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Oath Keeper Arrest Highlights Rise of Armed Extremism – Ties Between Guns and Militia Activity

January 13, 2022

Today, Stewart Rhodes, leader of the anti-government extremist group the Oath Keepers, was arrested in connection to the Jan 6, 2021 Capitol Insurrection. Rhodes is charged with playing a central role in the mobilization of the Oath Keepers to the U.S. Capitol and the ultimate breach by members of the organization. Rhodes is now one of 714 individuals facing federal charges in connection to Jan. 6, according to the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. 

As outlined in Everytown Support Fund’s October 2020 report, the Oath Keepers are one of the nation’s most notorious far-right extremist groups. Founded in 2009 by Rhodes, the Oath Keepers is “a large but loosely organized collection of anti-government extremists” that espouses much of the same conspiratorial views as its anti-government predecessors in the 1990s. Conspiracy theories around guns and forced civilian disarmament are key to the Oath Keepers’ worldview, and they have aligned their messaging with that of the traditional gun lobby. 

Rhodes’ arrest only further highlights the connection between guns, militia activity, and the gun lobby. Guns occupy a unique and dangerous space among extremists in the United States. They are used as a recruiting tool and organizing principle, especially for groups like the Oath Keepers and other anti-government militias. Guns and extreme rhetoric about guns gets people through the door, or more likely, to an online meeting site. 

The indictment filed by the Department of Justice includes several explicit references to firearms including that Rhodes and other alleged co-conspirators “transported firearms, ammunition, and related items to the Washington D.C. metropolitan area” (para. 62). The document alleges that Rhodes spent a total of more than $35,000 on firearms and related equipment in the weeks before and after January 6th, including during his travel to Washington, D.C. for the event (paras. 37, 47, 57, 61, 129).

More information on Oath Keepers and Rhodes’ connection to gun lobby: 

  • Rhodes spoke at a 2018 Friends of NRA banquet in upstate New York.
  • Between 2014 and 2018, the Pennsylvania chapter of the Oath Keepers had a booth at the Great American Outdoor Show, a gun lobby event hosted by the NRA. And, in 2014, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre himself stopped by their table to snap a picture with the Oath Keepers state chapter president
  • In 2010, the NRA helped publicize a Second Amendment rally in Washington, D.C. which featured Stewart Rhodes. The event took place 15 years to the day after the Oklahoma City bombing.
  • Earlier this year, Rolling Stone reported that leaked Oath Keeper membership rolls featured an NRA board member, who said he had since left the organization, and nearly 70 people who purportedly signed up for the group touting “their bonafides as NRA-certified firearms instructors”

Last week, Everytown along with the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center hosted a press call to discuss the state of armed extremism in the country one year after the Capitol Insurrection. In August, Everytown Support Fund, in partnership with the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), released a report documenting armed demonstrations that have taken place across the United States since the start of 2020. Updated data was released last week showing over 610 armed demonstrations in the United States:

  • Pro-Trump Demonstrations Continue Post-Presidency and Are More Likely to Be Armed: Pro-Trump demonstrations were reported every month since the start of 2021. These demonstrations were disproportionately armed. 
  • Armed Pro-Trump Demonstrations Disproportionately Occur on Legislative Grounds. Between January 2020 and November 2021, 47.3% of armed pro-Trump demonstrations (53 of 112) took place at legislative grounds, compared to 12.2% of all other armed demonstrations (61 of 501).
  • Overall, Armed Demonstrations Were More Likely To Take Place At Legislative Grounds in 2021 Compared to 2020, and These Demonstrations Were More Likely To Be Violent or Destructive: While armed demonstrations at legislative grounds represent a subset of all armed demonstrations, events like the January 6 insurrection underscore the dangers of armed activity at these locations. 
  • Armed Demonstrations Continue to Be Driven by Right-Wing Actors, and These Actors Were Even More Likely to Be Involved in 2021: Members of right-wing groups were identified in at least 45.8% of all armed demonstrations in 2021 (60 of 131), up from over 35.7% in 2020. Since 2020, members of the Oath Keepers have been identified in at least 15 armed demonstrations. 

More information on armed extremism is available here. For more information on the connection between guns and militia activity, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 

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