Scary Stuff…

During Reconstruction, it was the KKK.

This time, it’s organizations like Oath Keepers and Proud Boys–but the context is uncomfortably similar. If the U.S. is currently waging a different kind of civil war, as many pundits argue, these assorted groups of violent extremists–some 1600 of them, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center–are today’s domestic terrorists.

Today’s Klan.

A raft of academic studies has confirmed that most episodes of domestic terror in the U.S. are carried out by these right-wing groups–far in excess of Islamic or left-wing groups. And–just as during Reconstruction–the destructive actions of these groups are rooted in racism. Theirs isn’t the embarrassing but less violent racism we see in the posts to social media decrying Disney’s decision to cast a Black mermaid. This is a malignant and horrifying desire to wreak physical harm and even death on the feared and hated “other.”

Even more terrifying than the proliferation of these groups is the discovery that their membership includes a large number of police and military officers.

The names of hundreds of U.S. law enforcement officers, elected officials and military members appear on the leaked membership rolls of a far-right extremist group that’s accused of playing a key role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism pored over more than 38,000 names on leaked Oath Keepers membership lists and identified more than 370 people it believes currently work in law enforcement agencies — including as police chiefs and sheriffs — and more than 100 people who are currently members of the military.

It also identified more than 80 people who were running for or served in public office as of early August. The membership information was compiled into a database published by the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets.

The data raises fresh concerns about the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military who are tasked with enforcing laws and protecting the U.S. It’s especially problematic for public servants to be associated with extremists at a time when lies about the 2020 election are fueling threats of violence against lawmakers and institutions.

As their affiliations have emerged, a number of those identified have taken pains to minimize their connections–saying they left the organization long before, or only paid dues once and left when they realized the organization was violent/hateful/extreme. As the linked report notes, that excuse simply doesn’t hold up–the Oath Keepers have been very explicit about their “mission’ from the day they were founded.

About that founding:  Oath Keepers was formed in 2009 by someone named Stewart Rhodes. It is described as a “loosely organized conspiracy theory-fueled group,” and it very deliberately recruits current and former military personnel, police and other first responders. It requires  members to defend its twisted version of the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and includes the federal government among those enemies, arguing that the federal government is tyrannical and intent upon depriving citizens of their civil liberties.

The article notes that more than two dozen members of the Oath Keepers — including Rhodes — have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack and with the plot to keep then-President Donald Trump in power.

The Oath Keepers has grown quickly along with the wider anti-government movement and used the tools of the internet to spread their message during Barack Obama’s presidency, said Rachel Carroll Rivas, interim deputy director of research with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project….

ADL said it found the names of at least 10 people who now work as police chiefs and 11 sheriffs. All of the police chiefs and sheriffs who responded to the AP said they no longer have any ties to the group.

When asked about their connection to the group, the men identified by the ADL all twisted themselves into knots distancing themselves. “Who, me? I just wondered what they were about, but never joined/left quickly/don’t recall…”

Right. And I have some not-underwater land in Florida to sell you.

Police departments have long struggled to weed out the inevitable thugs who find the ability to carry a weapon and assert authority very attractive. The larger departments have instituted psychological testing and other mechanisms in an effort to identify and avoid employing those applicants, but they aren’t always successful–and numerous rural and smaller departments lack either the desire or the resources to exclude such individuals.

In the South during Reconstruction, the KKK could often depend upon the local Sheriff–a fellow member– to look the other way when they lynched or brutalized someone. The willingness of today’s law enforcement personnel to become members of the Klan’s “modern version” is disheartening, to put it mildly.

It’s terrifying, to put it accurately.


  1. Keep in mind the KKK is not just a southern problem, as the largest Klan organizations were in Indiana and Ohio when the KKK held a march through Washington D.C. Just in case you are wondering, my maternal grandfather was a Klucker and lived in Ohio.

  2. Still think “defund the police” was a bad idea, Obama?

    The media did a great job of quashing that BLM movement after Floyd’s murder. In our backward community, the “black leaders” were recognized and assembled by the oligarchs. The oligarchs labeled them “leaders” and gave them positions in the community – even assigned one as deputy mayor.

    They all settled for a black chamber of commerce. LOL

    Nothing was done to the police force. It was all very predictable for anybody with a critical brain.

