A new report from a government watchdog details an alarmingly comfortable relationship between the U.S. Secret Service and far right militant group the Oath Keepers during the final months of the Trump administration.
The report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) was published on Wednesday, and includes communications between Secret Service agents, including emails from one who claimed to be a “liaison” between the agency and the right-wing group.
Several high-ranking members of the Oath Keepers — a far right, anti-government organization that is comprised of former law enforcement officials and military veterans who frequently align with white nationalist groups — were involved in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building. Stewart Rhodes, then the leader of the organization, was convicted last fall of seditious conspiracy for his role in coordinating the attack, orchestrated by a mob of Trump loyalists, to keep former President Donald Trump in office.
It’s unclear whether the Secret Service and the Oath Keepers were in communication with each other at that point. However, the report from CREW demonstrates that the entities had a very chummy relationship just months before the January 6 attack.
According to the report, an email from one Secret Service agent to others indicated that they had been in communication with Rhodes, and were acting as an “unofficial liaison” between the agency and the right-wing group — “inching towards” becoming the “official” intermediary, the agent added, seemingly eager to take on that role. The email also vastly downplayed the Oath Keepers’ far right views, stating to the other agents in the email that the group’s “stated purpose is to provide protection and medical attention to Trump supporters if they come under attack by leftist groups” during a rally set to take place in Fayetteville, North Carolina, that September.
A separate agent, who also spoke to Rhodes, minimized the group’s past actions by saying their intentions were merely to ensure “those attending the event make it to and from their cars safely.”
“They are NOT there to demonstrate or push a political agenda,” that agent added.
Other members of the Secret Service also appeared willing to downplay the group’s white supremacist ties. When an agent involved in the email expressed concern about working with Rhodes, another suggested that his ties to white nationalists were not as strong as the media suggested — even though, as CREW pointed out, “there was plenty of other publicly available information about Rhodes and the Oath Keepers at the time that should have easily raised alarm.”
As CREW showcases in its report, the Oath Keepers traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, arming themselves and intimidating demonstrators during the uprising following the police killing of Michael Brown. The group has also taken disturbing political stances, comparing Hillary Clinton to Adolf Hitler in 2015; that same year, Rhodes said that John McCain should be hanged for supposedly committing treason against the U.S.
The Oath Keepers have a documented history of having “repeatedly worked alongside white supremacist and white nationalist groups,” CREW wrote.
“It feels like a huge oversight for Secret Service special agents to be in close communication with Stewart Rhodes, without acknowledging the Oath Keepers’ ties to white nationalists and clashes with law enforcement,” CREW said in a separate tweet about the report.
While it’s unclear if the agency’s communications with Rhodes and/or the Oath Keepers continued beyond that month, the manner in which agents talked about the organization seems to indicate it may have lasted longer, perhaps up to or even beyond the 2020 presidential election.
The watchdog group also noted that it appeared that the Secret Service didn’t want the information about its communications with Rhodes made public.
“Based on how hard it was to get records back to our request, it sure seems like the Secret Service didn’t want us to know that special agents were in close contact with Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes,” CREW said in another tweet.