Oath Keepers hack exposes law enforcement officers across the US
Law enforcement officers described what they could offer to the department’s guards:
“I have a variety of law enforcement experiences, including covert operations, surveillance, and SWAT,” one wrote in the membership application.
“Communications, weapons, K9 officer of the local sheriff’s office for 12 years now,” another wrote.
The third wrote: “I am currently serving as a deputy mayor in Texas.”
These men, sworn to uphold the law, were registering to join an extremist anti-government armed group.
Oath keepers trade conspiracy theories and wild interpretations of the United States Constitution. Its members participated in armed confrontations with the federal government. Some face charges in relation to their role in the January 6 rebellion.
The data is part of a huge data set that was hacked from the Oath Keepers website. The data, some of which was made available to the whistle-blower group “Secrets Distributed Denial” to journalists, includes a file that appears to provide the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of nearly 40,000 members.
A search of that list revealed more than 200 people who identified themselves as active or retired law enforcement officers upon registration. USA TODAY confirmed that 20 of them are still serving, from Alabama to California. Another 20 have retired since joining the department’s guards.
A man who filled out the form claimed to be a federal police officer and once worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
These men are almost certainly just a small portion of the law enforcement officers who have joined the militia over the years, since the vast majority of the people on the list have not volunteered information about their work. The leaked data does not indicate whether the people on the list are now paying members.
Founded after Barack Obama was elected in 2009 by Yale Law School alumnus Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers refuse to recognize the authority of the federal government. Members must abide by advertisement Of the conspiracy-laden orders they would refuse to carry out, including the disarmament of the American people.
Rhodes has long claimed that the group, which experts believe is the largest unauthorized militia in the country, consists primarily of active, retired, and military law enforcement officers.
Just one guard working for a police department or mayor is too many, said Daryl Johnson, a security adviser and former senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security.
“Oath guards subscribe to anti-government conspiracy theories, so the fact that officers belong to an organization that believes in this kind of thing really casts doubt on their own judgment and ability to make sound judgments,” Johnson said.
Acknowledgment of guilt:Fourth suspect Oath Keeper pleads guilty to conspiracy to riot at the Capitol, obstruction
Even more alarming, Johnson said, is the fact that oath-keepers make their members swear an oath of allegiance, as do the police and the military. This creates a serious conflict of interest.
“They view the US government as an enemy,” he said. When it comes to a crisis situation or an investigation involving other militias, where is this person’s loyalty? Most likely with the department guards and not the police department.”
Section guards sought
Scott Dunn, who left the Oath Keepers board in 2019 after disagreements with Rhodes, said the group’s membership form asked people to list their relevant skills.
Rhodes wanted to use that information as a searchable database, so we could hit Oklahoma and it would show us all the different specialties across Oklahoma, or we could search for a specific type of skill and it would show members who had that skill,” he said.
James Holsinger, a lieutenant with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland, is on the list. Holsinger is running for mayor in the county, where Hagerstown is located.
He did not respond to several requests for comment.
On the form, Holsinger apparently wrote that he “designed and executed tactical rescue exercises” and had “experience with a variety of weapons (lethal and non-lethal)”.
Officers all over the country joined the department’s guards
USA TODAY contacted dozens of serving and retired officers to ask why they joined the Oath Keepers. Most of them did not respond. Almost everyone who did said they were no longer members. One retired Marine and Corrections officer said he still supports the group.
In 20 cases, law enforcement agencies or the men themselves confirmed that they still worked there. Among the officers named to the membership list are:
- An officer with the Louisville Metro Police Department was involved in the shooting of an implicated officer in 2018.
- A former US Army officer who joined the New York Police Department and a former US Army officer who joined the Chicago Police Department. Both are still police officers there.
- He is 80 years old, and works part-time for the Ashley County Sheriff’s Office in Arkansas.
- Corrections officer in Riverside, California.
Among them is Major Eben Bratcher, chief operating officer of the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona. Bratcher told USA TODAY that he remembered receiving newsletters from the group “for a while.”
“Maybe I signed up many years ago but I don’t remember any details,” Bratcher said. “I know I canceled my subscription some time ago due to the sheer volume of email I received.”
When Bratcher signed up, he apparently wrote this note: “We have 85 sworn and boarder officers (from) Mexico in the south and California in the west. You’ve already submitted your website to dozens of my deputies.”
Bratcher said he doesn’t remember writing that. “I probably talked to many people about the new regulation,” he said.
Constable Joe Wright, of Collin County, Texas, said he joined in 2012, when he was first running for president.
“Honestly, I felt pressured to join her in this county for political support,” Wright said. “Oath guards, if you don’t support them you’ll get bad ratings.”
Wright said he didn’t know much about the group at the time. He said he remembered receiving a box of Oath Keepers, including brochures and posters, after signing up. He said he tossed it in the trash and hadn’t dealt with the group since his election in Northeast Dallas County.
“I don’t support them,” Wright said. “I’m not a radical. I’m doing my job.”
Officers say they are no longer members
Several officers admitted to registering but claimed that their membership expired long ago.
For example, Michael Lynch, an officer with the Anaheim Police Department in California, said he joined the Oath Keepers many years ago, but did not renew his membership when he learned more about the group.
“I didn’t get anything from it,” he said in an interview. “There was no local branch or anything, so when it came time to renew, I was like, ‘Don’t send another $40.'”
Lynch was the officer who bragged about his covert, surveillance and SWAT training.
“We clearly had no knowledge of this,” said Anaheim spokesman Sgt. Shane Kringer. “We will consider the options we have as management taking into account the rights our employee has.”
Always an extremist group, but lately it’s more extreme
It is unclear from the data that was hacked exactly when the officers involved registered. Experts from the department’s guards said the militia has certainly changed since its founding in 2009.
Heidi Berish, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said that what began during the Obama administration as a group to fight what she saw as the transgression of the federal government has evolved into a more hateful and paranoid organization. I’ve tracked the department’s guards since their inception.
“Rhodes and her comrades are getting more and more extreme,” said Beric.
However, she said, the department’s guards have always been an extremist group. It was founded in illogical and hateful conspiracy theories and always had an anti-government streak.
She and other experts said they are concerned about law enforcement officers who have joined the department’s guards at any time.
“I don’t think police officers should get involved with extremist groups,” Berish said. “You are part of the government, you represent the entire community as a police officer, and there is clearly a problem when you are in a group that questions the government’s right to do the things that the government is entitled to do.”
JJ MacNab, a fellow in the Extremism Program at George Washington University, said she understands how law enforcement officers could have joined the Oath Keepers years ago without knowing much about it.
Lynch, the officer in Anaheim, said he joined in 2016 after speaking to recruits at a booth at a Las Vegas gun show. He said he thought they were a replacement for the National Rifle Association.
McNab buys it.
“People join things all the time without doing their due diligence,” she said. “And for years, the only due diligence that could have been done was on the Southern Poverty Law Center website, and most police officers would immediately dismiss it as biased.”
For most Americans, joining oath guards is a work protected under the First Amendment. But several Supreme Court cases have demonstrated that police departments can set broad limits on what their employees may say or write, and what organizations they belong to.
Valerie Van Brooklyn, a former federal prosecutor who trains police departments in the use of social media, said most officers are under the false impression that the First Amendment gives them the right to say anything on social media or in public.
“The vast majority of cops in the country don’t understand this,” Van Brooklyn said. “Your public employer does not have to pay you for your disobedience or disgraceful conduct that pollutes the insignia and uniform.”
Contributing: Aliso Bajak, Dan Kimahill, Mike Stuka