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RISE OF INDIVIDUALS WITH COMBAT EXPERIENCE AND POSITIONS OF POWER JOINING FAR-RIGHT GROUPS

Savannah Fellows, Rhiannon Thomas, NORTHCOM Team

Claudia Santillan-Vazquez, Justin Maurina, Editors; Hannah Norton, Senior Editor

September 20, 2022

Surveillance Video from Jan 6 Insurrection Showing Alleged Oath Keeper Members[1]


Summary


Analysis of a leaked membership list indicates the far-right group Oath Keepers have members with political influence, law enforcement training, and combat experience.[2] Groups with members in political and military positions almost certainly pose a greater threat than far-right individuals and groups. New analysis indicates a rising trend of individuals with military experience joining far-right groups, likely to train other members, and members with political influence likely using their position to progress far-right groups’ agendas. Comparative analysis indicates the proportion of the Oath Keepers who hold positions of power or have combat experience has likely risen, increasing the threat posed. Political officials, law enforcement, and combat members will very likely continue to be targeted for recruitment by far-right organizations. Elected officials will likely feel pressured to subscribe to a far-right ideology out of fear of being targeted by far-right attacks, as the threat posed by these groups will very likely continue to rise. There is a roughly even chance of far-right organizations using online methods to recruit new members, such as sharing conspiracy theories to spread their ideology. The membership list likely names individuals no longer associated with the Oath Keepers, as some members likely found the risks of membership in a radical far-right group outweighed the perceived benefits. Some likely disagree with the formal military structure of the Oath Keepers. The overall threat these individuals and groups pose remains high and will almost certainly continue rising.


Assessments


The Oath Keepers are one of the US’s largest far-right, anti-government groups, claiming to defend the US Constitution.[3] The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism reported that a leaked Oath Keepers membership list included the names of hundreds of government officials, law enforcement officers, first responders, and military members.[4] The 2022 list shows 373 Oath Keepers are believed to be active law enforcement members, compared to 76 in 2021.[5] The new data very likely indicates a rising trend of individuals with combat training and experience, or those in influential positions, becoming members of far-right groups. These individuals very likely fill leadership roles within far-right organizations to increase the group’s training and knowledge, likely acting as a militarized chain-of-command structure, very likely increasing the threat posed.


The Oath Keepers recruit those with military and law enforcement experience to use their knowledge of weapons and tactical communication methods as command control.[6] The 2020 leaked membership list showed approximately 75% of the Oath Keepers were former military or law enforcement, and 10 percent were on active duty in the military or employed as law enforcement officers.[7] The 2022 membership list indicates that the proportion of members in such professions has almost certainly risen, likely increasing the group’s threat due to their collective combat knowledge. Far-right organizations, like the Oath Keepers, will very likely continue recruiting individuals with combat experience and training to increase their overall strategic and tactical capabilities. This is likely to exploit weaknesses in law enforcement, military tactics, and architecture, especially in attacks.


Far-right groups and affiliated public officials will likely pressure political officials who do not subscribe to the far-right ideology, likely increasing their chances of being targeted in an attack if they denounce the group. There is a roughly even chance that some left-leaning political officials will hesitate to express their views in fear of retaliation. Far-right individuals who possess political influence will likely spread misinformation and propaganda to influence the public to subscribe to their ideology. Conspiracy theories will likely be formed from misinformation and will likely be used by groups like the Oath Keepers as a recruitment method. This will likely be done by sharing government conspiracy theories to spread their ideology and recruit like-minded people.


Alternatively, membership numbers from the list likely are not completely accurate as some individuals on the leaked list likely are no longer members of the Oath Keepers. There is a roughly even chance that some members left after realizing participating in radical group activities could result in loss of job or detainment, very likely determining that leaving outweighed the risk of staying. Some members likely left after realizing the military-like structure of the Oath Keepers was too radical or formal for them to follow, and there is a roughly even chance they will join far-right groups that are decentralized. There is a roughly even chance that the Oath Keepers and other similar groups pose less of a tactical threat than predicted since there is likely a smaller number of members with a political or military background to aid the group’s radical agendas.


Future Implications

Far-right extremism is almost certainly a growing threat in the US, with the membership of far-right groups very likely increasing and threatening national security. Those with political influence and combat training will very likely hold leadership positions within groups to share insider knowledge, such as far-right-based political agendas, that likely remain hidden from the public. Law enforcement and military techniques will very likely continue to be shared, almost certainly to train members and maintain the militarized nature of far-right radical groups like the Oath Keepers. These groups will very likely increase their online presence to continue recruiting political officials, law enforcement, and military members, who will almost certainly spread the groups’ agenda and influence throughout the US. The national impact of far-right organizations that pose an increasing threat will almost certainly be a topic among federal, state, and local authorities and political officials seeking to reduce the far-right extremism threat in their respective areas. Local and state governments will likely seek aid from federal officials to support efforts to combat far-right radicalization in their states and towns, likely attempting to interrupt recruitment efforts, misinformation campaigns, and the overall threats far-right groups pose.


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[1]Alleged members and associates of Oath Keepers inside US Capitol” by United States Department of Justice licensed under Public Domain (Portions of this image are redacted for security purposes)

[2] New from ADL: Leaked Oath Keepers’ Membership List Reveals Hundreds of Current & Former Law Enforcement Officers, Members of Military, and Elected Officials, ADL, September 2022

https://www.adl.org/resources/press-release/new-adl-leaked-oath-keepers-membership-list-reveals-hundreds-current-former

[3] OATH KEEPERS, Southern Poverty Law Center, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/oath-keepers

[4] New from ADL: Leaked Oath Keepers’ Membership List Reveals Hundreds of Current & Former Law Enforcement Officers, Members of Military, and Elected Officials, ADL, September 2022

https://www.adl.org/resources/press-release/new-adl-leaked-oath-keepers-membership-list-reveals-hundreds-current-former

[5] The Oath Keepers Data Leak: Unmasking Extremism in Public Life, Anti-Defamation League, September 2022

https://www.adl.org/resources/report/oath-keepers-data-leak-unmasking-extremism-public-life

[6] Examining Extremism: The Oath Keepers, Center for Strategic & International Studies, June 2021

https://www.csis.org/blogs/examining-extremism/examining-extremism-oath-keepers

[7] Ibid

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