Abstract: On January 6, 2021, 21 members of the Oath Keepers are alleged to have played a critical role in a wide-ranging conspiracy to storm the U.S. Capitol and disrupt the certification of the 2020 general election. Since its inception in 2009, the group has used a warped sense of patriotism, loose enforcement of laws surrounding paramilitary activity, and America’s founding revolutionary spirit to justify anti-government mobilization. It consistently walked the edge of political violence before taking part in the January 6 insurrection. While the group claims to be “guardians of the republic,” its principal target is the government itself—particularly entities representing perceived federal government overreach and vectors for tyrannical forces to suppress Americans’ natural rights. Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a subtle but significant shift occurred in the group’s ideological focus, which saw left-wing political ideologies and social justice movements assume equal footing as targets for the group’s ire. Over the next four years, the group consistently mobilized armed responses, often posing as “security operations” to perceived threats, and increasingly expressed the belief that the United States was on the brink of or already in a state of civil war.

On January 6, 2021, 21 members of the Oath Keepers are alleged to have played a critical role in a wide-ranging conspiracy to storm the U.S. Capitol and disrupt the certification of the 2020 general election.1 a The alleged role of Oath Keepers in the events of January 6 best exemplifies how the group’s activities have varied and evolved from quasi-law enforcement operations to violent insurrection/domestic terrorismb while cloaking its activities in a patriotic veneer that supposedly seeks to guard the republic from unseen malign forces. The evidence set forth by the government alleges that Oath Keepers engaged in a well-organized conspiracy to physically prevent the certification of what they perceived to be a fraudulent election and a harbinger of America’s demise as a democratic country.2 Ironically, the very conspiracy Oath Keepers are accused of perpetrating targeted the heart of the American democratic process they claimed to have been acting to protect.

This article proceeds in four parts. Part one provides an overview of the Oath Keepers’ origins, ideology, organizational structure, and membership. Part two looks at the Oath Keepers’ journey toward political violence by examining the individual criminal and violent actions of its members, its online extremism and threats, the group’s real-world operational activity, as well as the group’s links and ideological overlaps with more overtly violent and/or extreme far-right extremist entities. Part three outlines the role the group played in the January 6 insurrection, and the group’s embrace of violence against the state. Part four examines the post-January 6 trajectory of the group.

This article is derived from a variety of sources, including court documents, interviews with scholar Sam Jackson (who is the foremost authority on the Oath Keepers organization), leaked group chats, and open-source content such as Oath Keepers’ social media and websites. Through these diverse research materials, this article advances the understanding of the Oath Keepers and how their warped patriotic worldview and offline mobilizations in the streets of America foreshadowed their alleged involvement in the January 6 insurrection—which sought to disrupt the lawful confirmation of the 2020 presidential election results.

Part One: Who Are the Oath Keepers?
On April 19, 2009, the first Oath Keepers muster was conducted on the historic Lexington Common outside Boston, Massachusetts.c Just a month after the group was founded, the event focused heavily on former military individuals speaking passionately about a looming second revolutionary war, globalism’s threat to American sovereignty, and the need to resist supposedly tyrannical governance that would subvert Americans’ natural rights.3 The group’s founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes, presented his foundational vision for the Oath Keepers that day, read aloud the group’s “Declaration of Orders We Will Not Obey,” and conducted a mass oath-swearing ceremony with those gathered.

The Oath Keepers’ leader—Elmer Stewart Rhodes,4 better known as Stewart—is a former Army paratrooper, Yale Law graduate, Montana lawyer,d and staffer for Congressman Ron Paul (retired).5 Based out of Montana, his home state, Rhodes is a polarizing figure for much of the militia movement, even within the Oath Keepers. He has faced accusations of being the leader of a massive paramilitary organization, a federal informant, a grifter, or just simply out of touch.6 Today, Rhodes is the most visible member of Oath Keepers (by his own design) and touts the additional title of “Person One” in federal prosecution filings and Congressional subpoena related to his and the Oath Keepers’ alleged involvement in the January 6 insurrection.7

Men belonging to the Oath Keepers attend the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
(Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

In the years between its founding and the January 6 insurrection, the Oath Keepers and their leader walked the edge of political violence and espoused beliefs that, under certain conditions, removing the government by force is justified. Much like its militia and patriot movement predecessors,e the Oath Keepers has built a myth around itself as defending everyday Americans from the abuse of an ever-encroaching federal government that is stripping Americans of their natural rights. Yet, in recent years, the mission of the Oath Keepers has evolved into one predicated on a profoundly hostile stance toward the political status quo in the United States.

Oath Keepers rhetoric is deeply conspiratorial and promotes the need for a violent replacement of tyrannical forces in the United States due to an alleged imminent conflict with the federal government. Oath Keepers’ “calls to action” in response to such conflict have led to armed standoffs with the federal government,8 armed intimidation of protestors,9 implicit threats of violence if their demands are not met,10 and individual acts of criminality and violence.11 The events of 2020, including the embrace by Rhodes and the Oath Keepers’ rank-and-file of the conspiracy of a stolen election,f placed the Oath Keepers on a collision course they had long desired with representatives of the federal government.

The Oath Keepers group is an anti-government, anti-authority, right-wing extremist organization12 that paradoxically portrays itself as “guardians of the republic” dedicated to preserving Americans’ natural rights from abstract tyrannical forces.13 Derived from oaths that military and law enforcement members take, the group’s name evokes a sense of inherent patriotism and duty to the U.S. Constitution. In its founding creed, “Declarations of Orders we will not Obey,” the Oath Keepers outline their stated purpose:

Recognizing that we each swore and [sic] oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and affirming that we are guardians of the Republic, of the principles in our Declaration of Independence, and of the rights of our people, we affirm and declare the following…14

The Oath Keepers are ideologically and operationally best characterized by their preoccupation with preparation for a seemingly inevitable direct conflict against the government, which Rhodes and Oath Keepers view as an imminent tyrannical threat to “control the population.”15 Tyranny’s form rotates in the Oath Keepers outlook, allowing macro-level perceived threats (e.g., the United Nations and Marxism) to occupy equal purchase in the minds of the group’s members as the supposedly tyrannical actions of executive branch agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at specific localized state and federal flashpoints. Since 2016, the rise of movements like Black Lives Matterg and anti-fascist organizing have assumed a prominent role in the pantheon of Oath Keepers’ perceived threats, largely stemming from the organization’s long embrace of conspiracy theories that fixate on global institutions supposedly forcing Marxism or Socialism onto American citizens via the United Nations.h As the scholar Sam Jackson has noted, the group is “not organized around the defense of imagined racial identity,”16 and its bylaws explicitly reject racism. However, while racism is not a key feature of the group,i racist and nativist views can readily be found in Oath Keepers’ ranks, narratives, content, and sources.17

Organizational Structure and Membership
The Oath Keepers are a hierarchical organization with a national leadership council, state and county chapters, and local branches.18 The Oath Keepers have an extensive set of by-laws that outline the organizational structure, conduct,19 and expectations of members.20 Operationally, most activity is undertaken by individual chapters or branches, allowing for a degree of autonomy on local mobilization. According to scholar Sam Jackson, organizational dynamics of Oath Keepers put local chapters and branches and state-level leadership on the hook for arranging “meetings, demonstrations, and training exercises.”21 National leadership, which consists of a board of directors that is led by Rhodes, oversees the Oath Keepers’ brand and reputation, and maintains its own social media and web presence separate from the state and local activity—though national leadership will feature state and local content, as well as boost calls to action based on activity that state and local branches initiate.j

However, the group answers entirely to Rhodes. Except for individual acts, it seems there is virtually no Oath Keepers activity that Rhodes is not aware of or not involved in planning to some extent.22 Rhodes, by design, is the fulcrum around which the organization exists.k

The Oath Keepers group seeks explicitly to recruit “current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders”23 but does not turn away those that have not served in some capacity. The Oath Keepers declare those individuals to be associate members, “which consists of patriotic citizens who have not served in uniform but who serve now by supporting this mission with their Associate Membership and volunteer activities” and who “take an oath to support and defend the Constitution.”24

The Oath Keepers’ membership count is a longstanding question for law enforcement and researchers monitoring the group. Rhodes and the Oath Keepers have claimed tens of thousands of dues-paying members, though those numbers are likely inflated due to on-again, off-again interest by recruits. A recently leaked dataset of the Oath Keepers’ membership roll shows that more than 38,000 individuals have at some point in time registered with the organization. However, review of this data by other analysts suggests most of those listed had a short-lived involvement centered around key events.l

Reporting based on the leaked dataset shows that “state lawmakers, congressional candidates, and local government and GOP officials”25 were included in the Oath Keepers’ membership list, specifically: “28 people who currently hold elected office joined or financially supported the Oath Keepers,”26 multiple New York Police Department officers,27 and approximately 150 individuals who registered membership with a “.mil” email address.28 While these numbers represent a fraction of the overall alleged membership of the Oath Keepers, the degree to which the Oath Keepers is dominated by individuals with a veteran or active military status, or associated with law enforcement, is likely significant. Yet, as with claimed versus actual membership rates for the Oath Keepers, it is difficult to know with any degree of confidence the exact breakdown of active or retired military and law enforcement. The Oath Keepers’ emphasis on attracting those with a military or law enforcement background is an intentional, strategic decision to capture potential recruits with specific knowledge, skills, and abilities. Scholar Sam Jackson has categorized this strategy as part of Rhodes’ desire to see those individuals serve as the proverbial tip of the spear and critical to stopping any potential future in which the U.S. government seeks to “use the military to infringe on Americans’ rights.”29

Part Two: The Road Toward Political Violence
Individual member criminality and violence
The history of Oath Keepers’ criminality and violence is heavily characterized by vigilantism and extrajudicial paramilitary actions. Members of the Oath Keepers have been charged with illegal possession of explosives, firearms charges, possession of stolen property, child pornography, and more.30 However, Rhodes has frequently and quickly denounced the individual members charged with criminal activity.m

The below list is comprised of noteworthy individuals with an identified membership or affiliation with Oath Keepers who have faced criminal charges:

Daniel Knight Hayden: In 2009, Hayden, an Oath Keepers supporter, was indicted by a federal grand jury for threats to “kill or injure police officers at a public tax protest assembly called a ‘Tea Party’ scheduled for April 15, 2009, at the Oklahoma State Capitol.”31 Hayden was convicted for this crime and sentenced to eight months in prison.

Darren Huff: In 2010, Huff was a self-declared member of the Oath Keepers32 “convicted on a firearms offense after traveling from Georgia to Tennessee to put government officials under citizen’s arrest for refusing to indict President Obama.”33 Huff was sentenced to four years in federal prison.

