Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers sentenced to 18 years in prison on May 25, 2023, in the wake of his November 2022 conviction for seditious conspiracy. Rhodes led an effort to keep former President Donald Trump in office after Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, including planning violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Several scholars of right-wing movements, white nationalism and extremism have written articles explaining what the Oath Keepers and groups like them want, and how they operate — as well as the limits of their free speech to talk about violent overthrow of the US. government. Here we highlight four examples of the work of those scholars.
1. Oath Keepers are violent against the government
“Oath Keepers have participated in several armed standoffs against the government,” criminologists wrote Matthew Valasik from the University of Alabama and Shannon Reid from the University of North Carolina – Charlotte.
For example: “In 2014, the Oath Keepers joined on behalf of Cliven Bundy in an armed confrontation between far-right patriot groups in Nevada. In 2015, Oath Keepers showed up heavily armed in Ferguson, Missouri, during protests over the murder of Michael Brown. And in 2016, Oath Keepers were present at the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.”
Read more: Regardless of the outcome of seditious conspiracy, right-wing groups like Proud Boys are trying to build a white nation
2. Oath Keepers look for a fight
In the January 6 rebellion, the Oath Keepers contingent attempted to overthrow the government, wrote Sarah Kamalia scholar of systemic racism at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of “Homegrown Hatred: Why White Nationalists and Militant Islamists Wage War on the United States.”
Testifying before the congressional committee investigating the uprising, “former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove left little doubt about the intentions of the white nationalist militia group when its members stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021,” Kamali wrote.
“Tatenhove explained that January 6 ‘could have been a spark that started another civil war,'” she continued.
Read more: Former Oath Keeper exposes white nationalist groups’ racist, anti-Semitic beliefs — and their plans to start civil war
3. Many Oath Keepers are former military personnel
The Oath Keepers — who “may number in the thousands” — are a threat in part “because the Oath Keepers are actively recruiting current and retired members of the armed forces,” it wrote. Mia Bloom And Sophia MoskalenkoGeorgia State University Scholars of Violent Extremism.
They reported that “(a) about 10% of Oath Keepers are active duty military personnel, and about two-thirds are retired military or law enforcement officers”, and that “(s) all of the Oath Keepers present at the January 6 attack were veterans ‘, some of whom used a military formation to breach the Capitol.
In addition, a growing number of military personnel are involved in domestic terrorism and an increasing number of extremists have military ties, Bloom and Moskalenko reported.
Read more: Behind the 11 Oath Keepers charged with sedition, there are many more trained by the US military
4. The First Amendment does not protect against sedition
Those former military members may have taken an oath to protect the US and its constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic, but they are discovering that the constitutional protections don’t go that far.
“Far-right extremists or other hate groups may claim they are merely venting or even fantasizing — both of which would be protected under the First Amendment,” it wrote. Amy Koetera scholar of extremism and militias Middlebury’s Center for Terrorism, Extremism and Counter Terrorism. “For this reason, seditious conspiracy charges have historically been difficult to prosecute.”
Cooter noted that Rhodes failed to enter the Capitol on January 6, 2021, but his sentencing “suggests that the jury felt that Rhodes’ texts and other communications incited others to violent, undemocratic action in a manner that requires accountability.”
Read more: Oath Keepers convictions shed light on the limits of free speech – and the threat posed by militias
Editor’s Note: This story is a collection of articles from the archives of The Conversation.