Sentencing top oath keeper won’t hurt far-right


Jhe conviction of the leader of the far-right militia Oath Keepers for seditious conspiracy has been hailed as a significant victory for the Ministry of Justice and a “victory for the rule of law”. But the verdict against Stewart Rhodes and his associate Kelly Meggs, who face up to 20 years in prison after being found guilty of the extremely rare charge linked to the January 6 attack, is unlikely to dampen a growing anti-government movement that a long time since, it left the organization Oath Keepers of Rhodes to split into new, younger, more aggressive and more online extremist groups.

“We should not equate this tactical victory against the Oath Keepers with a final victory against what is unfortunately a thriving anti-government and anti-authority movement in the United States today,” says Jon Lewis, researcher at the program on extremism from George Washington University. “The life or death of the Oath Keepers as an entity…does not change the fact that they have a significant number of individuals who continue to uphold the ideals, the ethos, the conspiracies that made Oath Keepers what they were.”

Prosecutors alleged that members of the Oath Keepers organized, equipped and trained prior to Jan. 6 and coordinated their actions during the attack on the US Capitol using hand signals, cellphones and devices. encrypted apps. Some members were filmed forcing their way in through the rotunda doors wearing tactical vests, radios and helmets.

Read more: Inside a combat vet’s journey, from defending his country to storming the Capitol.

The jury found that Rhodes, a 57-year-old former Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, played a central role in the violent plot to block the transfer of power and keep Donald Trump in power. Rhodes encouraged members of the self-proclaimed militia to see themselves as “the last line of defense against tyranny” and adopted slogans that define the group’s mission as the defense of the nation against perceived enemies. Last fall, a leaked list of 38,000 members revealed dozens of elected officials in its ranks, as well as a slew of police officers, sheriffs and former and current military personnel.

Testimonies from some of the Oath Keeper members on trial show just how effective these tactics could be. Jessica Watkins, a defendant who was found guilty of obstruction and other Jan. 6-related charges but not seditious conspiracy, is a transgender U.S. military veteran who struggled after being ‘forced out of the armed after discovering his sexual orientation,” according to court documents. She worked as a firefighter, paramedic, and bartender before co-founding Ohio’s small regular state militia. The group quickly became a “dues-paying subset” of the Oath Keepers, according to the FBI.

Watkins has become obsessed with right-wing conspiracies, testifying that she watched Alex Jones’ InfoWars ‘five or six hours a day’, fueling her fears of a UN invasion, forced vaccinations and bombing US military bases by China. After hearing about the Oath Keepers on the show, she saw her involvement with the group as a way to “always serve in another way” after losing her military career, she said. Many members of the group are drawn into what they see as an existential struggle against a government “co-opted by a cabal of elites actively trying to disenfranchise American citizens,” the indictment reads. against one of the oath keepers involved. January 6th.

Read more: For the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, January 6 was just the beginning.

But even before the insurgency, the group had “lost some steam” as younger, more internet-savvy far-right organizations like the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo movement entered the wider right-wing ecosystem. , says Lewis of GW’s program on extremism. . Rhodes saw the Capitol attack as an opportunity to put the Oathkeepers in the spotlight, amplifying fears of impending conflict with the US government. After January 6, however, Rhodes’ reputation among the Oathkeepers took a hit as he remained in Texas while other members were arrested and informant charges troubled the group. Some local militias split from the Oath Keepers, disappointed by the unresponsiveness of the national organization, but continued to actively organize and hold recruiting sessions.

While analysts expect the Oath Keepers to wither in the absence of their leader, “these groups are not going away,” says Roudabeh Kishi, director of research and innovation at the Armed Conflict Location. & Event Data Project (ACLED), a non-profit organization. which tracks political violence and extremist groups. “They’ve actually adapted to the post-January 6 landscape and they continue to adapt and evolve.”

Far-right groups are increasingly mobilizing around anti-LGBTQ or white nationalist narratives, attracting new groups of people, Kishi adds. “Some of these big names that people have become increasingly familiar with, like the Oath Keepers, are just scratching the surface of these bands,” she says. “The far right is not a monolith led by Stewart Rhodes. It’s very, very broken.

Read more: “A perfect storm”. Michigan plot exposes dangers of ignoring far-right threat

Even with Rhodes and other leaders likely in prison and the national Oath Keepers organization diminished, leaders of far-right groups increasingly depend not on local chapters or dues-paying members, but rather on online forums. and encrypted messaging apps where they recruit and organize. “The threat is the network,” says Lewis. “And these haven’t disappeared since January 6. On the contrary, they have become more important, more integrated.”

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Write to Vera Bergengruen at vera.bergengruen@time.com.


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