Matthew Fairfield: In 2010, Fairfield, a local chapter president of the Oath Keepers’ branch in Ohio,34 was arrested on numerous criminal charges, including the possession of explosives (a live napalm incendiary device) and child pornography.35 Fairfield was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Jon Ritzheimer: A participant in the Malheur Refuge Occupation,n Ritzheimer pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to impede officers of the United States and was sentenced to one year and one day of imprisonment in November 2017.36 Notably, in 2015 and prior to his participation in the occupation, Ritzheimer had threatened to arrest Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow for her political endorsement of the Iranian nuclear agreement.37

Charles Dyer: Known as July4Patriot on YouTube, where he often appeared wearing a skull mask similar to that of the kind popularized by the neo-fascist group Atomwaffen Division, Charles Dyer was charged, convicted, and sentenced in 2010 to 30 years in prison for sexual assault of his six-year-old daughter.38 During a law enforcement search of his residence, sheriff’s deputies found a Colt M-203 grenade launcher reportedly identified as one that had been stolen from a California military base in 2006.o Notably, Dyer repeatedly promoted the Oath Keepers while in the Marine Corps before he left in 2009 after being brought up on charges of uttering “disloyal” statements.39 Dyer was also filmed during a militia training saying the following:

Join the military? Depends on what you want to do with it. Me? I’m going to use my training and become one of those domestic terrorists that you’re so afraid of from the DHS reports.40

Online Extremism
The Oath Keepers’ insurrectionary rhetoric online and acts offline have resulted in the group’s permanent removal from most mainstream social media platforms. In 2020, the Oath Keepers and Stewart Rhodes were banned by Facebook and Twitter.41 Facebook, which has listed the Oath Keepers as a “militarized social movement,”p was a significant arena for the Oath Keepers to promote its brand and organize followers. Before its ban from Facebook, the Oath Keepers boasted approximately 551,000 followers on its official page.42 While active on mainstream platforms, the Oath Keepers’ branded pages and group members directly targeted politicians with implicit threats of violence from their social media accounts. In 2019, the Oath Keepers Facebook page posted the following message about Oregon Governor Kate Brown:

Gov. Brown, you want a civil war, because this is how you get a civil war.q

In response to the group’s ban from Facebook, Rhodes fired back in a message on the Oath Keepers website, stating that the move was “an ideological and political purge,” and that “Our goal is to get patriots prepared and ready to defend their homes, towns, and counties from the ongoing Marxist insurrection we now see erupting and expanding nationwide.”43 Rhodes’ response to a private company’s actions was to lean into conspiracy theories about global Marxism and political witch hunts aimed at conservatives by social media and technology companies.

Conspiracy theories have always been a feature of Oath Keepers ideology. The Oath Keepers’ entire existence is premised on stoking fears and anxiety of hidden actors, and sits within a long history of conspiracy theories driving “militia” activities.44 Much could be said on the role of social media relative to the extremism and violence of the Oath Keepers, though all would be far beyond the scope of this article. However, it is important to note that Rhodes specifically referenced conspiracy theories when he framed to his audience the crackdown on platform violations by Facebook and Twitter, as it is helpful in understanding how the group became so involved in the “Stop the Steal” movement that culminated in the January 6 insurrection.

Operational Activity before January 6
It’s the right of the people to abolish it to institute such new government as they think necessary or reform it. It’s the people’s obligation. – Stewart Rhodes45

In the period leading up to the January 2021 U.S. Capitol siege, the Oath Keepers group engaged in various antagonistic and paramilitary actions that walked the edge of—and sometimes crossed into—political violence.

The operational history of the Oath Keepers in the period before January 6 was defined by a mixture of brinkmanship, physical posturing (often threatening due to the armed nature of security operations), and symbolic resistance against government and law enforcement via online mediums such as podcasts and video streams. Where and how the Oath Keepers chose to act was often contingent on the perceived payoffs and risks associated with physical presence. The group often inserted itself into acute moments of tension or at events that allow for low-risk, high-branding activism or protest. Yet Oath Keepers leadership, in particular Rhodes, have been risk-averse. The adage “actions speak louder than words” is particularly salient for Rhodes, who has routinely positioned himself as endorsing less aggressive actions than his Patriot Movement counterparts (such as Ammon Bundy) and less aggressive actions than individual members of the Oath Keepers. This directly contradicts his profoundly incendiary rhetoric that borders on incitement.r Unlike similar entities in the past, which have run afoul of federal or state statutes criminalizing private militias,46 the Oath Keepers and Rhodes have displayed a sharp awareness of the distinctions they must draw to inhibit investigations into their activities.

The Oath Keepers’ tactics and security operations are not historically unique but have filtered out into other contemporary anti-government/anti-authority movements. The Boogaloo movement in 2020 heavily drew from the Oath Keepers’ security operations aesthetic and tactics at protests, particularly the narrative that they are only present to protect local businesses from general unrest, rioting, arson, and other harms potentially perpetrated by amorphous enemies (e.g., antifa).47

The Oath Keepers’ most noteworthy tactic in the years leading up to January 6 was the utilization of security operations during acute moments of tension with perceived expressions of tyrannical governance (e.g., the Bureau of Land Management) or political movements the organization views as antithetical to American ideals (e.g., anti-fascist activism and organizing).48 Despite its claims that its members are simply monitoring events, Oath Keepers at these engagements have been accused of escalating tensions on the ground due to their often heavily armed paramilitary appearance. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), for the year 2020 nearly “a quarter of all demonstration events in which Oath Keepers are involved have turned violent and/or destructive.”s

The following is a list of notable Oath Keepers’ mobilizations in the years leading up to January 6 that skirted the line of insurrectionary political violence and acts of domestic terrorism:

Bundy Ranch Standoff (Spring 2014): Rhodes and armed members of the Oath Keepers responded to a call to action issued by Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy over cattle grazing rights and fears of confiscation of the cattle by the Bureau of Land Management. The incident became widely known for an image depicting a militia member pointing a long-barreled rifle at federal officers from behind cover on an overpass.t

Ferguson Protests (Fall 2014): Armed members of the Oath Keepers established rooftop surveillance posts and patrolled the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, during civil unrest connected to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer.49 The police chief at the time said that their presence was “both unnecessary and inflammatory.”50 In an interview, Rhodes claimed that the Oath Keepers had members with contacts in the local police and that the police “didn’t do their job.”51

Sugar Pine Mine Standoff (Spring 2015): Armed members of the Oath Keepers, led by the Oregon-based Josephine County branch,u established a security perimeter to “secure the mine” and prevent purported intimidation by the federal Bureau of Land Management agents during ongoing negotiations in court related to the mine’s regulatory adherence.52

Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (Winter 2015-2016): The Josephine County Oath Keepers branchv and individual members from elsewhere in the United States established an armed security buffer between the federal authorities and the occupiers led by Ammon Bundy (son of aforementioned Cliven Bundy). Notably, the national leadership of the Oath Keepers did not endorse the Bundy-led occupation nor did they issue a call to action. However, Rhodes did endorse the Josephine County branch’s security buffer as a “righteous mission” that may “prevent another Waco incident.”w

In late 2016, there was a notable shift in the Oath Keepers’ worldview, reflected in both its online and offline activity. With the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the general election, Rhodes and the Oath Keepers found a new enemy in the burgeoning anti-Trump movement manifesting in social justice protests across the country. Propelled by the leadership influence of Rhodes, the group deepened its already conspiratorial outlook. Events that were seen through the prism of and reinforced this worldview include the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, anti-fascist mobilization alongside the Black Lives Matter protests, anti-fascist protests against federal agencies’ actions in Portland,x the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, and COVID-19 lockdown measures.53 To Rhodes and the Oath Keepers, each presented an agent of globalism, Marxism, or some other abstract tyrannical enemy emanating from the left.

The Oath Keepers have engaged in activism related to election fraud conspiracies since the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. In January 2017, Oath Keepers launched a security operation, “Operation Defend J20,” to supposedly prevent violence from anti-Trump demonstrators during President Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C.54 In November 2020, Rhodes led a “Stop the Steal” rally in Purcellville, Virginia. Days later, in a foreshadowing of the events on January 6, 2021, Rhodes was a guest on Alex Jones’ InfoWars, where in a prolonged discussion on the “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theory, he spoke with fiery rhetoric about the need to mobilize against the “deep state” to save the American republic.55 On the show, he advocated for Trump to “invoke the Insurrection act … to suppress the deep state,” claiming that the Oath Keepers had “men already stationed outside DC as a nuclear option. In case they attempt to remove the President illegally, we will step in and stop it. We’re gonna be there to also help secure the coming rally this Saturday and your caravan coming in” and “We will be inside DC and we’ll be on the outside of DC, armed, if the President calls us up” and “if we don’t there will be no more republic.”56 That same month, in November 2020, self-declared members of the Oath Keepers appeared outside the private residence of Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.57 The appearance occurred in the midst of death threats over Raffensperger’s refusal to accommodate President Trump’s request for Raffensperger to “find” votes and overturn the election results in Georgia.58

This pre-January 6 pattern of mobilizations presents researchers and law enforcement with two challenging questions. First, have the Oath Keepers been engaging in politically motivated intimidation when they appear at armed protests and imitate lawful police and security services? Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, has stated that, “(The Oath keepers) quite frankly, have taken that legitimacy that law enforcement offers, and they’ve manipulated it to give credit to a movement that is otherwise, you know, counter – completely – to what it means to be leaders in a nation, in a county, in a city, in a state.”59 Secondly, has the Oath Keepers group been engaging in acts of political violence or even domestic terrorism when their armed presence at key events carried the implicit threat of violent resistance and seeks to coerce federal authorities to act in accordance with the Oath Keepers’ views on the U.S. Constitution and natural rights?60

These questions will remain difficult to resolve, but there are three reasons for viewing and responding to the group as a threat to public safety. The first is the violent and criminal acts of individual members described above. The second is the Oath Keepers’ key role in the violence of January 6, which is examined later in this article. And the third is the group’s links and ideological overlaps with more overtly violent and/or extreme far-right extremist entities. These links and overlaps, which are examined next, are indicative of the overall evolution of the group and may have contributed to the group’s embrace of violence on January 6.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, is pictured on February 28, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas.
(Aaron C. Davis/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Links and Ideological Overlaps with More Overtly Violent and/or Extreme Entities
One of the Oath Keepers’ oldest relationships to anti-government movements is its relationship with the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA).61 The founder of CSPOA, Richard Mack, was also a founding member of the Oath Keepers.62 CSPOA is premised on a belief that overlaps with sovereign citizen ideology that the county sheriff is the highest authority in the county, capable of overriding even the federal government.63 While not overtly more violent than the Oath Keepers, this ideological overlap with the sovereign citizen movement—which inherently rejects the authority of federal government and federal law enforcement—illustrates the threat posed by the broader anti-government movement.

The Oath Keepers is deeply intertwined with the more violent Three Percenter movement,y members of which are linked to multiple attempted acts of terrorist violence against minorities and charged for their involvement in the January 6 insurrection.64 Like CSPOA, the founder of the Three Percenter movement Mike Vanderboegh was also involved in the founding of the Oath Keepers and assisted Rhodes in the 2009 mass oath-swearing ceremony at Lexington Common.65 In 2015, following the killing of four U.S. Marines at two military installations in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters mobilized jointly to serve as volunteer armed guards at military recruitment centers where active duty members were prohibited from carrying firearms.66

Additionally, the Oath Keepers’ security operations have intersected with events of explicitly neo-fascist militia and violent paramilitary organizations to “keep the peace.” Despite the claims of seeking to “keep the peace” at events headlined by far-right extremists, Oath Keepers were often physically positioned to focus their attention almost exclusively on counter-protestors and not the extreme far-right and fascist entities that organized the events. For example, during the notorious Battle for Berkeley demonstrations in 2017 Oath Keepers demonstrated alongside violent street fighting white supremacists and neo-Nazis such as the Rise Above Movement (RAM)z and served as armed “security” for violent far-right groups, including the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer.aa In June 2017, Oath Keepers served as “security” for the Proud Boys and other anti-Muslim groups, white supremacist, and neo-fascist groups such as Vanguard Americaab and Identity Evropaac that participated67 in the “March Against Sharia” rallies mobilized by the conspiracy theory that Muslim Americans are seeking to “replace the American legal system with Sharia law.”68 The Oath Keepers are both considerably less violent and ideologically extreme than the above mentioned accelerationist groups, raising the question of why the Oath Keepers were participating alongside these groups.