    If nothing changes, nothing changes…

  3. Rural police and sheriff departments typically offer salaries that are sometimes much lower than what can be earned in other local jobs. Combine low pay with the large number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans that have returned home since maybe 2006 only to find it difficult to find few jobs available. Law enforcement agencies eagerly hired them. They already knew how to obey orders and how to handle guns.

    Then, in the past ten plus years the Pentagon shipped home thousands of military vehicles and gifted them to law enforcement agencies. We’ve all seen those vehicles used in situations where they weren’t needed. Our military branches have militarized law enforcement agencies thanks to wars we shouldn’t have been involved in and thanks to members of Congress consistently increasing our already bloated defense budget every year. The corporations that manufacture weapons and anything else used by the military branches have made billions and their incomes increase exponentially with the defense budget increases. The DC beltway has exploded in the past 15-20 years with organizations that exist to lobby members of Congress for military contracts. The DC beltway population has grown faster than all other areas of the US.

    The police and sheriff departments in the very rural area of northern Indiana that I live have hired many former military personnel due to a general lack of interest in law enforcement job openings by people that were never in the military. That doesn’t make the younger recruits bad people, but it can create a military minded department. Last, but certainly not least, I’ve learned over the years that the leadership in our military branches is definitely racist and they are known to drill racism into the minds of their young recruits, especially against Muslims.

  4. One important thing I forgot to mention……

    The leadership in all three branches of our military that have chosen to make the military their career are Pro-Republican because the Republican members of Congress consistently push for increasing our defense budget and that keeps their jobs and incomes safe. The military leaders absolutely know who ‘butters their bread’ and push that pro-republican/anti-democrat message as far down the line of command as they can.

  5. I think that “testing” that is done to weed out potential bad cops, might actually be used to weed out potential good cops.

  6. 370 members of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys out of over 900,000 law enforcement officers in the United States is hardly worth all this pearl clutching.

  7. Nazis, brownshirts, thugs and fools…by any other name. Trump is their Hitler and they will slavishly follow him and his ideas even after he dies.


    Hitler’s “people” were a distinct minority too. And there are many, many more than the 300 who have been ID’d. Don’t be like the ostrich-like citizens of Germany in 1933-45. They didn’t even bother clutching their pearls.

  8. Vernon, the 300 who have been ID’d are not the threat. It is the majority of Republicans who continue to support the ideas and ideology of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. There is a number we should all be scarred of.

  9. Stan, yes, but that was not the same Klan that dominated after the Civil War. The 1920s Indiana Klan tried to clean itself up and present itself as a civic-type organization, rather than one that promoted its goals through violence and intimidation. (Although there was still some of that going on.) Reportedly as many as 1 out of every 3 adult men in Indiana were in the Klan, but that’s probably too high of an estimate. Also, the top two targets of the 1920 Indiana Klan didn’t include African-Americans, but rather those targets were Catholics and Immigrants. I would contend there are still echoes of that anti-Catholicism, anti-immigrant attitude in this state, the former from the left, the latter from the right.

  10. There are many jobs that require authoritarian people to get done. Policing and the military are such jobs but not the only ones. In fact, when I worked for a living, we had programs for training leaders that separated leaders from managers, mostly on the basis of authoritarian managers and inspirational leaders.

    Some teachers and politicians are leaders, some are more managers.

    Of course, in business, to get things done through other people, there was an element of each “style” necessary. Most people came to training though with a default position that could be adjusted toward leadership by training some of the time. Some needed and benefitted from the training more than others.

    Problematic managers are extreme authoritarian. They simply can’t stand to not get their way and employ whatever they have to in order to insure that happens. A major line gets crossed though when things get physical, of course, but most of us only judge that line in terms of the threat to us as being mitigated by their force or us protected by it. We love the brave soldiering being demonstrated now in Ukraine. We hate it among police at least most of the time. Some heroes in our entertainment are heroic to most of the audience because they are so effectively brutal.

    I believe that what’s different about these times is not so much our authoritarianism but what we perceive as the magnitude of the threats to our well-being that are both real and often magnified by our entertainment. These are scary times for many and at the extremes, we welcome protectors no matter how they achieve it.

