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Thursday, March 04, 2021

Explained: Who are the far-right group Oath Keepers, members of which were involved in the Capitol Hill siege?

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the organisation garnered media attention after their presence was noted in protests and unrest that followed the shooting of a young African-American by a Ferguson police officer in 2014.

Written by Mehr Gill |
Updated: February 4, 2021 11:05:05 am
Oath Keepers, US capitol Hill Seige, Far-right group, Who are oath keepers, US violence, US capitol Hill seige, Donald Trump supporters, world news, Explained Global, Express ExplainedAn explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of US President Donald Trump gather in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. (Reuters)

Last week, a federal court in the District of Columbia indicted three individuals associated with the far-right paramilitary organisation called Oath Keepers who describe themselves as the “Guardian of the Republic” for conspiring to obstruct Congress on January 6.

The three are Jessica Marie Watkins and Donovan Ray Crowl who belong to Champaign County in Ohio and Thomas Caldwell who is from Clarke County in Virginia. Most other arrests associated with the Capitol Hill siege have been of individuals and, therefore, the case of these three is the first indication of the involvement of a known organisation.

Who are the Oath Keepers?

In the book titled, “Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group”, author Sam Jackson notes that the organisation was formed in 2009 and is one of the most visible and vocal among far-right organisations in the US. The founding member Stewart Rhodes is a Yale Law School graduate and a former Army paratrooper. By 2016, the organisation claimed to have over 30,000 members across the US.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the organisation garnered media attention after their presence was noted in protests and unrest that followed the shooting of a young African-American by a Ferguson police officer in 2014.

ADL says that Oath Keepers are anti-government extremists who are a part of a broader anti-government “Patriot” movement that includes the militia and the “three percenter” groups, sovereign citizens and tax protestors.

Former US president Donald Trump who incited the mob that marched towards the Capitol on January 6 referred to the rioters as “patriots” and called them “special”.

One of the distinguishing features of the Oath Keepers is that they focus on recruiting current and former military members, police officers and firefighters. These members have vowed to support the oaths they took before their respective services commenced in the military or police forces, which is to support the Constitution of the US and defend it against all “enemies, foreign and domestic.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says that, “While it (Oath Keepers) claims only to be defending the Constitution, the entire organisation is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans.”

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The center released its report on hate crime and extremism for the year 2020 on Monday for which it tracked 838 “hate groups”. The report notes two trends in 2020 that impacted the number of hate groups and will affect it in the future. One is that COVID-19 minimised overt hate group activity and secondly, while hate groups are being booted from social media platforms, they are moving their communications to encrypted chat rooms, which is making tracking the groups more difficult.

Who are the three individuals who have been indicted and what are the charges against them?

The three members of the organisation were indicted on charges of conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, destruction of government property, and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds.

According to the criminal complaint filed on January 19, on the day of the Capitol Hill Siege on January 6, the three documented their participation and whereabouts in or around the US Capitol on social media. For instance, one of the three indicted posted on Facebook and said, “We are surging forward. Doors breached” and at 3:05 pm on the same day posted, “Inside.”

According to a report in The New York Times, visual evidence from the day of the siege indicates that Watkins and Crowl entered the Capitol building in close coordination with at least ten other people who had been seen wearing the Oath Keepers insignia. But their identities are not yet known.

In 2010, one Oath Keeper Daniel Knight Hayden was indicted and sentenced to eight months in prison after he threatened to attack Oklahoma state government officials on Twitter. Another Oath Keeper, Charles Dyer, an ex-Marine was sentenced to 30 years in prison for raping his seven-year-old daughter. But Rhodes later said that Dyer wasn’t a member of the organisation.

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