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Oath Keepers: Why are a group of heavily armed white militiamen on the streets of Ferguson?

They say they’re there to defend the constitution.

Source: Ruptly TV/YouTube

DRESSED IN BULLETPROOF fatigues and carrying large automatic assault rifles, these men stand among protesters in Ferguson a year on from the shooting dead of Michael Brown.

But these men aren’t local police, state police or even the military.

They’re members of an armed grouping of ex- police, military and emergency services called the Oath Keepers. They pledge to “defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Ferguson Officers and protesters face off in Ferguson. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Last night, at least three of the militia members turned up in Ferguson to add an extra element of unease to an already tense situation on the ground.

In one sense it’s not a surprise. Members of the group turned up in Ferguson last year, again openly carrying high-powered weapons. They claimed they were there to protect property. None were arrested.

But with one person already shot on Sunday night during protests, many are asking whether more guns are what’s needed in Ferguson.

Furthermore, others are asking whether a group of black men or women would be allowed to safely walk around with impunity, openly carrying heavy weaponry.

Defenders of the group argue that the men are simply exercising their rights. Missouri laws allow individuals with concealed weapons permits to “briefly and openly display the firearm”. Unless its done in “an angry or aggressive manner”.

It is worth noting, however, that a state of emergency was declared in Ferguson yesterday and it is unclear whether the gun laws are affected by this.

PastedImage-7605 Source: Instagram/tef_poe

One of the armed men was asked by protesters why they are allowed to carry guns.

“Open carry is open carry,” he replied, according to local NBC News station, KSDK.

“I’m not an attorney, I’m happy we’re able to defend ourselves. It’s been our right for a long time and it’s finally acknowledged that that’s what the people want. “

For their part, local police have said that the presence of the armed men isn’t exactly welcome. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said their presence was “both unnecessary inflammatory”.

The same Oath Keepers member who spoke to NBC News is also filmed by the website of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. He answered why their members have never been shot at despite carrying weapons in situations like Ferguson.

“We’ve managed to dodge a lot of bullets,” he responded. “But accidents always happen and so far we’ve managed to remain fairly accident free as regards any kind of a misunderstanding or mix-up. But we’re all about the constitution.”

He went on to say that they are there to keep news reporters safe: 

Previously, reporters have been set upon, they’ve been hurt, they’ve been knocked to the ground, they’ve had stuff stolen. We’re just here to make sure they’re being left alone.

Source: The Alex Jones Channel/YouTube

But who are the Oath Keepers? 

The group were founded by a former Army paratrooper and claim to be a “non-partisan association” whose oath is directly to the constitution.

Their motto is “Not on our watch!”

PastedImage-30086 Source: Oathkeepers.org

Above is two different military oaths that are published on the Oath Keepers website. The group claim that a veteran’s oath does not expire when they retire.

The second does not explicitly mention the President of the United States and the group points out that an Oath Keepers’ oath is firstly to the US constitution. They claim that, as a result, servicemen and their members should not comply with an order that is unconstitutional.

Classifying the Oath Keepers across the traditional left/right political spectrum is difficult with their views associated with constitutional protections that both sides of the political divide hold dear.

The are implacably opposed to big government, a traditional viewpoint of the the American right.

But they are also opposed to government monitoring. They have attempted to associate themselves with the Guy Fawkes mask and the associated Anonymous movement.

PastedImage-18854 Source: Facebook/Oath Keepers

They are perhaps best described as being highly suspicious, perhaps paranoid, of government interference in American life.

In that sense, they are similarly aligned to the commonly held militia viewpoint that their right to bear arms is there to protect themselves against government tyranny.

But do their views align with mainstream politics at all?

Well, on the streets of Ferguson last night, one member says he’s a supporter of Donald Trump.

We are fed up, and you know what? Nothing’s gonna change until we stop electing politician lawyers to office. That’s the only thing. You elect Donald Trump, you put Donald Trump in office, he’ll change it all, he’ll get rid of these clowns, he’ll get rid of these people that are violating our rights and we’ll have someone who actually cares about Americans again.   

Read: What happened to Ferguson in the year since Michael Brown was killed? >

Read: American school districts were given M16s, grenade launchers and armoured cars >

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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