The Oath Keepers Militia Movement Has Taken Root in the Republican Mainstream

North Carolina state representative Mike Clampitt took an oath in 2016 to uphold the Constitution and again in 2020. But there’s another pledge that Clampitt said he’s upholding: to the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militant organization.

Dozens of OathKeepers were arrested in connection with Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. Some of them resembled paramilitary groups and wore flak vests, camo helmets, and flak vests. But a list of more than 35,000 members of the Oath Keepers — obtained by an anonymous hacker and shared with ProPublica by the whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets — underscores how the organization is evolving into a force within the Republican Party.

ProPublica identified Clampitt and 47 more state and local government officials on the list, all Republicans: 10 sitting state lawmakers; two former state representatives; one current state assembly candidate; a state legislative aide; a city council assistant; county commissioners in Indiana, Arizona and North Carolina; two town aldermen; sheriffs or constables in Montana, Texas and Kentucky; state investigators in Texas and Louisiana; and a New Jersey town’s public works director.

ProPublica’s analysis also found more than 400 people who signed up for membership or newsletters using government, military or political campaign email addresses, including candidates for Congress and sheriff, a retired assistant school superintendent in Alabama, and an award-winning elementary school teacher in California.

Three of the state legislators on this list had been publicly identified with Oath Keepers. Other outlets also have also scoured the listFind police officers and military veterans.

People with law enforcement and military backgrounds — like Clampitt, a retired fire captain in Charlotte, North Carolina — have been the focus of the Oath Keepers’ recruiting efforts since the group started in 2009. According to researchers who monitor the group’s activities, Oath Keepers pledge to resist if the federal government imposes martial law, invades a state or takes people’s guns, ideas that show up in a dark swirl of right-wing conspiracy theories. The group is not organized and its leaders don’t issue central commands. The organization’s roster has ballooned in recent years, from less than 10,000 members at the start of 2011 to more than 35,000 by 2020, membership records show.

Participants are classified as either lifetime ($1,000) or annual ($50) members on the hack list. However, not all members are currently active. Some said they view it as a commitment for life, even though they only paid for one-year. Many members admitted that they didn’t have any contact with the group once they paid their dues, but still supported it. Others disavowed the group and drifted away, even though they had sent their dues before Jan. 6.

The list also includes at minimum three people who were detained in connection with Jan. 6 Capitol riot, but federal prosecutors did no identify them as Oath keepers in the charging documents. Andrew Alan HernandezRiverside, California Dawn FrankowskiNaperville, Illinois; Sean David WatsonAlpine, Texas. They pleaded not guilty. These defendants, their attorneys and family members didn’t respond to requests for comment. The Justice Department was also unable to comment.

According to experts who monitor violent extremism, the Oath Keepers’ broadening membership provides the group with two crucial resources: money and, particularly when government officials get involved, legitimacy.

Clampitt claimed that he attended Oath Keepers meetings once he joined in 2014, but now he is a state legislator. He has co-sponsored a bill to allow elected officials to carry concealed guns in courthouses, schools and government buildings, and he supported legislation stiffening penalties for violent demonstrations in response to last year’s protests in Raleigh over George Floyd’s murder. Clampitt said that he doesn’t support violence but supported his Oath Keepers membership, despite the fact that there were dozens of people charged in the Capitol riot.

“Five or six years ago, politicians wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with Oath Keepers, you’d have to go pretty fringe,” said Jared Holt, who monitors the group for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “When groups like that become emboldened, it makes them significantly more dangerous.”

The State Lawmakers

Then-state Delegate Don Dwyer from Maryland was the only elected official at the Oath Keepers’ first rally, back in April 2009. Dwyer, according to his own account, was a pariah at Annapolis, but he was building up a national profile as an conservative firebrand. He claimed to be able to follow his own interpretations of the U.S. Constitution as well as a personal library of 230 books on U.S. history before 1900.

