mentioned over 900 times. More mainstream outlets and figures also play central roles: Fox and Fox News show up 526 times, while Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly appear nearly 300 times.
Oath Keepers is also able to spread by its associations with related communities, including "Three Percent" militias and the "prepper" universe:
The data also illustrates longstanding cross-pollination between the militia and prepper communities. Rhodes has pandered to survivalists, according to the Anti-Defamation League, calling them awake and aware, and claiming their self-reliance makes them a threat to the government. Nearly 130 people mentioned coming to the Oath Keepers through the Survivalist Prepper podcast, where Rhodes made two 2011 appearances. Another 40 cited 299 Days, a series of novels about preppers surviving an end-times scenario where Oath Keepers are imagined to play a key role. Another 50 mentioned finding the group through various websites, magazines, conventions, and other venues related to the prepper movement.
The Oath Keepers, of course, are not the only organization spreading their extremist ideology within the halls of public authorities. Another patriot movement outfit, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, has enjoyed disturbing levels of success in recruiting law-enforcement officers around the country into their nonsensical "constitutionalist" approach to the law.
Mother Jones reported this week that the CSPOA's Richard Mack is currently giving training sessions to law-enforcement officers in Texas, with the blessing and sponsorship of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Another ten states including Virginia, Montana, and South Carolina, Mack says, have signed up for similar trainings. Texas' attorney general, Ken Paxton, spoke at a CSPOA gathering in October.
"There is a huge problem already with hate groups organizing within law enforcement," Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, told Mother Jones. "We've seen repeated waves of it in the past 10 years, with the recruitment of law enforcement officers on the internet. For this to move from the sort of the dark corners of the internet to officially sanctioned trainings from one of the largest states is really frightening in my view."