Leaked database reveals 100 current and former Oath Keepers with ties to North Bay
A year has passed since a star-spangled mob stormed the United States Capitol in a violent frenzy that left five dead and the nation traumatized.
More than 700 rioters now face federal charges for their involvement in the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, which began when several thousand people entered the Capitol Complex in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep Donald Trump in office.
In the crosshairs of the Department of Justice prosecutions is a group known as the Oath Keepers, whose members are accused of some of the most flagrant crimes during the Capitol breach.
The intensifying scrutiny of the Oath Keepers in the past 12 months has revealed the inner workings and national scope of an organization that extremism experts label as anti-democratic radicals.
That organization has tentacles that reach across the nation, even extending to Northern California. But while Oath Keepers in some parts of the country appear well-organized and violent, a leaked cache of membership data paints a different picture in the liberal stronghold of the North Bay.
Since its inception in 2009, the group targeted former police officers and military veterans who sought to solemnify their oath to protect the Constitution. But some question the ways in which that vow was interpreted and implemented.
“While the group claims to defend the Constitution, the entire Oath Keepers organization is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy Americans’ liberties,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based advocacy group that specializes in civil rights.
While trials continue, including against 17 Oath Keeper affiliates, focus has now turned toward 2024, with political scientists concerned extremist groups could react even more violently to the next presidential election.
In September, an online whistleblower organization called Distributed Denial of Secrets published a trove of Oath Keepers information. The leak included membership sign-ups dating back a decade, as well as chat logs, email listservs and donation data.
At least 100 people enrolled in the organization while living in the North Bay, the leak showed.
Using that data, The Press Democrat conducted research and interviews into who these members were.
Loosely affiliated, nearly defunct
Rather than the well-coordinated militia described by the Oath Keepers’ most visible supporters and its most vocal detractors, Press Democrat reporters discovered a network that is only loosely affiliated and nearly defunct. It primarily serves as a vent for right-leaning residents of a left-leaning region, some of whom are open to theories about internal threats to the United States that are not grounded in reality and often demonize racial justice movements.
Sonoma County had the largest share of local membership with 41 members. Twenty-three members said they lived in Napa County, 14 in Mendocino, 12 in Lake and 10 in Marin.
They skewed white, male and of retirement age. Around a dozen appeared to be women. Many owned businesses, like a private dentistry practice or firearms training school. Some own multiple properties, according to public records. None appears to have been arrested in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 or in its aftermath.
Among the North Bay contingent are at least a dozen military veterans and more than 10 former or active law enforcement officers, the professed backbone of the organization. But there’s also a firefighter, a dentist, a winery owner, a plumber, a blogger, a heavy metal drummer, a real estate appraiser, an educator who recently worked at a Waldorf school in Sonoma, and the head of the Napa County Republican Party.
Political scientists say diffuse membership is a hallmark of the Oath Keepers and other extremist groups.
“It is across the country, and therefore we are not isolated from the networking effects of these groups, either before or after Jan. 6,” Sonoma State University political science professor David McCuan said.
And while some local members remain committed to the stance of the Oath Keepers, others have come to vehemently reject it. The majority reported only minor involvement with the organization, attending few to no live gatherings and in some cases never communicating with other members at all.
The Press Democrat interviewed 17 people whose names appear on the membership rolls by phone or via email. Almost no one denied their affiliation, though some described it as a passing phase. Seven spoke in detail about their experience with the Oath Keepers.
Never rescinded the oath
Since its inception in 2009, the Oath Keepers organization has relied on a conspiratorial mindset. There are 10 orders from the government that Oath Keepers must pledge to refuse, including “disarming” American citizens and imposing martial law.