The Road to Jan 6 Final

The Oath Keepers Called for Attacks on the Government: Insurrection, by Definition

In this daily series, Newsweek explores the steps that led to the January 6 Capitol Riot.

In an Internet broadcast on November 10, Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, a graduate of Yale Law School, talked about the upcoming rally planned for Washington over the weekend. He said his organization had armed men on standby by "as a nuclear option" to prevent the election from being stolen from Donald Trump.

"This election was stolen and this is a communist/Deep State coup, every bit as corrupt and illegitimate as what is done in third world banana republics," he said.
The only way to prevent his men from engaging in a "bloody fight," he said, would be for Donald Trump to declassify the information already in the government's hands that would expose the ring of pedophiles in the "deep state" who were trying to prevent the president from staying in power.

Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in 2009 after the election of Barack Obama. In 2010, homeland security intelligence merely described The Oath Keepers is "a nonprofit organization with a constitutionalist ideology" that "promotes themselves as patriots and is comprised mainly of military and law enforcement personnel."

Oath Keepers have chapters across the U.S.
The "Oath Keepers" spoke openly about taking violent action against the government. But the Department of Homeland Security ignored them. William Campbell / Contributor/Getty

"The Oath Keepers maintain several websites upon which they list 10 orders they believe are unconstitutional and therefore have the right to refuse to follow," said one of the first internal reports about the group.

The next year, a homeland security-funded fusion center warned in a restricted report that many organizations like the "anti-government" Oath Keepers were attempting to recruit public safety personnel into their organizations to create greater legitimacy "and gain access to government information and contacts."
Postings on YouTube, the report said, talked about a "New World Order" and a "rising up" against a "tyrannical government."

"The Republic is on the verge of destruction precisely because Republicans have chosen the lesser of two evils (the lesser of two oath breakers) in each election," Rhodes said in 2012. "When you take a slightly reduced dose of poison, say 80% poison instead of 100%, you are still poisoning yourself, and you will still die."

At the end of the Obama administration, another homeland security report said the Oath Keepers and another organization—the Three Percenters—were the two largest national groups within the militia movement, justifying violence to counter "perceived threats or violations to the US Constitution," particularly to prevent the seizure of personal weapons on behalf of one-world government, the foreign troops on American soil forcing those who resist into secret FEMA-built concentration camps. Other intelligence reports said that though Rhodes portrayed immigrants from Central and South America as waging a war on the "the West to flood us with Third World people," the organization overall was not racist, having many African-American members.

During the 2016 campaign and throughout the Trump administration, armed Oath Keepers would show up to provide voluntary "security," sometimes illegal because of the presence of arms, sometimes even at polling places, sometimes after natural disasters such as hurricanes. With Trump in office, the Oath Keepers pivoted to supporting the president's "America First" agenda, increasingly suspicious of the "deep state" conspiracy that was, in their view, actively thwarting Trump's objectives. That became their rallying cry during most of the next four years.

By 2020, propelled partially by COVID, the Oath Keepers descended deeper into the world of conspiracies, promoting anti-lockdown and then anti-vaccine rhetoric. Rhodes started speaking of taking up arms in what he predicted would be a "bloody civil war" against the U.S. government. The organization continued to encourage law enforcement and military personnel to actively resist orders they considered unconstitutional. And they saw law enforcement officers who enforced what they called an illegitimate version of the Constitution to be enemies of freedom, a rarity (though growing) in right-wing ranks.

An early 2020 intelligence report says, "The Oath Keepers' current recruiting pitch focuses on gun rights and the Second Amendment. But unlike other gun libertarians, the Oath Keepers promote paranoid fears of a 'New World Order' conspiracy and spread veiled anti-Semitism in distrusting 'elites.'" Another homeland security classified report in March 2020 called the Oath Keepers "one of the largest anti-government groups active in the United States," boasting a membership in the tens of thousands.

"The Oath Keepers conspiratorial ideology," the report said, "promotes the idea that the government will use a major event—like a pandemic, natural disaster, or terror attack—to impose martial law in the U.S. and confiscate guns, ban interstate travel, and engage in the unlawful mass detention of U.S. citizens."

Though the Oath Keepers would become one of the most widely-known, name-brand groups, there is no evidence that the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security shifted any resources to examining their violent and anti-government threats. The domestic security apparatus should not have ignored such talk: in speaking openly about attacking the federal government, the Oath Keepers were, by definition, insurrectionists.