Ferguson

Oath Keepers Station Themselves on Ferguson's Rooftops; Police Order Them to Stop

St. Louis County clamps down on volunteer patrols.

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After the riot that followed the grand jury's decision last week not to indict Darren Wilson, members of the Oath Keepers—a controversial group of current and former military, police, and public safety officials who have pledged not to obey unconstitutional orders—arrived in Ferguson, Missouri. Armed with rifles and fire extinguishers, they stood guard on the rooftops: ready, they said, to protect local businesses from arsonists and looters.

Over the weekend, the police told them to stop. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

Not a valid license in St. Louis County, apparently.

Following a night of arson fires and bashed storefronts that hit close to home, Greg Hildebrand stood naked Tuesday, drying off from a needed shower, when he noticed somebody on the rooftop.

"I opened the window and said, 'Hey, can I help you?'" said Hildebrand, 35, a website developer.

The man said he was security and would be up there at night with others to protect the pocket of second-story apartments and lower-level storefronts near the Ferguson Police Department. A day earlier, rioters had broken out windows below Hildebrand's apartment in the 100 block of South Florissant Road and torched a nearby beauty supply store.

"I am in the middle of a difficult spot," Hildebrand said. "I feel a lot better having those guys up on the roof."…

Police questioned group members early in the week and allowed them to stay. But Saturday, after media inquiries, St. Louis County police officers ordered the Oath Keepers to leave the rooftops.

Threatened with arrest for operating without a license, the volunteers argued but eventually left their positions early Saturday, [Oath Keepers founder Stewart] Rhodes said.

It's not clear how many Oath Keepers were standing guard on the roofs before the cops shut them down. (A member told The New York Times that there were "more than five, less than 500." He also said that he had been vetting prospective volunteers to weed out any racists, and that about 10 percent of the group's guards were black.) I've seen some worries in the press that the Oath Keepers' presence "could inflame tensions further," but I have not seen any reports of violence either by or against the group's St. Louis patrols. The locals quoted in the Times and Post-Dispatch pieces seem to think their presence served as a deterrant.

You can read the rest of Post-Dispatch story here. An Oath Keeper reacts to the police order (and talks about the group's future plans in the area) here. The Oath Keepers' call for Ferguson volunteers—which also denounces "egregious violations of the rights of peaceful protesters and media" during the last big wave of Ferguson protests—is here. (The Oath Keepers' basic position on the situation is that the government has trampled the rights of peaceful protesters while neglecting their duty to protect lives and property.) Some thoughts on the Oath Keepers' activities during those earlier protests are here. A feature I wrote about the Oath Keepers four years ago is here. Radley Balko interviews the group's founder here.

Update: For some further developments, go here.