    Trump was a prototypical authoritarian President but one who chose to operate independently of any rules himself. He has supporters and detractors. Biden is much more a leader who lives as a model of the behavior that he believes we all need to exhibit for the country to be successful. Some would say Trump modeled the behavior that could lead the country to success. Many shudder at even the thought of that because of no rules being followed by anyone, the difference between democracy and anarchy.

    The Crisis
    by Thomas Paine
    December 23, 1776

    “THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”

  11. Todd, law enforcement needs reformation very badly. A lot of departments are clearly toxic to the communities they “serve”. And I definitely think some of the money currently going to them would be much better spent in other areas.

    That said, the slogan you mention (and which I won’t repeat) is unbelievably stupid. It engenders fear, uncertainty and doubt in many people–who may otherwise agree with the general aims–which places them in opposition to anyone using the phrase. Fundamentally, it works _against_ the desired outcome.

    Since I truly believe in the aims, it honestly infuriates me to hear the slogan used. I hate that an idea that would be so obviously beneficial to society is sabotaged in this way.

  12. Just a note on the racism topic: I’m always pleased to see people digging into these rosters and publishing them. I prefer it when a person sports a confederate flag belt buckle, or has an “HH” tattoo. Then I immediately know with whom I’m dealing. It’s the hidden ones that worry me.

  13. While on the subject of sheriffs…in many rural areas, and by law, they actually “rule”. We have seen a number of instances where such folks take the law into their hands, including defying state laws.

  14. As the old saying goes, you’re going to find a few bad apples in any large group. After all, Jesus had his Judas Iscariot. However, such a generality does not absolve us from the responsibility to very carefully choose sheriffs and police officers, especially those who have been in the armed forces or any other authority-centered grouping or organization. Thus for instance, I think making a former preacher a police officer is arguably as dangerous as appointing a recently discharged army drill sergeant, though for different reasons.

    Trouble is, whatever a battery of psychological tests may show, if a crusty old secretly racist sheriff is in charge of hiring and firing, he (and it’s always he) may overrule the pointy-headed efforts of them (not a typo) white collar guys who haven’t the faintest idea of handling 2 A.M. drunk drivers and talking a nut with a gun out of killing his family etc.

    Sometimes I think we are still in “Reconstruction Days,” and that the lull in time since Margaret Mitchell’s account of such era in Gone With The Wind did not make for a lull in hatred due to the equalizing effects of slavery’s end and adoption of the 14th Amendment. I don’t know how to tell Oath Keepers and their ilk to get over it with their plantation politics and cease and desist using race and religion as crutches for their outbursts of violence. Perhaps criminalizing membership in such organizations via a declaration that they are terrorist organizations (as I understand Canada has) would help. Whatever. I’m open to (constitutional) suggestion.

  15. Oh hell, what the KKK needs to do is to state they’re willing to fight Russia. Immediately after said statement, watch how quickly all of the previous comments and aspersions toward them quickly disappear. American liberals love white supremacist’s–as long as those supremacists have a Ukrainian accent. Can you say AZOV?

  16. Yesterday I saw an editorial in the NYTimes from a former Republican congressman that said that starting in the 90’s with Newt Gingrich, the Republican party started shifting to control rather than governance. When smaller government and lower taxes for the rich didn’t seem to be working, the base started to radicalize (think tea party and finally leading to Trump) which would naturally lead to groups like the Oath Keepers.

    While the slogan “defund the police” was twisted out of context and weaponized by the Republican party, the actual defunding of the border police and defunding the tax police has been devastating under the Republicans. If refusing to confirm the Head of the ATF is a form of defunding, it is actively promoted by the right wing which falls right in line with the control rather than governance platform.

    I don’t know what the Oath Keepers web site said when when these guys thought it was a good idea to go online and make a contribution or “pay dues”, but I suspect it looked at lot like most Republican office holders website, with a lot of lofty language about defending freedom. You would actually have to do a Google search to synthesize the fact that these guys might be a domestic terrorist group.

    The problem is that Republicans have become masters at lying, with wedge issues they really don’t want to solve, because they still activate voters. Even things like the out of control violence that comes from unlimited gun rights feeds the chaos that they use to convince voters that government is failing and only they can rescue it (mainly by making sure you can buy more guns). Groups like the Oath Keepers also help fuel this whole cycle, so I suspect in think tank strategy circles, these guys are welcome. So just like the guy that won the Republican primary on a “Stop the Steal” campaign, now says the election is legitimate, is most likely the same guy that donated to a group like Oath Keepers and is going to lie when confronted reality, because he now needs to convince more voters than just his base that he’s an honorable person.

