A new investigation finds that hundreds of people on membership rolls for the far right group the Oath Keepers are current or former employees of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — the agency theoretically tasked with defending the public against extremist right-wing movements.
According to a report by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), over 300 members on Oath Keepers membership roles have worked for DHS. These members have worked for DHS branches like Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Secret Service.
The list is from 2015, and is likely not entirely comprehensive in showing the pervasiveness of far right groups in security-related government agencies. Some of the members on the list, when contacted, denied Oath Keepers membership or said they have let their membership lapse; government insiders say, however, that the list is only the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the overlap between dangerous far right groups and government agencies like DHS.
The Oath Keepers is a far right militia that has aligned itself with modern extremist right-wing movements being pushed by the Republican Party. It has historically had an anti-government stance, though in recent years members have posed as security for far right political figures tied to leaders like Donald Trump, or have offered to do so.
Such an overlap at DHS is of particular concern because the agency is tasked with protecting against far right threats. POGO and OCCRP specifically looked at DHS because employees within the agency often have access to classified intelligence about groups like the Oath Keepers.
Federal law enforcement employees “have access to federal intelligence that pertains to far-right military groups and therefore might have information about active investigations or personnel within the Oath Keepers,” Mike German, a former FBI agent who has infiltrated far right and white supremacist groups, told POGO and OCCRP.
As such, the presence of Oath Keepers members within DHS could at best represent a conflict of interest for employees and at worst be used as a tool for groups like the Oath Keepers to avoid scrutiny from the federal government and operate with impunity.
Indeed, as the report notes, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who along with several other Oath Keepers has been convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, once wrote of the value of this relationship. “It’s men like this on the inside who can and do provide information to expose what’s going on,” he wrote on the group’s blog in 2009.
Such dangerous extremism in the hands of people tasked with powerful security jobs could have dire consequences. For instance, reporters have uncovered that as the January 6 attack was in progress and Congress was preparing to certify the results of the 2020 election, Secret Service agents had attempted to remove then-Vice President Mike Pence from the Capitol. Pence refused to leave, but if he had been taken away, it could have affected the certification of the results of the presidential election, which is presided over by the vice president.
The Secret Service also sat on information related to the January 6 attack, failing to send information on threats against crucial political figures to Capitol Police or other agencies until it was too late to prepare, reports have found.
The Oath Keepers’ overlap with agencies within DHS is ideologically consistent with the way that many of these agencies operate. Border Patrol and ICE carry out the U.S.’s most cruel anti-immigration policies, for instance. As one Border Patrol agent wrote, per the report, “Most Border Patrol Agents are Oath Keepers, we just haven’t signed up yet.”