Civil Liberties

The Oath Keepers in Ferguson: Three Updates

The story didn't end when police ordered them down from the roofs.


Yesterday I noted that the Oath Keepers, a controversial group that I've covered in the past, had organized rooftop anti-arson patrols in Ferguson, Missouri—and that police there had ordered them to stop. Here are some updates on the story:

On the left, one of the Oath Keepers' volunteers. On the right, the owner of a business he's helping protect.

The Oath Keepers are challenging the order in court. The authorities "claim that they had a St. Louis County ordinance that prevented anyone from securing a building or conducting a security operation without a St. Louis County license," one of the group's organizers, Sam Andrews, tells KTVI. The Oath Keepers intend to argue that the regulation restricts businesses, not volunteers.

The rooftop patrols have not ceased entirely. There are a number of retired cops in the Oath Keepers, and they're still on the roofs. "They're exempt from local regulations about security," Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes explains to Vice. "[But] you shouldn't have to be a cop to do the right thing by your neighbors."

The group is about to try its hand at community organizing. More from Rhodes: "When I get [to Ferguson], my main goal is going to be to organize the community and encourage them to start their own neighborhood watches. They don't need outside help. They should be able to do it themselves. We're going to offer assistance in training them."

Rhodes also gave Vice this explanation for the Oath Keepers' interest in the situation:

in Ferguson, what they're being told is you only have two choices: 1) a hyper-militarized police state to stop violence, including arson, or 2) let it go and burn the town down. Twenty different buildings have burned to the ground. That's a false choice.

For Ferguson in particular if…they don't believe that the police department is legitimate, they should be protecting themselves and secure themselves because the more they secure themselves, the less reason there is for the police to be in their neighborhoods and communities. So they should take care of themselves for both reasons—to be secure, but also to be more free.

In addition to charging the authorities with failing to protect people ("it became apparent on Monday that the National Guard was only guarding government buildings"), Rhodes criticizes them for the ways they've mistreated peaceful protesters in the past few months, accusing the police of "gross violations of free speech and assembly, shooting rubber bullets at everybody, pointing their guns at everybody, spraying CS gas at everybody."

It's not surprising that local business owners appear to be pleased with the guards. More interestingly, Andrews claims that the Oath Keepers and the protesters have been getting along, despite some initial mistrust: "Once they got to know us they said, 'We're so glad you're here. Thank you for coming; we appreciate everything you're doing.'" On the other hand, there have also been exchanges like this one. Rhodes calls the reaction to the group "mixed."

Bonus links: I wrote a feature on the Oath Keepers and their critics four years ago; you can read that article here. I discussed their activities in Ferguson here and here. For yet more from Reason on the group, go here.

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