In April 2017, Rhodes and members of the Oath Keepers participated as speakers in a series of charged and violent demonstrations against perceived leftists in Berkeley, California, dubbed the “Battle for Berkeley.”69 The Battle for Berkeley was a prominent attraction for accelerationist and neo-fascist groups, particularly RAM.ad Speaking at the event, Rhodes made it clear that his presence was not just to serve as security for others gathered, but to be a vested participant in the political purpose of the demonstrations: “This is ground zero in the defense of the Constitution and the most important part of it—the First Amendment.”70 This engagement illustrates the post-2016 shift in threat priorities for Rhodes and the Oath Keepers from government tyranny to alleged leftist undermining of Americans’ rights through supposed ideologically motivated insurrection. Rhodes stated the following at an April event in North Carolina prior to the Berkeley speech:

We’re going [to Berkeley] because people are having their rights violated. So it could be argued that with the full support of the local politicians, thugs in the streets are beating people up and suppressing their rights to free speech and assembly. It could be argued that California is in a state of insurrection.71

Some of those same groups that were present at the Battle for Berkeley and the March Against Sharia were also key participants in the violence at the August 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” demonstration that descended into a riot and resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.72 The recent civil lawsuit against Unite the Right organizers highlighted the pervasive acceptance of violence by white supremacists, neo-fascists, and overt neo-Nazi individuals and groups present at the rally.ae Among the Unite the Right attendees were more ideological extreme entities than the Oath Keepers, such as white supremacist and KKK leader David Duke, alt-right leader Richard Spencer, and accelerationist groups such as Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Workers Party.af Individual members of the terrorist designated groups Russian Imperial Movement (RIM)ag and Atomwaffen Division, as well as the Rise Above Movement (RAM) were also participants at the rally.

A few days after Unite the Right, the violent street fighting Patriot Prayer organizer and leader Joey Gibson said the Oath Keepers would act as security for a Patriot Prayer rally at Crissy Field in Portland, Oregon. As with the Battle of Berkeley, the Oath Keepers group was tied to yet another event and organization known for being more ideologically extreme and violent than it. Rhodes initially committed, then backtracked.73 Rhodes later issued a statement alleging the Oath Keepers did not attend the rally because “white nationalists” such as Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapmanah were slated to attend, and Gibson would not commit to removing them. Yet, that had not stopped Oath Keepers from mobilizing at events where white supremacists and accelerationists were prominent actors in the planned events, such as the Battle for Berkeley and the March Against Sharia, raising the prospect that Rhodes understood the legal exposure and risk that came with further associating with those entities following the fallout from the violence perpetrated at Unite the Right.

In July 2020, the Oath Keepers issued a call to action related to the Seattle Capitol Hill autonomous zone (aka, CHAZ) protest.74 The text of the call to action explicitly labeled leftist protestors as terrorists and insurrectionists tied to Marxism:

This is a coordinated, intentional, national and international terrorism and insurrection campaign, intent on destabilizing our nation and throwing it into chaos to further their radical Marxist goals (to not just defeat Trump, but to also destroy our nation and our Constitution).75

The event also drew the attention of a local Proud Boys faction, which engaged in violent clashes with protestors.76 The intersection of Oath Keeper mobilization at these events, particularly at the Battle of Berkeley where they stood alongside hardened accelerationistsai and neo-fascists like RAM, does not necessarily indicate that Oath Keepers or Rhodes ideologically agree with those milieus. Instead, the overlap in mobilization suggests that Oath Keepers, neo-fascists, and accelerationists share similar grievances and narratives that mobilize them to action.

Like the Boogaloo’s insurrectionary accelerationists,77 Rhodes and by extension the Oath Keepers are preoccupied with the notion of a second American civil war. Prior to its suspension by Twitter, and in response to the killing of a Patriot Prayer member by an alleged anti-fascist activist in August 2020, Rhodes wrote on the official Oath Keepers Twitter account the following:

The first shot has been fired brother. Civil war is here, right now. We’ll give Trump one last chance to declare this a Marxist insurrection & suppress it as his duty demands. If he fails to do HIS duty, we will do OURS. ‘against all enemies, foreign and domestic’ Stewart78

Other state-level leadership and some individual members of the group also assert that a civil war has already started.79 Yet for Rhodes and the Oath Keepers, that conflict historically is one against a tyrannical force determined to strip Americans of their natural rights and not centered on precipitating or hastening the collapse of democratic society.aj While Rhodes and the Oath Keepers brand regularly adopt political stances that are nakedly insurrectionary and use rhetoric that borders on incitement, the Oath Keepers group seeks to preserve the state versus dismantling the system in totality and expresses desires to protect democratic institutions and classical liberal values (such as natural rights)—albeit through illiberal expressions at times.80 These factors stand in stark contrast to the overt hostility to liberal democratic institutions found in contemporary groups and movements such as the Boogaloo, so-called Siege culture, and the neo-fascist skull mask network.ak Additionally, the lack of explicit racial in-group construction in the Oath Keepers identity further distinguishes it from other contemporary insurrectionary groups that adhere to Siegism, Christian Identity ideology, and other similar ideological currents.81

However, this does not preclude the Oath Keepers from being targeted for recruitment by accelerationists or having accelerationist activity and views within its ranks. Despite the lack of explicit racialized rhetoric and ideology, the Oath Keepers’ insurrectionary features have allowed insurrectionary accelerationists to latch onto and encourage the Oath Keepers’ goals as congruent with their own.82 Instead, the organization leaves the door open to individuals that may profess accelerationist views or act on accelerationist doctrine.83 Like other insurrectionary militia entities in American history, much of the organizational structure and ideology for the Oath Keepers is attractive and amenable to accelerationist milieus and networks to exploit. According to Sam Jackson, “Oath Keepers exemplifies a style of American politics that views violence as a legitimate means to achieve political goals, at least under certain conditions.”84 Thus, the Oath Keepers act at times as an insurrectionary movement that cloaks its violent activities in pseudo-patriotism and revolutionary rhetoric as a sense of duty to the U.S. Constitution. As the authors have stated elsewhere: “What better vessel could accelerationists imagine than a ready-made revolutionary movement fixated on an ultra-patriotic necessity to overthrow a corrupt government by force?”85

Part Three: Involvement in January 6
I think about half this country won’t recognise Biden as legitimate. They won’t recognise this election. What that means is that everything that comes out of his mouth will be considered not of any force or effect, anything he signs into law we won’t recognise as legitimate. We’ll be very much like the founding fathers. We’ll end up nullifying and resisting.
– Stewart Rhodes, November 15, 202086

Throughout 2020 and culminating in their alleged role in the January 6 insurrection, the Oath Keepers increasingly assumed an openly hostile stance toward the political status quo in the United States. This hostile stance has largely been predicated on the embrace of the “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theory, which is defined by the belief that President Biden illegitimately assumed office due to fraudulent vote tallies across the country in 2020.87 And, until January 6, 2021, that hostility was predominantly resigned to the rhetorical realm.

The alleged conspiracy by members of the Oath Keepers (see Figure 1) to disrupt the electoral confirmation process in Congress marked a stark departure from its historical engagement with the federal government, which was often defined by brinkmanship and the implicit threat of violent actions. By directly targeting the seat of America’s government, the group’s posture firmly shifted into a category of open antagonism.

Figure 1: Table of individuals identified by the Department of Justice as Oath Keepers-affiliated actors involved in the criminal events on January 6. Those who have been charged and have not pleaded guilty are presently awaiting trial in the D.C. District Court. (Source: Department of Justice court records89)

Preparations for the eventual operation at the U.S. Capitol by members of the Oath Keepers are alleged to have begun as early as November 9, 2020, as the reality of the results of the 2020 presidential election set in.an In a virtual meeting held that day, an individual referred to in court documents as Person One (identified in public reporting as Rhodes)90 allegedly told those in attendance that “we’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country.”91 That same day, Jessica Watkins, the self-described “C.O [Commanding Officer] of the Ohio State Regular Militia,” sent text messages to multiple recruits who had expressed interest in joining her group.92 Government filings identify the Ohio State Regular Militia as “a local militia organization which is a dues-paying subset of the Oath Keepers.”93 At the pro-Trump “Jericho March” in Washington, D.C., on December 12, 2020, Rhodes gave a speech to the crowd, calling on President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to remain in power, threatening that if he did not do so, the Oath Keepers would be forced to engage in a “‘much more desperate [and] much more bloody war’ to ensure that outcome.”94

Much like the alleged January 6 conspiracy orchestrated by members of the Proud Boys, the evidence set forth by the government suggests that the Oath Keepers took steps to protect their operational security in the lead-up to the storming of the U.S. Congress.95 Court records indicate that on December 31, 2020, seven of the identified Oath Keepers co-defendants, as well as Person One, Person Three, Michael Simmons (who has publicly admitted to being Person Ten),96 and others joined an invitation-only Signal group chat titled “DC OP: Jan 6 21,” which the government identifies as the “Leadership Signal Chat.”ao

According to court records, Person One posted an article on the Oath Keepers website on January 4, 2021, encouraging members of the group and affiliates to go to Washington D.C., for the planned events on January 5 and 6, 2021:

It is CRITICAL that all patriots who can be in DC get to DC to stand tall in support of President Trump’s fight to defeat the enemies foreign and domestic who are attempting a coup, through the massive vote fraud and related attacks on our Republic. We Oath Keepers are honor-bound and eager to be there in strength to do our part.97

In the days leading up to Capitol insurrection, as Person One allegedly used his platform as the leader of the Oath Keepers to set the narrative in motion that January 6 would be a pivotal moment of mobilization for the organization, local and regional planning intensified. The government alleges that on January 3, 2021, Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson served as two of the three organizers for an 18-participant meeting titled “dc planning call,” which was attended by Jason Dolan, David Moerschel, Caleb Berry, and other Oath Keepers.98

Around this same time, another group of co-defendants—including Jessica Watkins, Kelly Meggs, Graydon Young, Kenneth Harrelson, Joseph Hackett, Jason Dolan, William Isaacs, David Moerschel, Caleb Berry, and other Oath Keepers joined an invitation-only Signal chat titled “OK FL DC OP Jan 6.”99 It was at this point that Harrelson was added to the Leadership Signal Chat by Kelly Meggs, who informed the group that Harrelson would serve as the “Ground Team lead in Florida.”100

