Oath Keepers was a far-right militia group established in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a graduate of Yale Law School and former aide to Republican congressman Ron Paul (who ran for president in 2008 and 2012). He founded the group as a backlash to the Obama presidency and typically recruited law enforcement professionals and military veterans to join.
Classified as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Oath Keepers became one of the largest anti-government organizations in the U.S. Its members were heavily involved in the insurrection, helping to spearhead the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
As a result of their role, Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Florida chapter of the organization, were found guilty of seditious conspiracy and other criminal charges on Nov. 29, 2022. Three other defendants who were leaders and associates of the organization—Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell—were found guilty of related felony charges. In March 2023, the DOJ announced that six other members of the Oath Keepers were found guilty of violating the law in attacking the Capitol.
In total, 29 members and affiliates of the Oath Keepers have been charged as part of DOJ’s Jan. 6 investigation. To date, eight have pleaded guilty, and all 15 of those brought to trial so far have been found guilty. Given the arrest and conviction of key players in the group, Oath Keepers largely disappeared from public view as an active organization in the aftermath of the insurrection.
Prior to their attempts to keep Trump in office by force, members of the Oath Keepers provided armed security for events such as the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. They “patrolled” polling sites during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections—allegedly to prevent voter fraud—and in 2014 roamed the streets of Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown, purportedly to provide security for local businesses.
For a decade, Dan Schultz, an Arizona Republican affiliated with the Oath Keepers, has pushed fellow extremists to exert more influence over the GOP. “Why don’t you all join me and the other Oath Keepers who are ‘inside’ the Party already,” he wrote in a chat room post. “If we conservatives were to do that, we’d OWN the Party.” Steve Bannon has actively promoted the idea on his War Room podcast, and a 2022 investigation determined that hundreds of Oath Keepers are not only GOP voters but also hold elected office.
January 6, 2021
- Rhodes and other Oath Keepers leaders discussed providing security to key Trump allies such as Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Ali Alexander, and Alex Jones as they were attending various events in Washington on Jan. 5 and 6, 2021.
- Oath Keepers shared a message on Jan. 6 about protecting Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), a devoted Trump ally, during the attack on the Capitol—suggesting a possible link between an elected official and the militia.
- Text messages from the Oath Keepers also show communication with the Proud Boys, another far-right militia group, suggesting that the organizations were coordinating the attack on the Capitol.
- In January 2022, the FBI arrested Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers on charges of seditious conspiracy for their role in the insurrection. Three defendants pleaded guilty, and after multiple delays, Rhodes’ trial began in late September and ended in late November with a guilty verdict.