Recent investigations have found direct ties between major police departments and the extremist right-wing militant group the Oath Keepers, which was a major player in the January 6 attack on the Capitol and regularly participates in violent intimidation of left-wing protesters.
Documents purported to be from the Oath Keepers, leaked by whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets, show direct overlap between their members and active police officers in major cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, according to a recent NPR report.
Of active police in major cities, the Chicago Police Department reportedly has the highest portion of Oath Keepers membership, with 13 active members, NPR found. One of those officers, who lists their profession as a firearm trainer for the Chicago PD, has included membership in the far-right militant group as one of their “accomplishments” on LinkedIn.
Another officer in Chicago told NPR that he joined the group years ago because he was upset over the city’s ban on handguns, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2010. The Oath Keepers pride themselves on their militant anti-government stances and baseless conspiracy theories about the governments’ supposed trampling of civil liberties — while also engaging in police-like vigilante activities like armed patrolling of polling sites to ensure that the election wasn’t being “stolen” from Donald Trump.
At least three people in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and two active members of the New York Police Department are listed on the Oath Keepers roster, NPR found. An analysis from USA Today, meanwhile, showed that over 200 people on a nearly 40,000-person roster identified as active or retired police, including officers in states across the country.
Joe Wright, a constable in Texas, told USA Today that he joined in 2012 because of political pressure. “To be honest, I felt pressured to join it in this county for political support,” Wright said. “The Oath Keepers, if you didn’t support them, you were going to get bad reviews.”
When contacted by the media, many of the officers had excuses for their name appearing on the list, claiming to know very little about the group. However, some police departments, like the NYPD, are conducting internal investigations of the officers whose names appeared on the list, meaning that the officers have reason to obscure their affiliation with the group.
According to Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the group is made up largely of active and retired members of the military, police and first responders. “The group openly and intentionally recruits these individuals to their ranks, mostly in an effort to capitalize on the skills and knowledge these individuals acquired during their time of service,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reported.
One of the group’s primary stated goals is to build militias in the U.S. by stockpiling military equipment and holding paramilitary trainings. The group’s members trained for months in the lead up to the armed attempted coup on January 6, according to documents from the Department of Justice. Earlier this year, a leader of the group said that active police officers help the group with paramilitary training.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that any members of the NYPD who are revealed to have loyalties to the group should be fired from the force. But such a small move is unlikely to address the widespread issue of extremist right-wing sentiments and violence within police departments.
Recent investigations have found numerous incidents of active police expressing outright hostility towards Democrats, Black people, women and Jewish people in Facebook groups, where they post vile, dehumanizing statements about various marginalized groups. As investigation after investigation has documented, there are strong links between police departments and white supremacist groups .
When police brutality and murders occur, police are often given more funding for initiatives like diversity training. But, as Garrett Felber wrote for Truthout, “If history is any guide, liberal professionalization reforms such as community relations training, racial diversification and data analysis will not change the violent outcome of police murder.” Police and prison abolitionists have said that the violence is structural and inherent to policing, which is why police “reforms” often do more harm than good.
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