Members of the Oath Keepers’ January 6 conspiracy are alleged to have planned and executed travel in pairs or small groups to the Washington, D.C., area, arriving at local hotels on January 4 and 5, 2021.101 Numerous co-defendants checked into the Comfort Inn Ballston, a hotel recommended by Thomas Caldwell, and several of the Florida-based members of the conspiracy are alleged to have stored their guns at the hotel—which was described as the “QRF” hotel (in reference to the Quick Reaction Force allegedly positioned at the Comfort Inn in preparation to support Oath Keepers operation on January 6.)102 On the morning of January 6, 2021, the government alleges that the defendants traveled from their respective hotels to meeting points in Washington, D.C. At 9:36 AM, Jonathan Walden texted Joshua James, “Willard hotel?” in an apparent effort to confirm the meeting location; at 9:52 AM, he texted James again, “I’m here. Awaiting instruction.”ap Throughout the morning, the court records indicate that individual defendants exchanged short phone calls with Person One and “prepared themselves for battle before heading to the Capitol by equipping themselves with communication devices and donning reinforced vests, helmets, and goggles.”103

As crowds grew at the Ellipse and around the edges of the U.S. Capitol’s restricted grounds around 1:00 PM, members of the Oath Keepers began to assemble in the area. At 1:25 PM, Person One reportedly messaged the Leadership Signal Chat, “Pence is doing nothing. As I predicted,” followed by another message from him to this chat group at 1:40 PM, “All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’ve had enough.” Eight minutes later, Person One informed the Leadership Signal Chat that he was on his way to the Capitol, and at 1:50 PM, Jessica Watkins is alleged to have communicated through Zello that “we have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan.”104

As the main contingent of the Oath Keepers began to move toward the Capitol grounds, it is alleged that the Quick Reaction Force (QRF)105 at the Comfort Inn hotel in Ballston, Virginia, was on alert.aq As members of the Oath Keepers arrived in the Washington, D.C., area, numerous members are alleged to have traveled to the Comfort Inn in order to drop off firearms prior to their travel into Washington, D.C., itself.106 The exact composition and activities of the QRF on January 6 remains unclear, but some valuable information can be ascertained from the pre-trial filings in the conspiracy case. In responding to defendant Thomas Caldwell’s motion to modify the conditions of his pre-trial release, the government alleges that Caldwell, who “played a central and alarming role in the conspiracy with which he is charged,” conspired with Person Three to organize the logistics for the QRF.107

Person Three, not identified by name in the court documents, was also a member of the Leadership Signal Chat and is referenced by co-defendants during the planning of the January 6 operation. On December 30, 2020, Caldwell told Watkins he had just spoken to Person Three and that “{a}t least one full bus 40+ people coming from N.C.” The next day, Caldwell messaged co-defendant Donavan Crowl that “Oathkeeper friends from North Carolina are taking commercial buses up early in the morning on the 6th… [Person Three] will have the goodies in case things go bad and we need to get heavy.”108

On January 2, 2021, it is alleged that Florida Oath Keepers member Kelly Meggs posted a map of Washington, D.C., in the Leadership Signal Chat, indicating the Lincoln Memorial and “the corner of west basin and Ohio” would be the planned QRF rally points for land or water transport in anticipation of civil unrest and potential bridge closures.109 Crucially, the presence of a QRF outside Washington, D.C., was not purely an internal operational detail confined to encrypted messaging platforms. In Rhodes’ January 4 post on the Oath Keepers website, he detailed that, “As we have done on all recent DC Ops, we will also have well armed and equipped QRF teams on standby, outside DC, in the event of a worst case scenario, where the President calls us up as part of the militia to to [sic] assist him inside DC.”110

Uncorroborated statements made by defense counsel for Thomas Caldwellar claim the Quick Reaction Force consisted solely of Person Three. However, even if this is the case, government evidence indicates that a bus of individuals from North Carolina—including individuals affiliated with Person Three—traveled to D.C. and were dropped off near the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Capitol. Further, the evidence set forth to date does not necessarily allege that the QRF was meant to function as a standalone ‘second wave’ of sorts. Instead, communications between defendants suggest the QRF was designed primarily to allow the Oath Keepers to transport firearms to the suburban area near D.C. without running afoul of District firearms laws. Texts from Caldwell to an individual believed to be a member of a separate militia organization detail plans to have a boat prepared on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., with “our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms.”111

The Storming of the U.S. Capitol
The following timeline of the Oath Keepers’ involvement in storming the U.S. Capitol is that which is presented in government legal filings. The first alleged breach of restricted Capitol grounds by Oath Keepers co-defendants occurred at approximately 1:52 PM. Harrelson and Dolan allegedly entered the restricted U.S. Capitol grounds and quickly joined the crowd pushing up the central east steps of the Capitol several minutes later.112 At 2:03 PM, the administrator of the group’s “Stop the Steal J6” Zello chat messaged the group: “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.”113 At 2:06 PM, Person One messaged Person Ten asking what his location was, before stating, “I’m trying to get to you.” From 2:01 PM to 2:13 PM, Oath Keeper defendant Joshua James exchanged a series of phone calls with Person Ten, lasting for an approximate total of six minutes and thirty seconds.as At 2:14 PM, Person Ten wrote in the Leadership Signal Chat, “The [sic] have taken ground at the capital[.] We need to regroup any members who are not on mission.”114 At 2:15 PM, Person One called Kelly Meggs, and Person Ten called Joshua James; at this time, a group of co-defendants, including Joshua James, Roberto Minuta, Brian Ulrich, Mark Grods, and Person Twenty allegedly “became aware that individuals had breached the Capitol,” and James allegedly instructed the group to get their gear and head to the Capitol.115

At 2:22 PM, a large group of Oath Keeper co-defendants, including Donovan Crowl, Jessica Watkins, Sandra Parker, Bennie Parker, Graydon Young, Laura Steele, Kelly Meggs, Connie Meggs, Joseph Hackett, William Isaacs, David Moerschel, Caleb Berry, and James Beeks allegedly entered the restricted Capitol grounds. Two minutes later, Person One sent Kelly Meggs a message stating, “Go to the SOUTH side of the US Capitol,” followed by another message stating, “That’s where I am going. To link up with [Person Ten.]”116 Person One then instructed the Leadership Signal Chat to “come to the South Side of Capitol on steps” with a photograph of the southeast side of the Capitol.117 At 2:31 PM, Person Ten and Person One had a five-minute phone call, during which Person One received a call from and conferenced in Kelly Meggs for approximately 90 seconds.118 at

As the main group of Oath Keepers assembled on the south side of the U.S. Capitol, a smaller group including Minuta, James, Walden, Ulrich, Grods, and Person Twenty were allegedly riding a pair of golf carts toward the Capitol grounds.119 During this time, Minuta allegedly stated:

Patriots are storming the Capitol building; there’s violence against patriots by the D.C. Police; so we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now . . . it’s going down, guys; it’s literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building . . . f*cking war in the streets right now . . . word is they got in the building . . . let’s go.120

The secondary group parked the golf carts and allegedly “continued on foot towards the Capitol, frequently moving in a stack formation to move through the crowd.”121 Around 2:33 PM, James spoke to Person Ten for approximately 49 seconds. After that point, the secondary group allegedly took up positions at the front of the law enforcement perimeter around the east side of the Capitol building.122

At 2:35 PM, the main group of Oath Keepers is alleged to have begun to form what analysts call a ‘Stack,’ a column of “individuals wearing Oath Keepers clothing, patches, insignia, and battle gear” that allegedly maneuvered in an organized fashion up the east side of the Capitol in a now recognizable image from the day.123 This main group—Stack One—was joined by Harrelson and Dolan, who had initially breached Capitol grounds before 2:00 PM.au At the top of the steps, the Stack is alleged to have “pushed forward alongside a mob that aggressively advanced towards the east side Rotunda doors” at the central east entrance to the Capitol.124

At 2:45 PM, after breaching the east side Rotunda doors, Stack One allegedly moved into the Capitol Rotunda and began attempting to venture deeper into the Capitol building. Several members are alleged to have attempted to enter the Senate wing of Congress, joining “the mob in pushing against a line of riot police officers guarding the hallway connecting the Rotunda to the Senate.”125 Another small group of Oath Keepers allegedly left the Rotunda and headed toward the House of Representatives. At the same time, Caldwell and Person Two allegedly moved past barricades and upstairs to a balcony in the restricted area on the west side of the Capitol building. Shortly after, the Senate group was pushed back along with the rest of the mob with chemical spray deployed by officers, and members of the Oath Keepers began to exit the Capitol between 2:54 and 2:59 PM.126 At 3:05 PM, Person Ten messaged another individual “Were [sic] storming the Capitol.”127

As the main group of Oath Keepers departed the Capitol, the secondary Oath Keepers’ group—Stack Two—which had earlier arrived on golf carts, allegedly breached the building through the same east side Rotunda doors. Stack Two members Minuta and James reached the entrance to the Capitol Rotunda at 3:17 PM, where James allegedly “yanked and pushed” several of the riot officers who had formed a barrier between the lobby and the Capitol Rotunda. As Minuta filmed these events, he allegedly yelled, “This is what’s bound to happen, just get out! Get out! Get these cops out! It’s our f****** building! Get ‘em out, get out!”128 Grods and Ulrich allegedly entered the building briefly at 3:21 PM, but law enforcement officers surged forward from the Rotunda in an attempt to push those in the lobby out of the Capitol through the east side Rotunda doors. Ulrich and Walden were the final Oath Keepers that the government identified as exiting the Capitol at 3:33 PM and 3:35 PM, respectively.

The only remaining notable data points offered in public charging documents by the Department of Justice are highly illustrative of the government’s position as it relates to the actions of Person One and Person Ten. While both have been identified through public reporting as Stewart Rhodes and Michael Simmons, respectively, neither has been publicly charged with offenses related to their conduct on January 6 or as part of the broader alleged conspiracy.129 And yet, evidence of their alleged involvement in the conception, organization, and execution of this conspiracy is littered throughout the indictment.

The details set forth above show allegations related to Person One’s role in inciting and exhorting supporters publicly to travel to Washington D.C., and the central operational role both Person One and Person Ten played on the ground on January 6. As members of the Oath Keepers exited the Capitol, the government further alleges that some of them spoke with Person One and Person Ten. This included a three-minute phone call between Person Ten and James at 3:40 PM and a pair of phone calls between Minuta and Person One at 4:04 PM totaling approximately three minutes and 15 seconds. Shortly after 4:00 PM, individuals who allegedly breached the Capitol—including Graydon Young, Laura Steele, Kelly Meggs, Connie Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Roberto Minuta, Joshua James, Jonathan Walden, James Hackett, Jason Dolan, William Isaacs, David Moerschel, Caleb Berry, Brian Ulrich, Mark Grods, and James Beeks—gathered together with both Person One and Person Ten approximately 100 feet from the Capitol near the northeast corner of the building.130

As the omnibus conspiracy case against the Oath Keepers continues toward a pair of trial dates in 2022, several of those charged have negotiated plea deals with the government, which include cooperation—limiting their criminal exposure and dropping down the final calculated sentencing guidelines in exchange for their honest and fulsome testimony regarding their conduct and role in both the events on January 6 and their potential awareness of the conduct of their co-defendants in the wider conspiracy. To date, four of the 21 Oath Keepers defendants charged with conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding have pleaded guilty: Caleb Berry,131 Jason Dolan,132 Mark Grods,133 and Graydon Young.134 Essential questions—including why exactly the QRF did not mobilize with firearms to supply to Oath Keepers defendants in Washington, D.C., as well as the exact content of the numerous reported conversations between Person One, Person Ten, and the co-defendants during the morning and afternoon of January 6 as they allegedly converged on the Capitol—remain outside the scope of the publicly available evidence at present. These details may very well come to light during the course of the planned federal trials set to begin in May 2022, which would serve to better illustrate the degree of preparation and planning within this conspiracy.135

