Press Release

ADL Report Exposes Tactics of Anti-Government “Oath Keepers”

New York, NY, September 18, 2015 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today released a new report on The Oath Keepers, a growing anti-government extremist group whose avowed purpose is to enlist current and former military, police, and first responder personnel into its ranks in order to oppose a supposedly “tyrannical” government.

The report, “The Oath Keepers: Anti-Government Extremists Recruiting Military and Police,” describes the tactics and activities of this extremist group, whose armed members have inserted themselves into a variety of high-profile and confrontational situations across the country in 2014-2015, including the recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

Most recently, the Oath Keepers offered to “protect” Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who attracted national attention after she refused to grant licenses for same-sex marriages and spent time in jail for contempt of court as a result.  The Oath Keepers volunteered to “ensure she will not be illegally detained again.”  Davis refused the offer.

“The Oath Keepers have clearly demonstrated a growth of assertiveness and activity,” said Mark Pitcavage, ADL Director of Investigative Research.  “At the same time they cast themselves in the role of protectors and supporters of law enforcement and the military, they are clearly seeking opportunities for armed confrontations with the federal government.  When you have heavily armed extremists with a conspiratorial and anti-government mindset looking for potential showdowns with the government, it is a recipe for danger or disaster.”

Other recent activity involving the Oath Keepers includes:

  • In September 2015, In August 2015, Missouri Oath Keepers with assault rifles showed up in Ferguson, Missouri, in response to anti-police protests related to the controversial August 2014 shooting of Michal Brown, an African-American teenager, by a white Ferguson police officer.  Oath Keepers had previously appeared at Ferguson in November 2014
  • In July 2015, Oath Keepers at various places around the country showed up with weapons to “protect” military recruiting centers in the wake of the shooting attacks against two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee, until the military and local law enforcement asked them to desist.
  • In 2015, in Montana and Oregon, armed Oath Keepers intervened in disputes between mining companies and the federal government.  These incidents followed participation by the Oath Keepers in the armed standoff in Nevada between rancher Cliven Bundy and his anti-government supporters and the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The Oath Keepers, founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a former Ron Paul congressional staffer, claim a membership of 35,000.  Though this figure is greatly exaggerated, they are nevertheless one of the largest anti-government extremist groups currently operating in the United States. 

The Oath Keepers in particular seek to recruit current and former military personnel, as well as police and first responders, into their ranks, a problematic tactic that military services and law enforcement agencies must guard against.  However, the Oath Keepers also allow others to join their group and many members have never served.

The conspiracy-oriented anti-government ideology of the Oath Keepers places them squarely within the militia movement, though they are much larger than any single militia group.  Like the rest of the militia movement, the Oath Keepers have had a number of members arrested for criminal activity, often involving illegal weapons or explosives charges.