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.
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.