Part Four: After January 6
The alleged actions by members of the Oath Keepers on January 6 bring the group into closer alignment to accelerationist militias like the Wolverine Watchmen, which plotted to kidnap the sitting governor of Michigan over COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.136 Ultimately, the future of the Oath Keepers is unclear and intrinsically tied to the ongoing federal investigation into the organization’s alleged conspiracy to obstruct the official proceeding in Congress, as well as the potential legal ramifications for Rhodes personally. Where the Proud Boys found a positive boost to their mobilization following their role on January 6,av the Oath Keepers as an organization has seemingly been forced onto its heels by the weight of the federal investigation. Even in the absence of a federal indictment, Rhodes’ future as leader of the Oath Keepers remains an open question as longstanding internal grievances within the group rise to the surface.137 Additionally, the membership data leak has illuminated the inner workings of the organization to a granularity it has long avoided and laid bare to the public the extent to which this anti-government movement has garnered mainstream appeal and successfully gained supporters and members across those with a military and law enforcement background, and elected officials at the state and local levels. It is worth noting that the group has not actively engaged offline since the events of January 6 and the initiation of the federal investigations into the organization and Rhodes’ activities. However, it is important not to over-interpret this drop-off in activity because offline mobilization by the Oath Keepers had at times prior to January 6 been sporadic and confined to prominent public events.138

While Rhodes admitted to being questioned by the FBI in relation to his role in the Oath Keepers conspiracy on January 6 following its seizure of his cell phone in May 2021, there has been no indication to date that Rhodes has been charged.139 However, a December 2021 civil lawsuit by the D.C. attorney general names the Oath Keepers organization and numerous Oath Keepers members in a sprawling conspiracy case using a modern version of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act. This suit, similar to one brought against the Oath Keepers by Representative Bennie Thompson earlier this year, alleges that the group conspired to “terrorize the District by planning, promoting, and participating in the violent January 6, 2021, attack on the United States Capitol Building.”140 Additionally, government disclosures in the ongoing conspiracy case against members of the Oath Keepers shed light on efforts by Rhodes to distance himself from the criminal conduct by members of his organization. The government states that in his May 2021 FBI interview, Rhodes “asserted that he and Person Ten were ‘cut out’ of planning between individuals like Kelly Meggs and his [Meggs’] coconspirators.”141 Further, Rhodes along with Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio, Alex Jones, and Robert Patrick Lewis were recently subpoenaed by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.142 In the committee’s subpoena to Rhodes, they note that “in written and spoken remarks delivered prior to January 6, 2021, you repeatedly suggested that the Oath Keepers should, or were prepared to, engage in violence to ensure their preferred election outcome.”143

Despite alleged and proven involvement in January 6 by the Oath Keepers, the group’s online presence has persisted relatively unimpeded, though following January 6 its website temporarily went offline before returning under web host Epik.aw Notably, the Oath Keepers have at the time of publication not been removed from YouTube, where the group continues to spread conspiracies to its 43,600 subscribers.144 The Oath Keepers has long shown a remarkable offline resiliency for an organization so heavily reliant on social media to organize. That resiliency and the ability of the Oath Keepers to mount a significant and organized presence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, despite the losses during 2020 of social media access, suggest that while effective in some circumstances, de-platforming did not significantly impair the ability of the Oath Keepers’ brand to seed into the population.

This also suggests that the narratives and ideographsax leveraged by the Oath Keepers may outlive the group itself. According to the scholar Sam Jackson, Rhodes’ goals with the Oath Keepers were to strategically frame the group to appeal broadly across the American body politic.145 Today, the warped patriotism narratives that the Oath Keepers have deployed are far more common than during its founding and are being discovered and embraced by new audiences, such as QAnon, the Boogaloo, and more. These nascent and evolving anti-systems sentiments, particularly QAnon, are also flourishing within Oath Keepers ranks, indicating a symbiotic growth that may inform the group’s resiliency. These converging movements and audiences do not merely embrace existing narratives but subsume them—constructing increasingly complex justifications that necessitate militancy against conspiratorial enemies.

This trend ultimately means that the Oath Keepers as an organization are but one of a range of anti-government movements that continue to thrive in a consistently permissive environment for domestic violent extremist actors. And yet, as the organization’s future hangs in the balance of a federal investigation, the question remains: Are the Oath Keepers the tip of a spear for a failed coup attempt, or are they merely vainglorious insurrectionists going to ‘battle’ for the republic in a golf cart?     CTC

Matthew Kriner is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC) where he leads the Accelerationism Threat Assessment and Research Initiative. He is also the Managing Director of the Accelerationism Research Consortium (ARC). He specializes in accelerationism, U.S. domestic violent extremism, transnational far-right extremism, and radicalization. Twitter: @mattkriner

Jon Lewis is a Research Fellow at the Program on Extremism, where he studies domestic violent extremism and homegrown violent extremism, with a specialization in the evolution of white supremacist and anti-government movements in the United States and federal responses to the threat of accelerationism. He is also the Director of Policy Research at the Accelerationism Research Consortium (ARC). Twitter: @Jon_Lewis27

© 2021 Matthew Kriner, Jon Lewis

Substantive Notes
[a] Four additional individuals who have been identified as being associated with the Oath Keepers are charged for their alleged criminal conduct at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, but at the time of publication, none have been charged with conspiracy to disrupt the official proceeding of Congress. The four individuals charged with non-conspiracy federal charges are James Beeks, James Breheny, Jeremy Brown, and Jon Schaffer. See USA v. James Beeks, “Statement of Facts,” District of Columbia, 2021; USA v. James Breheny, “Criminal Complaint,” District of Columbia, 2021; USA v. Jeremy Brown, “Statement of Facts,” District of Columbia, 2021; USA v. Jon Ryan Schaffer, “Statement of Facts,” District of Columbia, 2021. See also Figure 1.

[b] FBI Director Christopher Wray has characterized the January 6 insurrection as domestic terrorism. In March 2021, he testified that “That attack, that siege, was criminal behavior. It is behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.” However, in the absence of a specific federal statute with attached criminal penalties for purely domestic, ideologically motivated acts of violence undertaken with no relationship to foreign terrorist organizations, no individuals charged in relation to their alleged activity at the U.S. Capitol are facing standalone terrorism charges at the time of publication. As such, the only clear indication of the Justice Department’s prosecutorial approach is in its potential use of the terrorism sentencing enhancement—tied not to a federal crime of domestic terrorism, but instead to the federal crimes of terrorism. It is possible this sentencing enhancement could be applied to a number of January 6 defendants accused of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1361 – Destruction of Government Property. Del Quentin Wilber, “FBI director says Capitol riot was ‘domestic terrorism,’” Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2021; Eric Halliday and Rachael Hanna, “How the Federal Government Investigates and Prosecutes Domestic Terrorism,” Lawfare, February 16, 2021; Sharyn Alfonsi, “Oath Keepers: How a militia group mobilized in plain sight for the assault on the Capitol,” CBS 60 Minutes, June 20, 2021; Kelly Jones, “No, the U.S. Capitol rioters can’t be charged with domestic terrorism for Jan. 6 insurrection,” WBIR, July 30, 2021.

[c] Lexington Common is the site of the first battle in the American Revolution. Oath Keepers advertised the event by inviting others “to celebrate ‘The shot heard around the world’ – April 19, 1775, where the first fighting in the Revolutionary War occurred.” See scholar Sam Jackson’s archive.

[d] In 2015, Rhodes was disbarred by the Montana Supreme Court for failure to respond to grievances and refusal to cooperate “in the disciplinary process constituted a knowing and intentional disregard of his obligations as an attorney.” In the matter of Elmer S Rhodes, “Order,” Supreme court of the state of Montana, 2015.

[e] The militia and patriot movements, while sometimes referred to as separate components of the broader anti-government extremist landscape in the United States, according to scholar Sam Jackson are best “defined by two closely related beliefs: the federal government (and possibly some state and local governments) are currently tyrannical or are quickly becoming tyrannical; and American patriots need to be ready to engage in conflict with that government to protect or restore traditional American rights. That conflict could begin anytime, and it could include a range of different types of action including an insurgency-style war.” Sam Jackson, “Fantasies of Violence in the Patriot/Militia Movement in the United States” in Barbara Perry, Jeffrey Gruenewald, and Ryan Scrivens eds. Right-wing Extremism in Canada and the United States (London: Palgrave, 2022), chapter forthcoming.

[f] Stewart Rhodes stated during an interview on InfoWars that: “Well, I think what we have to realize is that, you know, Trump actually failed. … He had a duty and responsibility to step up. But he failed to do that and he allowed a ChiCom puppet into the White House and I think we now need to just declare that to be illegitimate and refuse to comply with anything that comes out of his mouth, anything he signs, anything passed as so-called legislation. Label it ‘pretend legislation’ like the Founding Fathers did.” The Alex Jones Show, January 20, 2021. See also “Oath Keepers,” Southern Poverty Law Center.

[g] For ease of reference, the authors have chosen to refrain from using the acronym for Black Lives Matter as it is the same as the Bureau of Land Management.

[h] Rhodes has routinely appeared on the conspiracy website InfoWars and spoken at length about the threat of Marxism, antifa, and Black Lives Matter. The Oath Keepers website also regularly posts content that reinforces these views and promotes conspiracy theories related to COVID-19, anti-fascist organizing, democrats, and more. See, for example, Sam Jackson, “The long, dangerous history of right-wing calls for violence and civil war,” Washington Post, September 11, 2020.

[i] Scholarship suggests racism is also not a dominant driver in some other militia spaces. Amy Cooter’s research on the Michigan militia landscape suggests that the level of racism present in militias she studied is similar to that found across the broader American context. Further, Sam Jackson points out that “Most militia adherents aren’t motivated by a sense of racial superiority, although racial stereotypes can and do influence their views.” Sam Jackson, “Don’t assume the militias at the Charlottesville rally were white supremacists. This is what they believe now,” Washington Post, September 8, 2017; Amy Cooter, “Americanness, Masculinity, and Whiteness: How Michigan Militia Men Navigate Evolving Social Norms,” University of Michigan, 2013.

[j] A good example of this is the proactive stance that the Josephine County branch of the Oath Keepers took in relation to the Sugar Pine Mine standoff and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff. These episodes are described later in the article. Both times, the Oath Keepers’ national leadership team responded to actions taken by the local branch before issuing a stance on the incident and the merit of the Oath Keepers’ involvement. Sam Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020).

[k] Per Sam Jackson, in the by-laws for the organization, Rhodes is written in as “president of the group for life, unless he resigns or is found incompetent.” Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[l] Interestingly, some events have been linked to an uptick in membership of the Oath Keepers while others have seemingly led to a downturn in individuals remaining dues-paying members. This provides support to the same trend highlighted by Sam Jackson previously. See Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[m] Notably, Article VIII, Section 8.02 Restrictions on Membership, sub-section (c) of the Oath Keepers’ by-laws states that “Oath Keepers reserves the right in it’s [sic] sole discretion, to withhold, deny, or revoke the membership or associate membership of any person whom Oath Keepers determines will dilute, impair or disrupt Oath Keeper’s mission, dishonor, or in any manner bring ill repute to Oath Keepers.” Via Oath Keepers website.

