Who Are the Oath Keepers and Why Are They in Ferguson With an Infowars.com Reporter?

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Members of the Oath Keepers on the street with their weapons during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 11. Lucas Jackson/Reuters

A group of heavily armed citizens calling themselves the Oath Keepers arrived in the middle of a crowd of protesters and riot police in Ferguson, Missouri, on Monday night. Reuters describes them as "an association of current and former U.S. soldiers and police who aim to protect the U.S. Constitution," and their presence drew the ire of locals and law enforcement as they strolled the lines carrying M4 semi-automatic rifles.

That “open carry” appearance seemed to add more tension and confusion to the riot-torn city. The Oath Keepers told reporters they were on the streets to protect several reporters who were from Infowars.com, a conservative media outlet that often trades in conspiracy theories. Joe Biggs, one of the Infowars.com reporters, spoke to Newsweek about the armed escorts accompanying him to the protests early Tuesday.

Biggs, a retired Army staff sergeant, says he and the Oath Keepers met up because the men weren't able to protect businesses, as they had done during the riots in Ferguson last fall. The Oath Keepers hoped to stand guard over buildings in the path of protests but hadn't received written permission from the owners yet, Biggs says, adding that he texted the Oath Keepers and they met up.

"They said, 'Hey, since we don’t have anything to do, we can lend you assistance or we can come out and help you,'" Biggs, 31, says. "I said, 'Sure, why not?'"

He says he always felt safe. The situation on the ground was relatively calm when he arrived there to shoot video at approximately 12:45 a.m. Tuesday. At that point, only about 100 protesters were out to confront the riot police.

Asked about reactions to the Oath Keepers, Biggs says that negative perceptions are due to misunderstanding.

"Some of them were kind of shocked to see guns," Biggs says. "Some people tried to call us racist white supremacists because we're white and the fact that we had armed people."

He adds, "I've been a journalist for a little while. I've been all over the place, and Anderson Cooper has armed guards, so does Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow and all these people. They all go out and they have armed security—no one bats an eye. 

"Instead of pistols, these guys have M4s," he says of the Oath Keepers's weapons. "Most of these guys are ex-military like me, so it's just second nature to have one of those around."

Biggs says that five Oath Keepers accompanied him and that he didn't see them carry any other weapons. While some in the crowd were wary of the Oath Keepers's presence, others were glad to see them, he says.

"You saw people come out of the crowd, giving them hugs, shaking their hands, but you're not going to see pictures of that because that doesn't fit the mainstream narrative—that white people with guns are automatically, you know, white supremacists or some shit," he says. "That's the thing that I really get pissed about. I wake up this morning, turn on the Internet and everyone's completely slandering and misrepresenting what's actually going on."

Biggs maintains the Oath Keepers are there to protect locals and protesters, not scare them.

"There are a lot of provocateurs and people from outside of the area that come in to try and do harm and take advantage of a situation that they already know is bad, a crumbling area that's trying to heal, and they come and take advantage of that, break into business and take stuff," he says. "What they do is they stand out there and make sure it doesn't happen."

He adds, "You don't see anybody really write articles about the business owners who have guns standing outside. There were people out there last night guarding their businesses with guns."

Biggs, who has a pistol in his hotel room, says this is integral to constitutional rights. "That's why we have a Second Amendment—so we can protect ourselves and our property and our families."