The Oath Keepers’ founder, a former Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate named Stewart Rhodes, invited Dwyer to speak at the group’s kickoff rally — they called it a “muster” — in Lexington, Massachusetts, the site of the “shot heard round the world” that started the Revolutionary War in 1775.

“I still support the cause,” Dwyer told ProPublica. “And I’m proud to say that I’m a member of that organization.” He left politics in 2015 and served six months in prison for violating his probationAfter a drunken boating accident.

Dwyer said he was not aware of the Oath Keeper’s presence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. “If they were there, they were there on a peaceful mission, I’m sure of it,” he said. Informed that members were photographed wearing tactical gear, Dwyer responded, “OK, that surprises me. That’s all I’ll say.”

Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem is among the current officeholders. Finchem was publicly identified with Oath Keepers. Finchem was not present at the Capitol on Jan. 6, but he claimed he did not enter or engage in violence. Finchem also disputes the Oath Keepers’ description of them as an antigovernment group. He is currently running to be Arizona’s top elections official, and he won former President Donald Trump’s endorsementSeptember

Clampitt’s North Carolina assembly deputy majority whip Keith Kidwell was an Oath Keepers member as an annual in 2012. Kidwell declined to comment, calling the membership list “stolen information.” A spokesperson for the state house speaker declined to comment on Kidwell’s and Clampitt’s Oath Keepers affiliation.

The membership list also lists Alaska state Rep. David Eastman, Indiana state Sen. Scott Baldwin, and Georgia state Rep. Steve Tarvin among the life members. Eastman confirmed his membership, but declined to answer any further questions. Baldwin’s spokesperson said he was unavailable to comment.

Tarvin recalled signing up for a booth in White County in Georgia in 2009, when he was running to be a Congressman. He lost that race, but became a state lawmaker. He didn’t view the Oath Keepers as a militia group back then.

Tarvin said he stands by the pledge he signed and said he isn’t aware of the Oath Keepers’ involvement in the Capitol breach on Jan 6. Andrew Clyde, his congressional district’s representative, is now Tarvin’s representative. Andrew Clyde helped to barricade a passageway to the House chamber Jan. 6, but it was later opened. compared the riot to a “normal tourist visit.”

Kaye Beach, listed as an “Annual Member” in 2010, is a legislative assistant for Oklahoma state Rep. Jon Echols. Echols is the majority floor leader. Beach sued the state in 2011. arguing that the Bible prohibited taking a driver’s license photo of her. She lost at the state supreme courts. Echols and Beach didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Two other lawmakers have been openly discussing their affiliation with Oath Keepers for a long time.

Wendy Rogers, Arizona state senator announced her membership several years ago. She responded to Trump’s 2020 loss by encouraging people to buy ammo and recently demanded to “decertify” the election based on the GOP’s “audit” of Maricopa County ballots, even though the partisan review confirmed President Joe Biden’s win.

Idaho state Rep. Chad Christensen lists Oath Keepers memberships at his website official legislative biographyLocated between the John Birch Society & the Idaho Farm Bureau.

Rogers and Christensen didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Phil Jensen, a South Dakota state legislator, was an annual member of the list in 2014. He used his title (then state senator), and his government email address to appear on the list. His affiliation was reportedTuesday by Rolling Stone. He did not respond.

South Dakota state senator Jim Stalzer, whose 2015 membership was the first reported by BuzzFeed, said he never renewed his membership and stopped supporting the Oath Keepers because he disagreed with “their confrontational approach to what they view as federal overreach.” In an email, Stalzer said he supported peaceful demonstrators on Jan. 6 but “we do not have the right to damage property or harm others, whether it be at the Capitol or anywhere else.”

The Candidates

Virginia Fuller first encountered the Oath Keepers in 2009 at a meeting in San Francisco featuring Rhodes, the group’s founder. Fuller liked Rhodes’ message of upholding the Constitution, she told ProPublica. For a while she corresponded with one of the group’s leaders but they eventually lost touch, and she moved to Florida and ran unsuccessfully for Congress on the Republican ticket in 2018.