[n] The Malheur Refuge Occupation is a pivotal moment in the organizing for the Oath Keepers despite it not being officially sanctioned by the group’s national leadership. Initiated by Ammon Bundy, who is not a member of the Oath Keepers, the Josephine County chapter of the Oath Keepers participated in the Pacific Patriots Network’s buffer while Ritzheimer did participate in the actual occupation. Led by Bundy, a number of militia activists staged a series of protests in Burns, Oregon, then proceeded to forcibly occupy a federal building on the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The month-long occupation resulted in the death of one militia participant that attempted to resist arrest. Carli Brosseau, “‘Rogue infidel’ Jon Ritzheimer among Oregon wildlife refuge occupiers,” Oregon Live, January 9, 2019; Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[o] Dyer was charged with possession of an unregistered grenade launcher as a result of this search; federal agents asserted that the grenade launcher “was one of three stolen at a California military base from a shipment of military equipment bound for Iraq.” Dyer, who was ultimately acquitted of this specific charge (and convicted for the others), claimed he thought the device was a flare gun and that a friend had given him the device in California in 2009. See Nolan Clay, “Marlow man cleared in stolen weapon case,” Oklahoman, April 15, 2010, and Ben Buchwalter, “A ‘Patriot’ Hero Goes Down,” Mother Jones, January 22, 2010.

[p] The listing is detailed in a leaked internal document related to Facebook’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations List, which was attained by The Intercept and published in October 2021. The list is a tool used by Facebook to understand and moderate key individuals and organizations suspected of, or known to be, involved in policy violating activities. As with all internal documents of such nature, the list is best viewed as a tool internal to Facebook’s operations and not a public indictment on the listed individuals or organizations. It is cited here to better illustrate how Facebook was approaching the Oath Keepers at the time of their ban from the platform. “Facebook Dangerous Individuals and Organizations List (Reproduced Snapshot),” Intercept, October 12, 2021.

[q] The post was in response to Governor Brown’s orders to state police to find Republican legislators that walked out from the state legislature. Militia and extreme far-right threats over the political row prompted the Oregon State Police to “recommend that the Capitol be closed.” Alex Lubben, “Let’s Check In on Those Oregon Republicans Who Fled the Capital, Shall We?” Vice News, June 24, 2019; Sarah Zimmerman and Gillian Flaccus, “Militia threat shuts down Oregon Statehouse amid walkout,” Associated Press, June 22, 2019.

[r] It has also led to internal divisions and allegations by Oath Keepers that Rhodes is secretly a federal informant. For more, see Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[s] The 24 percent rate for Oath Keepers is higher than the Proud Boys at 21 percent, though the Proud Boys had significantly more observed instances of offline mobilization logged by ACLED than the Oath Keepers in 2020. Logged instances of observed presence are defined by ACLED as offline activity where Oath Keeper participation was verified by the ACLED team through open-source research. See “Actor Profile: Oath Keepers,” ACLED.

[t] The Bundy Ranch Standoff was a significant event for anti-government militias across the United States with multiple groups, including the Oath Keepers, attending. See David Neiwert, “Back at the Bundy Ranch: More Militiamen Gather, Things Get Crazier,” Southern Poverty Law Center, April 23, 2014.

[u] The Sugar Pine Mine standoff occurred in Josephine County, Oregon. The Josephine County Oath Keepers involvement was determined by informal vote within the local chapter membership assembled at a meeting addressing the Sugar Pine Mine miners’ worries over federal action against their mine. See Tay Wiles, “Sugar Pine Mine, the other standoff,” High Country News, February 2, 2016.

[v] The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is in Harney County, Oregon. The Josephine County branch of the Oath Keepers is four counties west of the refuge, making their presence relatively proximate to the incident.

[w] While Rhodes declined to issue a call to action in support of the occupation, what he wrote on the Oath Keepers website at the time suggested he viewed the occupation as a potential catalyst to a conflict with the federal government: “If this situation goes south, and the Obama Admin turns this into another Waco, the crap WILL hit the fan nationwide, since there are no more free Wacos – not anymore – and you will have your hands full right where you are, and in reaction, the first thing you should do is organize town and county militias for mutual defense. And that is something we will all need sooner or later. So, start laying the groundwork for that now. Today.” “Note from Stewart Rhodes, founder and president of Oath Keepers,” Oath Keepers website, January 10, 2016.

[x] For months following the murder of George Floyd, Portland emerged as a flashpoint between the Trump administration’s DHS policies and anti-fascist demonstrators outraged over police-involved killings and federal government use of force during social justice protests. The epicenter of unrest was the federal courthouse in Portland, where federal officer presence had surged against the wishes of state and local authorities. The justification for the surge aligned with President Trump’s allegations that Portland had become “a lawless place filled with ‘anarchists’ who ‘hate our country.’” The Oath Keepers and many other far-right extremists latched onto this perception and became fixated with the unrest in Portland as a potential Marxist insurrection. See Mike Baker, “Chaotic Scenes in Portland as Backlash to Federal Deployment Grows,” New York Times, July 21, 2020.

[y] The Three Percenters is a deeply conspiratorial and violent militia movement that emerged in the resurgence of the militia presence in America around the 2008 presidential election. See “Three Percenters,” Southern Poverty Law Center.

[z] The Rise Above Movement (RAM) is an accelerationist and neo-fascist organization dedicated to fighting political enemies in the streets. In the aftermath of the Unite the Right rally, RAM was significantly affected by federal law enforcement investigations for its political violence. See A.C. Thompson, ProPublica, Ali Winston, and Darwin Bond Graham, “Racist, Violent, Unpunished: A White Hate Group’s Campaign of Menace,” ProPublica, October 19, 2017.

[aa] Patriot Prayer is an extreme far-right street fighting group founded in 2016 by Joey Gibson. Predominantly a Pacific Northwest presence, the group focused heavily on pro-Trump and anti-antifascist organizing in and around Portland, Oregon. Gibson was indicted on felony riot charges in August 2019. The group is close with the Proud Boys, and its members are known to hold ties to fascist and white supremacist milieus. See Jane Coaston, “The pro-Trump, anti-left Patriot Prayer group, explained,” Vox, September 8, 2020, and Nigel Jaquiss, “Joey Gibson, Five Others Formally Indicted for May 1 Melee at Northeast Portland Bar,” Willamette Week, August 22, 2019.

[ab] Vanguard America is a neo-fascist group that played a crucial role in organizing and participating in the violence of the Unite the Right demonstration in 2017. See “Vanguard America,” Anti-Defamation League.

[ac] Identity Evropa is a white supremacist and neo-fascist organization founded in 2016 that styles itself after the Identitarian aesthetic, which is a far-right pan-Europeanist belief system that holds white European identity is superior. The group played a central role in organizing the Unite the Right rally in 2017. See “Identity Evropa/American Identity Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center.

[ad] Four members of RAM were prosecuted federally for their roles in instigating riots at the so-called “Battle of Berkeley” (a string of “alt-right” demonstrations that degraded into riots with counter-protestors) throughout 2017. Leader Robert Rundo is currently wanted by the FBI and is allegedly in hiding in Eastern Europe with neo-Nazi organizations. See “Rise Above Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center.

[ae] A jury found white supremacist organizers of the Unite the Right event “liable on a state conspiracy claim” and awarded more than $26 million in damages to the plaintiffs. Defendants in the civil case included known white supremacists Jason Kessler, Matthew Heimbach, Richard Spencer, and Christopher Cantwell. See Mike Morales and Steve Almasy, “Jury finds Unite the Right defendants liable for more than $26 million in damages,” CNN, November 23, 2021; “Two Years Ago, They Marched in Charlottesville. Where Are They Now?” Anti-Defamation League, August 8, 2019; Glenn Kessler, “The ‘very fine people’ at Charlottesville: Who were they?” Washington Post, May 8, 2020; A.C. Thompson, Ali Winston, and Jake Hanrahan, “Ranks of Notorious Hate Group Include Active-Duty Military,” ProPublica, May 3, 2018; Hayley Evans, “All You Need to Know About the U.K. Proscribing the Neo-Nazi Group Atomwaffen Division,” Lawfare, May 17, 2021; and “Riot Charges reinstated against California white supremacist,” Associated Press, March 4, 2021.

[af] The Traditionalist Workers Party is a white supremacist group led by Matthew Heimbach. Heimbach has liaised with the now-designated terrorist organization Russian Imperial Movement and was a key organizer of the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. See “Matthew Heimbach,” Southern Poverty Law Center.

[ag] The Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) has been designated by the United States as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity, while Atomwaffen Division was proscribed as a terrorist organization by the British and Canadian governments. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Samuel Hodgson, and Colin P. Clarke, “The Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) and its Links to the Transnational White Supremacist Extremist Movement,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, April 24, 2020; Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault and Joseph Stabile, “Confronting Russia’s Role in Transnational White Supremacist Extremism,” Just Security, February 6, 2020; Jon Lewis and Mary McCord, “The State Department Should Designate the Russian Imperial Movement as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Lawfare, April 14, 2020.

[ah] As the authors’ outlined in their earlier CTC Sentinel article on the Proud Boys, Chapman is an accelerationist who briefly led the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights faction of the Proud Boys. See Matthew Kriner and Jon Lewis, “Pride & Prejudice: The Violent Evolution of the Proud Boys,” CTC Sentinel 14:6 (2021); Jay Barman, “Oath Keepers Stayed Away From SF & Berkeley Rallies Because Of Potential White Nationalist Presence,” SFist.com, August 29, 2017.

[ai] “Accelerationism is an ideologically agnostic doctrine of violent and non-violent actions taken to exploit contradictions intrinsic to a political system to ‘accelerate’ its destruction through the friction caused by its features.” See Jade Parker, “Accelerationism in America: Threat Perceptions,” GNET Insights, February 4, 2020.

[aj] Notably, anti-tyranny and no political solution narratives have also been a primary focus of groups and individuals that adhere to accelerationism. Matthew Kriner, Meghan Conroy, and Yasmine Ashwal, “Understanding Accelerationist Narratives: There Is No Political Solution,” GNET Insights, September 2, 2021.

[ak] According to scholar Alex Newhouse, the so-called skull mask network is “a transnational network of openly neo-fascist accelerationist groups” that was predominantly conceived in the Iron March forum and “explicitly advocated for the violent overthrow of governments and the creation of totalitarian Aryan nations.” Siege culture is one expression of this broader skull mask ecosystem. See Alex Newhouse, “The Threat Is the Network: The Multi-Node Structure of Neo-Fascist Accelerationism,” CTC Sentinel 14:5 (2021); JM Berger, “A Paler Shade of White: Identity & In-group Critique in James Mason’s Siege,” Resolve Network, April 2021; Matthew Kriner and Jon Lewis, “The Evolution of the Boogaloo Movement,” CTC Sentinel 14:2 (2021); H.E. Upchurch, “The Iron March Forum and the Evolution of the ‘Skull Mask’ Neo-Fascist Network,” CTC Sentinel 14:10 (2021).

