As activists and citizens mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, an armed paramilitary group called the Oath Keepers is on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri once again. Oath Keepers arrived in Ferguson in the small hours of Tuesday morning, heavily armed and focused on a nebulous, unspecific mission.
According to The Washington Post, the Oath Keepers — who openly carried their automatic weapons while walking the volatile streets of Ferguson — indicated they were in the area to protect an individual associated with the website Inforwars, a project run by prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. USA Today noted that Infowars has denied hiring Oath Keepers as private security for their reporters, but added “we respect them for encouraging active military and retired veterans to study the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
Such admiration and appreciation for the Oath Keepers was not shared by police in Ferguson. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the Oath Keepers’ presence in Ferguson was both “unnecessary and inflammatory.” St. Louis County Police spokesperson Shawn McGuire told reporters that law enforcement did not directly engage Oath Keepers, but admitted that the group’s presence in Ferguson was something of a mystery.
“We do not know who sent them.”
According to NBC News, the organization boasts a membership of over 30,000 members nationwide. The organization adheres to a rigid, fundamentalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and is decidedly opposed to the federal government. The Southern Povery Law Center has published an extensive analysis of Oath Keepers founder, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, as part of the organization’s “Extremist Files.”
Many reacted with surprise and disdain to the Oath Keepers’ intimidating presence on the streets of Ferguson, sharing comments and observations via social media.
Top reasons to become an ‘Oath Keeper’ include: 1) Just been so angry since the divorce; 2) No book club this week; 3) Racism. #oathkeepers
— Chris Addison (@mrchrisaddison) August 12, 2015
Oath Keepers is an anti-government militia group. And by “government,” they mean “black.” http://t.co/ns3CtJA0Pr
— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) August 12, 2015
#oathkeepers roaming around freely with massive gun presence but cops arrest black people on “suspicion” of gun possession. Racism? Yep.
— No Justice No Peace (@drumbeats4peace) August 12, 2015
On Instagram, observers attempted to depict the tension between Oath Keepers and protesters in Ferguson.
While it is unclear as to how long Oath Keepers will remain in Ferguson, the presence of additional firepower and polarized opinions has understandably raised tensions on all sides of the situation. Ferguson, Missouri remains under a state of emergency at present. While the Oath Keepers maintain that they are present to maintain order, the undeniable possibility remains that they might yet trigger new spates of unrest and violence, irrespective of their purported intentions.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]