Rhodes and other leaders of the Oath Keepers embraced Trump’s lies about election fraud and promoted Jan. 6 as a last chance to make a stand for the republic. Asked about Jan. 6, Fuller said, “There was nothing wrong with that. The Capitol belongs to the people.”

The Oath Keepers rose in prominence in 2014 when a few heavily armed members showed their support at Ferguson, Missouri’s racial justice protests. Their profile also grew due to a series a of events. standoffsBetween right-wing militants, and federal agents within the Western U.S.

The 2016 funeralStan Vaughan was a rancher who officers shot while trying his arrest. He met several Oath Keepers, and became an annual member. Vaughan was a Las Vegas chess champ who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for Nevada State Assembly in 2016., 2018., and 2020. Even though Vaughan ran in a predominantly Democratic district, he had the support of his party’s establishment, receiving a $500 campaign contribution from Robin Titus, the Assembly’s Republican floor leader. Titus didn’t respond to requests to comment. Vaughan said he’ll probably run again once he sees how new districts are drawn.

Vaughan said he wouldn’t join the Oath Keepers today. It’s not their ideology that bothers him or their involvement in the Jan. 6 riot. Rather, he said he has concerns about how the group’s leaders spend its money.

One Oath Keeper, seen Jan. 6 wearing an Earpiece and talking to group leaders outside the Capitol, was Edward Durfee. He is a local Republican Committee member from Bergen County in New Jersey. runningFor state assembly in a predominantly Democratic area. Durfee, who was not charged, said that he did not enter any building.

“They were caught up in the melee, what else can I say? For whatever reason, I didn’t go in,” Durfee said. “They brand you as white supremacists, domestic terrorists. I don’t know how we got in this mix where there’s so much hatred and so much dislike and how it continues to get fomented. It’s just shameful actually.”

The Local Party Officials

When Joe Marmorato, a retired New York City cop who moved upstate, signed up for an Oath Keepers annual membership in 2013, he described the skills he could offer the group: “Pistol Shooting, police street tactics, driving skills, County Republican committee member.” Marmorato later rose to vice chairman of the Otsego County GOP, but he recently resigned that post because he’s moving. Marmorato was available by phone to support the OathKeepers, even after January 6. “I just thought they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I know most of them are all retired police and firemen and have the best interests of the country in mind,” he said. “No matter what you do, you’re vilified by the left.”

Steven K. Booth, a Republican county commissioner elected twice and a candidate for state senate in Minnesota in the 2000s was open to running again if his spouse agrees. He’s still active in the local GOP. Booth joined the Oath Keepers as an annual member in 2011 and said he hasn’t heard from them in years. He said he wasn’t aware of their role in Jan. 6 but he’s concerned that some Capitol breach defendants are being held in jail. “That seems kind of weird to me,” Booth said. “I also think it’s kind of weird that nobody is doing anything about all the fraud we were told about in the last election either.”

Rich Siegert, the chair of the local GOP, was asked about Booth’s possibility of running again for office. He began talking through possible positions Booth could take on. Booth’s Oath Keepers affiliation did not give Siegert pause. “When tyranny comes, that’s when you stop and say you’ve got to do something about it,” said Siegert, who heads the party in northern Minnesota’s Beltrami County. “To go out and get violent and kill people like they did in the early days, I’m not really in favor of that. How can you get liberals to pay attention and listen? Firing guns, I don’t know, it’s what they do in some countries. Define what ‘radical’ is.”

Not all party officials shared Siegert’s view. Richland County GOP chair Tyson Grinstead disassociated his committee from Patsy Steward, who is listed as Oath Keepers annual members in 2015. “Personally,” Grinstead said, “I don’t think there’s a place for that in our party.”

Stewart was a delegate or alternate at the GOP state convention. She is currently a party precinct officers in Columbia, South Carolina. She didn’t respond to requests for comment. Trump supporters have been flooding into South Carolina precinct posts in recent months as part of an organized movement that was inspired by the stolen election myth. ProPublica reported in September.