[al] Government filings do not explicitly name Rhodes as Person One. However, court records state, “The Oath Keepers are led by Person One” and identify numerous public statements and posts linked to those made by Stewart Rhodes. Open-source reporting has similarly identified Person One as Rhodes. See USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021; Alan Feuer, “Oath Keepers Leader Sits for F.B.I. Questioning Against Legal Advice,” New York Times, July 9, 2021; Del Quentin Wilber, “Prosecutors’ challenge in Capitol riot probe: The Oath Keeper who didn’t go inside,” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2021.

[am] According to the government filings, Person Ten was named by Rhodes as the sole “operations leader” for the group’s activities in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. See USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[an] Government evidence suggests that several of the co-defendants—Joseph Hackett, Kelly Meggs, Connie Meggs, and Kenneth Harrelson—participated in “gunfight oriented training” at a training facility in September and October 2020. USA v. Joseph Hackett, “Government’s Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Reconsideration of Conditions of Release,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[ao] According to the sixth superseding indictment, Oath Keepers co-defendants Watkins, Kelly Meggs, James, Minuta, Hackett, Ulrich, and Grods were added to the Leadership Signal Chat. Person One is identified in public reporting as Stewart Rhodes, Person Three is an unidentified individual from North Carolina believed to be affiliated with the Oath Keepers, and Person Ten has been identified in public reporting as Michael Simmons. See USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021; Dan Friedman, “We’ve Unmasked the Oath Keepers’ January 6 ‘Operations Leader,’” Mother Jones, July 26, 2021; Spencer S. Hsu, “Oath Keepers founder, associates exchanged 19 calls from start of Jan. 6 riot through breach, prosecutors allege,” Washington Post, April 1, 2021.

[ap] The Willard Hotel reportedly served as a ‘command center’ of sorts for a host of individuals reportedly working in furtherance of the ‘Stop the Steal’ conspiracy, including Rudolph Giuliani, Stephen Bannon, Bernard Kerik, John Eastman, and others. Roger Stone, who reportedly had a team of Oath Keepers as bodyguards on January 5 and 6, 2021, was also reportedly present at the Willard at this time, although his involvement in the command center and precise activities on January 6 remain unclear. See Jacqueline Alemany, Emma Brown, Tom Hamburger, and Jon Swaine, “Ahead of Jan. 6, Willard hotel in downtown D.C. was a Trump team ‘command center’ for effort to deny Biden the presidency,” Washington Post, October 23, 2021; Matthew Mosk, Olivia Rubin, Ali Dukakis, and Fergal Gallagher, “Video surfaces showing Trump ally Roger Stone flanked by Oath Keepers on morning of Jan. 6,” ABC News, February 5, 2021; Luke Broadwater and Mark Mazzetti, “At the Willard and the White House, the Jan. 6 Panel Widens Its Net,” New York Times, November 9, 2021; Christiaan Triebert, Ben Decker, Derek Watkins, Arielle Ray, and Stella Cooper, “First They Guarded Roger Stone. Then They Joined the Capitol Attack,” New York Times, February 14, 2021; and USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[aq] In court proceedings, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Nestler claimed that, “We believe that at least one quick reaction force location was here and that Mr. Harrelson and others had stashed a large amount of weapons there … People affiliated with this group were in Ballston, monitoring what was happening at the Capitol and prepared to come into D.C. and ferry these weapons into the ground team that Kenneth Harrelson was running at a moment’s notice, if anyone said the word.” See Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu, “Armed ‘quick reaction force’ was waiting for order to storm Capitol, Justice Dept. says,” Washington Post, April 14, 2021.

[ar] The government has identified Caldwell as an ‘associate’ of the Oath Keepers, while his defense attorney has claimed he is not a formal member of the group. See USA v. Thomas Caldwell, “Motion and Memorandum in support of Reconsideration of Detention,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[as] The FBI 302 (the shorthand name of an FBI form used to memorialize an interview) of Person Ten includes a claim that James was ostensibly updating Person Ten as to the movements of a redacted VIP that James and other Oath Keepers were providing security for on January 6. Based on public reporting, James and other Oath Keepers were providing security for Roger Stone on January 6, who Simmons provided security for on January 5. However, there is no suggestion at present that Stone left the Willard Hotel on January 6, and the Department of Justice has noted that it believes Person Ten’s statements “lack credibility.” See USA v. Kenneth Harrelson, “Supplement to Defendant’s Reply Motion for Reconsideration of Conditions of Release,” District of Columbia, 2021; USA v. Kenneth Harrelson, “Government’s Surreply to Defendant’s Reply in Support of Third Motion for Release,” District of Columbia, 2021; Marcy Wheeler, “Joshua James’ Frequent January 6 Updates on His Jilted VIPer,” Emptywheel, December 10, 2021; Marcy Wheeler, “Person Fifteen (Aka Mark Grods), Another Roger Stone Security Staffer, Flips,” Emptywheel, June 30, 2021.

[at] At present, public filings have not identified the content of the phone calls obtained from the Oath Keepers devices, merely the records indicating sender and recipient of phone calls. While the exact content of some messages and chats is presumably not known by the government, the government filings in this case also specifically note that challenges exist related to the potential recovery of some Signal messages, which may be deleted through several mechanisms and are stored locally on users’ devices—preventing the government from obtaining the messages from Signal. See USA v. Kenneth Harrelson, “Government’s Opposition to Defendant’s Motion For Release,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[au] Government evidence presented to date does not allege that Person One or Person Ten joined the Stack as it advanced up the east steps. Their whereabouts are not explicitly identified in the most recent superseding indictment from the formation of the stack at 2:35 PM until the main group reformed “approximately 100 feet from the Capitol, near the northeast corner of the building” shortly after 4:00 PM. See USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[av] In the wake of January 6, the Proud Boys have engaged in numerous demonstrations despite the increased legal scrutiny. See Odette Yousef, “After Arrests And Setbacks, Far-Right Proud Boys Press New Ambitions,” NPR, September 29, 2021; Kriner and Lewis, “Pride & Prejudice: The Violent Evolution of the Proud Boys;” “Hate Map,” Khalifa Ihler Institute, 2021; authors’ interview, Samantha Kutner, November 2021.

[aw] Epik is known for its willingness to host domains associated with extremist organizations. Salvador Hernandez, “A Major Militia Group Said Its Website Was Taken Down Days After It Sent Members To The Capitol Riots,” Buzzfeed News, January 13, 2021.

[ax] As the authors have written previously on the Boogaloo movement, ideographs are “a set of abstract virtues … that are deeply familiar to many Americans: liberty, rejection of government abuses, and disgust at authoritarianism.” Kriner and Lewis, “The Evolution of the Boogaloo Movement.” See also Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[1] Based on Department of Justice court records compiled by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

[2] “Fifth Superseding Indictment Unsealed in Oath Keeper Conspiracy Case Related to Jan. 6 Capitol Breach,” U.S. Department of Justice, August 9, 2021; USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[3] Transcripts reviewed at scholar Sam Jackson’s archive.

[4] For an in-depth evaluation of Rhodes’ role and biographical background, see Mike Giglio, “A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans,” Atlantic, November 2020.

[5] Hannah Allam and Spencer S. Hsu, “Oath Keepers founder draws scrutiny from federal officials and followers,” Washington Post, September 17, 2021.

[6] Ibid.; Sam Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020).

[7] See 117th Congress Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, subpoena for Elmer Stewart Rhodes, November 23, 2021.

[8] Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[9] Scott Malone, “Heavily armed ‘Oath Keepers’ inject disquieting element in Ferguson,” Reuters, August 11, 2015.

[10] “Oath Keepers,” Southern Poverty Law Center.

[11] “Oath Keepers,” Anti-Defamation League.

[12] For more, see Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group, and Sam Jackson, “A Schema of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States,” ICCT Policy Brief, October 2019.

[13] Oath Keepers website.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Terry Gross, “After Covering Civil War Overseas, Journalist Examines U.S. Militia Movement,” NPR, October 28, 2020; Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[16] Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[17] Insight derived from authors’ review of chat logs, social media activity, and individuals’ comments associated with the Oath Keepers. See Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[18] Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group; Oath Keepers website.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Oath Keepers website.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Isaac Arnsdorf, “Oath Keepers in the State House: How a Militia Movement Took Root in the Republican Mainstream,” ProPublica, October 20, 2021.

[26] Jessica Garrison, Ken Bensinger, and Jeremy Singer-Vine, “Leaked Oath Keepers Data Shows At Least 28 Elected Officials Have Ties To The Group,” Buzzfeed, October 20, 2021.

[27] George Joseph and Micah Loewinger, “Hack Of Oath Keepers Militia Group Includes Names Of Active NYPD Officers, De Blasio Launches Investigation,” Gothamist, September 30, 2021.

[28] Based on authors’ review and analysis of the leaked data.

[29] Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group; “Oath Keepers,” Anti-Defamation League.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Oklahoma City Man Receives Eight-Month Sentence for Twitter Threat,” U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Oklahoma, February 2, 2010.

[32] Bill Poovey, “Courthouse takeover defendant is tearful,” Associated Press, October 22, 2011.

[33] Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[34] “Oath Keepers,” Anti-Defamation League.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Rebecca Woolington, “Oregon standoff defendant Jon Ritzheimer pleads guilty in federal conspiracy case,” Oregon Live, January 9, 2019; USA v. Jon Ritzheimer, “Judgment in a Criminal Case,” District of Oregon, 2017.

[37] Catherine Thompson, “Anti-Muslim Activist Says He Plans to Arrest Dem. Debbie Stabenow,” Talking Points Memo, September 23, 2015; Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[38] “Colleen Curry, “Ex-Marine Charles Dyer Captured in Texas,” ABC News, August 25, 2011; Ryan Lenz, “Oklahoma Oath Keeper Convicted of 6-year-Old Daughter’s Rape,” Southern Poverty Law Center, April 20, 2012.

[39] Ben Buchwalter, “A ‘Patriot’ Hero Goes Down,” Mother Jones, January 22, 2010; “America’s 2nd Revolutionary War,” Vice News, January 10, 2013.

[40] “Oath Keepers,” Anti-Defamation League, 2021.

[41] Igor Bonifacic, “Twitter bans far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers,” Engadget, September 10, 2020.

[42] JJ McNabb, “Testimony to House Homeland Security Committee,” July 2020.

[43] Oath Keepers website – Archive Version.

[44] Alex Newhouse and Sean Kitson, “The Oath Keepers are Spreading COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories,” Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, April 22, 2020.

[45] “Who Shall Guard the Guardians,” Stewart Rhodes Video, Oath Keepers Archive, Sam Jackson, posted April 19, 2010, accessed November 2021.

[46] See Mary B. McCord, “Dispelling the Myth of the Second Amendment,” Brennan Center for Justice, 2021, and “Prohibiting Private Armies at Public Rallies,” Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, 2020.

[47] Mark Hay, “The ​Leader of Oath Keepers Says the Right-Wing Group Is in Ferguson to ‘Protect the Weak,’” Vice News, December 1, 2014.

[48] Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[49] Alex Perez, Chris James, Katie Yu, and Chris Murphey, “Oath Keepers Guard Ferguson’s Streets and Rooftops, Drawing Police Opposition,” ABC News, December 2, 2014.

[50] Malone.

[51] Hay.

[52] Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group; “Hundreds of Volunteers Needed at the Sugar Pine Mine Security Operation in Oregon,” Way Back Machine, Oath Keepers website, originally posted May 1, 2015.

[53] Newhouse and Kitson.