  17. Theresa Bowers, I think you have a point as well. And again, I suspect that skimming the Oath Keepers web site, it looked like a patriotic group that would align to most Republicans, and if all you wanted was a few more votes, why not throw a few dollars at the group.

    I think it more of a symptom rather than a root problem.

  18. Let us not forget that not only are far right extremists racist, they are also very anti-Semitic. I just watched the USA and the Holocaust. I forgot how anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic our country once was. It brought back memories from my adolescence of an early ecumencial movement, and how people believed those of a different Christian denomination or religion were headed for hell. Yes, we need to develop screening tools to keep far right extremists out of the military and police.

    We need to develop a police force that includes mental health staff who are skilled at deescalation. We need alternate emergency numbers to contact those who can deescalate someone who is paranoid or psychotic. The police are not trained for those situations.

    As long as this country continues to allow citizens to buy semi-automatic weapons, the police will adopt a more militant style of intervention. This will also allow far right extremists to buy these weapons.

    Trump brought these groups out of the wood work. Now we can clearly see that our nation is still struggling to overcome bigotries and fear of the “other.” When I hear MAGA people talk and far right extremists, a chill runs down my spine.They sound so much like Hitler and his Nazi cult and yet claim they love this country.

  19. Pete – the one difference you gloss over – in the movies, the script creates truly evil bad guys and you see them committing evil acts – they are are surrounded by blood-thirsty killers, so when the violent hero does his (usually a his) thing, you know that bad guys are getting punished

    In the real world, the nut-jobs fantasize the evil, and they base their hatred upon race, religion, etc, NOT having witnessed evil deeds.

    Otherwise, I have to agree with you.

    Of course, growing up, the Lone Ranger always brought the bad guys to the honest Marshall – Silver bullets are expensive or just different times

  20. Theresa,

    Correct…of course. I’ve been trying to paint the Republicans for what they’ve always been; secretly at first and now in the open: FASCISTS. RACISTS. BIGOTS. SEXISTS. The party has just become more of what they’ve always been…and enjoy the financing of Todd’s favorite subject, the oligarchs of America.

  21. Catholics can’t have their cake and eat it, too. The Church, guilty of endless and unthinkable crimes since its founding, should not be let off the hook. I won’t even go into them in detail, but think molested kids, mass graves, the persecution of heretics, the oppression of women, brainwashing, torture, war, and genocide.

    That is not to say that any person who chooses to be Catholic (and it IS a choice – there is not a Catholic gene) should be assumed to be evil or automatically condemned. The reality, however, is that the right wing Catholics in the U.S., fronted by Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society, are following a shrewd, calculating plan to transform the U.S. and they are succeeding.

    Like it or not, the Catholic Church or those operating on its behalf are participating in the destruction of the Untied States Constitution.

  22. As a woman that was raised Catholic and raised our child Catholic (carefully), I have to say that I wouldn’t agree to the premise that Catholics are evil and need to be condemned. Catholism is a strong rich in tradition religion that has not been perfect. The politics of the Vatican in history is not what most Catholics are. Most Catholics I know are hardworking and conscientious and they try to live by the 10 commandments. I will assert that sexism is still a problem in that community, males’ education is given dominance over females. We were fortunate to protect our daughter from that. As far as Catholics destroying the US constitution, I would hold up Joe Biden & Nancy Pelosi. Many Catholics are able to separate their personal morals from what other believe in this Democracy and are thankful that they aren’t forced to have abortions like in China. I’m over the KKK attitude toward Catholics in general and will use my rights to say so!

  23. Paul, My mother taught me to be a racist just like her father did with her. Anti-Catholicism was there, but it wasn’t the primary form of bigotry her and her father believed in. Serving 4 years in the US Navy taught me there are no such thing as races, only ethnicity. Color of skin, etc just doesn’t mean a thing. I also remember seeing “”Impeach Earl Warren” billboards in Indiana and states south of there due to the 1954 ruling against racism. The Klan was full of hatemongers then just as it is now. BTW, you’ll have to search very hard to find a combat vet as liberal as I, as I’m a Social Democrat just like Bernie.

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