WASHINGTON–Into the toxic brew of unpunished killings of blacks in Ferguson, Mo., and a heavily militarized police force has come a fiercely anti-government, militaristic group of armed, “civilian” white men, seemingly itching for a fight.
They call themselves the Oath Keepers, and they describe themselves as a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police and first responders, who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Oath Keepers declare that they will not obey unconstitutional orders, such as orders to disarm the American people, to conduct warrantless searches, or to detain Americans as “enemy combatants” in violation of their right to jury trial. Unlike sworn law enforcement personnel however who have—at least on paper—a chain of command and protocols requiring “probable cause” related to a crime, many fear these civilians are bent on provoking violence, after all, police and S.W.A.T. teams and National Guard troops are already armed.
The organization was founded in 2004 by former U.S. Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate Stewart Rhodes.
Unlike uniformed law enforcers or military personnel who are ostensibly bound by certain general orders and rules of engagement designed to protect the constitutional presumption of innocence enjoyed by criminal defendants, the Oath Keepers walked the streets of Ferguson among protestors with AK-47 assault rifles and wearing camouflage gear after St. Louis County executive Steve Stringer declared a state of emergency two days after the one-year anniversary of the Michael Brown Jr. killing by white former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
“They said they were here to protect our rights, and a guy asked ‘so if I go to my car and got my gun to walk around and protest I wouldn’t be in any type of danger?’ ” Anthony Cage Jr. told The Final Call. “The white guy said, ‘no, it’s your right and it’s your amendment but if you come out with a gun, it might not be a good idea. But if the police was to shoot at you all, we would step in and take a bullet for you.’ Now, I personally didn’t believe that.”
The St. Louis police chief called their presence “unnecessary and inflammatory” and many protestors called their presence an example of what’s wrong in America: Unarmed black youth seen as deadly threats and heavily armed white men seen as little or no problem.
“We kept asking them what did they need those weapons for, the police are out here with batons and handguns but to have assault rifles that was a big issue,” Mr. Cage continued. “So we asked where they were at first and they said they were on buildings watching. This set off a red flag with us, saying they’re protecting us with assault rifles and we didn’t know they were around but they was up there watching us?”
Last year Oath Keepers showed up on the rooftops of buildings saying they were interested in offering protection against looters and rioting. In Missouri, it is legal to open carry arms with the proper permits.
“If there were black and brown people in this country who showed up in the streets open carrying assault rifles in paramilitary garb, would they still be received the same way?” Patricia Bynes, Democratic Committeewoman of Ferguson Township asked according to NBC News. “It seems to be that especially when it comes to the Second Amendment there seems to be a different way that it is enforced.”
That precisely is the state of law enforcement in this country, according to Dr. Clarence Lusane, professor of political science and international relations at American University. “They’re aware that the police are not going to arrest them, they are not going to harass them in the way they’ve done even unarmed (black) protesters. So they’ve calculated fairly correctly that they can come out and they can do this kind of ideological display without repercussion.
“There have been experiments just this year where a black person would go out with a weapon, carrying it legally, and a White person, and the police would treat them entirely differently. That we know because we see black people have been killed under the pretext of having a weapon, let alone if they actually did have a weapon. And other circumstances where whites have actually shot up places and they were not killed, they were not injured. They were arrested as peacefully as the police can do it,” Dr. Lusane continued.
When the Oath Keepers showed up at the Michael Brown anniversary commemoration, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmer spoke with some of them to warn them that their presence could become a problem.
“I get what you guys are coming from, I get what you guys stand for and I probably agree with most of it, but what I can’t have here is any sort of a problem. You guys are fine right now. I just don’t want anything salacious or provocative to turn this up any more than it is. That’s exactly where I am and just wanted you guys to know,” Chief Belmer told them according to Infowars.com.
The Oath Keepers initially said they came to protect an Infowars.com reporter.
The Oath Keepers then announced an experimental scheme to arm 50 black people with AR-15 rifles for an “iconic event.” Sam Andrews, who heads the St. Louis County chapter of the group compared the planned event to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, according to “Red Dirt Reports.” Ironically, the iconic event would find the armed black demonstrators surrounded by Oath Keepers members.
Larry Miller, founder of the Ferguson Freedom Fighters, says the Oath Keepers got the idea of arming a cadre of blacks after talking to members of his group.
“It was my idea and they took it and ran with it,” Mr. Miller told The Final Call.
He is the grandson of World War II hero Dorie Miller—a cook whose job was serving white officers on the battleship U.S.S. West Virginia when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. Dorie Miller raced to the deck and manned a 50 caliber machine gun, downing several attacking aircraft. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his valor.
Larry Miller said his group, whose purpose is “truth and justice in the Black struggle way” will not associate with the Oath Keepers because he suspects that the white groups simply wants to secretly identify blacks who might become leaders for possible retaliation later.
Once Ferguson Freedom Fighters—numbering more than 100—put in all the required hours and training to obtain their own OCW (open carry weapons) licenses, they intend to have their own armed march in Ferguson.