[54] Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[55] The Alex Jones show, Banned, November 10, 2020.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Linda So, “Special Report: Trump-inspired death threats are terrorizing election workers,” Reuters, updated June 11, 2021.

[58] Joseph Choi, “Raffensperger: Trump request to ‘find’ votes was a threat,” Hill, November 2, 2021.

[59] Madelyn Beck, “The Oath Keepers: A Look At The Anti-Government Group Born In The Mountain West,” Boise State Public Radio News, February 1, 2021.

[60] For more information on relevant state constitutional and statutory provisions criminalizing paramilitary and private militia activity, see “Prohibiting Private Armies at Public Rallies.”

[61] “Oath Keepers,” Southern Poverty Law Center; Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[62] Ibid.

[63] “The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) and Richard Mack: How Extremists Are Successfully Infiltrating Law Enforcement,” Anti-Defamation League.

[64] Devlin Barrett, “Man charged in anti-government bomb plot in Oklahoma City,” Washington Post, August 15, 2017; Mark Hosenball and Jan Wolfe, “Three Percenters militia members charged in U.S. Capitol attack,” Reuters, June 10, 2021.

[65] “Examining Extremism: The Oath Keepers,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, June 17, 2021.

[66] Tom Knapp, “On guard: Armed civilians take up posts outside local recruiting office,” Lancaster Online, July 23, 2015; Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group; “Protect the Protectors-Update,” Oath Keepers website, July 22, 2015.

[67] Abigail Hauslohner and Justin Wm. Moyer, “Anti-sharia demonstrators hold rallies in cities across the country,” Washington Post, June 10, 2017.

[68] Taly Krupkin, “Meet the Proud Boys, the Chauvinists Providing ‘Security’ at a Right-wing Event Near You,” Haaretz, June 19, 2017; “Oath Keepers,” Southern Poverty Law Center; “Help Defend ACT for America Marches Against Sharia This Saturday, June 10, Nationwide,” Oath Keepers website, June 7, 2017.

[69] Ryan Lenz, “The Battle for Berkeley: In the name of freedom of speech, the radical right is circling the Ivory Tower to ensure a voice for the alt-right,” Southern Poverty Law Center, May 1, 2017.

[70] Ibid.

[71] David Neiwert, “Far Right Descends on Berkeley for ‘Free Speech’ and Planned Violence,” Southern Poverty Law Center, April 17, 2017.

[72] Vanessa Romo, “Charlottesville Jury Convicts ‘Unite The Right’ Protester Who Killed Woman,” NPR, December 7, 2018; Sam Jackson, “Don’t assume the militias at the Charlottesville rally were white supremacists. This is what they believe now,” Washington Post, September 8, 2017.

[73] Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, “Oath Keepers confirm militia will attend controversial Crissy Field rally,” San Francisco Examiner, August 18, 2017.

[74] “Call to Action: Veterans and Patriots Stand Up, Defend America from Leftist Violence,” Oath Keepers website, July 2020.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Kelly Weill, “The Far Right Is Stirring Up Violence at Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” Daily Beast, June 16, 2020.

[77] Matthew Kriner and Jon Lewis, “The Evolution of the Boogaloo Movement,” CTC Sentinel 14:2 (2021).

[78] Via JJ MacNab on Twitter, August 30, 2020.

[79] Prescott eNews, “The Coming Civil War? Part 1,” YouTube, November 22, 2020.

[80] See Jade Parker, “Accelerationism in America: Threat Perceptions,” GNET Insights, February 4, 2020, and Matthew Kriner, Meghan Conroy, and Yasmine Ashwal, “Understanding Accelerationist Narratives: There Is No Political Solution,” GNET Insights, September 2, 2021.

[81] Authors’ interview, Sam Jackson, November 2021; Jackson, “Don’t assume the militias at the Charlottesville rally were white supremacists.”

[82] Authors’ interview, Sam Jackson, November 2021. The authors and Sam Jackson explicitly discussed whether or not Oath Keepers is accelerationist, or expresses accelerationist views. See also Brian Hughes and Cynthia Miller-Idriss, “Uniting for Total Collapse: The January 6 Boost to Accelerationism,” CTC Sentinel 14:4 (2021).

[83] Authors’ interview, Sam Jackson, November 2021.

[84] Jackson, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group.

[85] Matthew Kriner, Alex Newhouse, and Jonathan Lewis, “Understanding Accelerationist Narratives: The Boogaloo,” GNET, November 18, 2021.

[86] Griffin Connolly, “America’s largest militia says it will refuse to recognise Biden as president and ‘resist’ his administration,” Independent, November 15, 2020.

[87] Sharyn Alfonsi, “Oath Keepers: How a Militia Group Mobilized in Plain Sight for the Assault on the Capitol,” CBS News, April 18, 2021.

[88] Dan Friedman, “We’ve Unmasked the Oath Keepers’ January 6 ‘Operations Leader,’” Mother Jones, July 26, 2021.

[89] Court records collected by Program on Extremism staff and reviewed by the authors. See “Capitol Hill Siege,” Program on Extremism, accessed December 12, 2021.

[90] See, for example, Jessica Garrison, Ken Bensinger, and Salvador Hernandez, “Some Oath Keepers Say Its Founder Has Betrayed The Group’s Mission — And Them,” Buzzfeed News, March 4, 2021; Dan Friedman, “FBI Seizes Oath Keeper Lawyer’s Phone in ‘Seditious Conspiracy’ Investigation,” Mother Jones, September 9, 2021.

[91] USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[92] Ibid.

[93] USA v. Jessica Watkins, “Affidavit in Support of Criminal Complaint,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[94] “Pro-Trump Rallies in DC Attract Extremists & Erupt into Violence,” Anti-Defamation League, December 13, 2020.

[95] See, for example, Pete Williams, “Proud Boys formed smaller group for Jan. 6, prosecutors say,” NBC News, May 14, 2021.

[96] Friedman, “We’ve Unmasked the Oath Keepers’ January 6 ‘Operations Leader.’”

[97] USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Ibid.; Mark Follman and Dan Friedman, “January 6 Conspiracy Case Deepens Against Oath Keepers,” Mother Jones, June 2, 2021.

[102] Ibid.; USA v. Thomas Caldwell, “Government’s Opposition to Defendant Thomas Caldwell’s Request to Modify Conditions of Release,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[103] USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[104] Ibid.

[105] Authors’ interview, Sam Jackson, November 2021. The authors and Sam Jackson explicitly discussed whether or not the Oath Keepers QRF on January 6 was indicative of a deeper conspiracy to commit armed violence. Ultimately, the authors and Sam Jackson agreed that given the commonality of QRFs in both Oath Keepers and broader militia mobilization, the mere presence of a QRF is not sufficient to suggest intent to carry out armed violence in advance.

[106] USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021; Kyle Cheney, “Prosecutors: Oath Keepers appeared to stash Jan. 6 firearms at suburban Comfort Inn,” Politico, April 13, 2021; Jordan Fischer, Eric Flack, Stephanie Wilson, “Oath Keeper pleads guilty, will testify militia stashed weapons at Virginia hotel ahead of Capitol riot,” WUSA9, June 30, 2021.

[107] USA v. Thomas Caldwell, “Government’s Opposition to Defendant Thomas Caldwell’s Request to Modify Conditions of Release,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[108] USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[109] Ibid.

[110] USA v. Thomas Caldwell, “Government’s Opposition to Defendant Thomas Caldwell’s Request to Modify Conditions of Release,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[111] See USA v. Thomas Caldwell, “Government’s Opposition to Defendant Thomas Caldwell’s Request to Modify Conditions of Release,” District of Columbia, 2021; USA v. Thomas Caldwell, “Motion and Memorandum in Support of Reconsideration of Detention,” District of Columbia, 2021; Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu, “Armed ‘quick reaction force’ was waiting for order to storm Capitol, Justice Dept. says,” Washington Post, April 14, 2021; and Jacob Shamsian, “A lawyer for an accused Oath Keeper Capitol rioter says the group’s ‘quick reaction force’ of weapon suppliers was actually just one guy,” Insider, March 3, 2021.

[112] USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[113] USA v. Thomas Caldwell, “Government’s Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Reconsideration of Detention,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[114] Ibid.

[115] USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Ibid.

[119] Ibid.; USA v. Robert Minuta, “Affidavit in Support of Criminal Complaint;” Marcy Wheeler, “The Grand Theft Golf Cart Conspiracy: DOJ Backed off Charges Against Roberto Minuta,” Emptywheel, April 2, 2021.

[120] USA v. Thomas Caldwell et al., “Sixth Superseding Indictment,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[121] Ibid.

[122] Ibid.

[123] Ibid.; Spencer S. Hsu, “Latest alleged Oath Keeper arrested in Capitol riot turned over body armor and firearm,” Washington Post, July 2, 2021.

[124] Ibid.

[125] Ibid.

[126] Ibid.

[127] USA v. Kenneth Harrelson, “Government’s Surreply to Defendant’s Reply in Support of Third Motion for Release,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[128] Ibid.

[129] Friedman, “We’ve Unmasked the Oath Keepers’ January 6 ‘Operations Leader;’” Hsu, “Oath Keepers founder, associates exchanged 19 calls from start of Jan. 6 riot through breach, prosecutors allege.”

[130] Ibid.

[131] USA v. Caleb Berry, “Plea Agreement,” District of Columbia, 2021; USA v. Caleb Berry, “Statement of Offense,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[132] USA v. Jason Dolan, “Plea Agreement,” District of Columbia, 2021; USA v. Jason Dolan, “Statement of Offense,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[133] USA v. Mark Grods, “Plea Agreement,” District of Columbia, 2021; USA v. Mark Grods, “Statement of Offense,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[134] USA v. Graydon Young, “Plea Agreement,” District of Columbia, 2021; USA v. Graydon Young, “Statement of Offense,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[135] Spencer S. Hsu, “Lead Jan. 6 Oath Keepers trial postponed amid evidence delays, ongoing investigation,” Washington Post, October 14, 2021.

[136] Kriner and Lewis, “The Evolution of the Boogaloo Movement;” Graham Macklin, “The Conspiracy to Kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer,” CTC Sentinel 14:6 (2021).

[137] Zoe Kalen Hill, “Leader of Oath Keepers Allegedly Spent Some of Group’s Money at Sex Shop, Gun Store,” Newsweek, June 17, 2021; Rebecca Ballhaus, Khadeeja Safdar, and Shalini Ramachandran, “Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, Forceful on Jan. 6, Privately Are in Turmoil,” Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2021.

[138] Authors’ interview, Sam Jackson, November 2021.

[139] Hsu, “Oath Keepers founder, associates exchanged 19 calls from start of Jan. 6 riot through breach, prosecutors allege.”

[140] Devlin Barrett, Tom Hamburger, and Rachel Weiner, “D.C. attorney general sues Proud Boys, Oath Keepers over Jan. 6 attack,” Washington Post, December 14, 2021.

[141] USA v. Kenneth Harrelson, “Government’s Surreply to Defendant’s Reply in Support of Third Motion for Release,” District of Columbia, 2021.

[142] Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer, “House Panel Investigating Capitol Attack Subpoenas Proud Boys and Oath Keepers,” New York Times, November 23, 2021.

[143] “Subpoena of Mr. Elmer Stewart Rhodes,” House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, November 23, 2021.

[144] Oath Keepers, YouTube.

[145] Authors’ interview, Sam Jackson, 2021.

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