The Poll Worker

Andy Maul was a Pittsburgh GOP member when he signed up to the Oath Keepers in 2010. Maul said he let his membership lapse because there wasn’t a local chapter, but he still likes the group’s concept.

Maul was elected party chairman of his local council district in 2016 and remained there until 2016. But other local party leaders chafed at Maul’s confrontational style and lack of follow-through.

“Andy was getting a little out there,” said Allegheny County chairman Sam DeMarco, who had to ask Maul to take down some of his inflammatory social media posts. “If you want to be associated with our committee, you have to represent mainstream traditional Republican values and not be affiliated with fringe groups.”

Maul resigned from the local party committee in 2020 but continued to work as a poll worker. According to the county elections department, Maul was the “judge of elections” in charge of his precinct in every election since 2017, including this year’s primary in May.

In Pennsylvania, the judge in elections for every precinct of Pennsylvania is an elected position. If no one runs, as often happens, the local elections office appoints someone to fill in, so a person can sometimes land the job “if you have a pulse and you call them,” said Bob Hillen, the Pittsburgh Republican chairman.

“If I opposed people based on their views for being a judge of elections or anything, that would eliminate a whole lot of people,” Hillen said. “I’m a city chairman, I don’t have time to think about all those things like that.”

Maul said he observed “aberrative” ballots at his precinct on Nov. 3 — just a handful, but he asserted that if the same number occurred at every precinct in the state, it would add up to more than Biden’s margin of victory. (There is no evidence to suggest widespread fraud that could have influenced the outcome in Pennsylvania or other states.

On Jan. 6, Maul said he marched toward the Capitol but couldn’t make it all the way and returned to his bus. He said he wasn’t familiar with the Oath Keepers’ activities that day. “As a supporter of the Constitution, I had strong differences and concerns about Trump,” Maul said in a text message. “Although my feeling on Trump were mixed, I went to the Jan. 6 rally mainly due to what I experienced at my polling location.”

The Democrat

Around 2005, Marine veteran Bob Haran joined the Minuteman Project, a group of armed people who took it upon themselves to patrol Arizona’s border with Mexico. Haran was resentful that critics called Haran’s group vigilantes or Mexican hunters. He claimed that all they did was call the Border Patrol.

Haran held positions in local GOP and had previously run for the state House of Representatives as a Republican. During the tea party wave, Haran became frustrated with the new activists’ anti-government tilt and turned to the Constitution Party, a minor party that’s to the right of the GOP. Haran rose to the position of state chairman and secretary. Haran was looking to find a new political home by the time he was an Oath Keepers Annual member in 2016.

When Trump rode down a golden escalator to launch his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists,” Haran took offense. He faulted the government for failing to secure the border, but he didn’t blame people for seeking better lives for themselves and their families. Haran grew up in Coney Island, near a middle-class apartment complex built by Trump’s father, and he remembered Trump as a braggadocious playboy, not as the successful self-made businessman he later played on TV. Haran stated that he was shocked at the way Trump’s party voted.

Haran then did something that was unusual even among never-Trump Republicans. He became a Democrat.

Haran doesn’t agree with the Democrats on everything, but he said he feels welcome in the party. He’s still passionate about guns and immigration, but he also supports environmental protections and universal health care. He wanted to get rid of Trump. In 2020, he joined the local precinct and began attending party meetings regularly.

Haran was so excited about Trump’s departure that he tuned in to the Electoral College certification process Jan. 6. He couldn’t believe how fast the Trump supporters reached the Senate floor, or how Oath Keepers were attacking the Constitution they swore to defend.

Haran thought back on the time he ran for office in 2000 as a Republican and lost. “I called my opponent and congratulated him: I would have won except he got more votes,” Haran said. “I conceded, which is bestowing legitimacy on my opponent, which is more important than anything.”

He finds it disturbing that Trump and other Republicans today won’t do that anymore. “They were anti-government,” Haran said of the GOP, “but now they’re being anti-democracy.”