‘Oath Keepers’ armed with guns roam streets of Ferguson
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With their hands resting casually on the assault rifles strapped across their chests, the men formed a diamond around their subjects, surveying the area in search of a threat.
The chants from hundreds of young protesters had already started to die down, their engines revving as they peeled out of the parking lot off of West Florissant Ave. Police units were in the midst of standing down for the night, even as men dressed in military fatigues cautiously approached the scene.
A state of emergency had been declared hours earlier, but these were not members of the National Guard.
A day after a rash of gun violence on the streets of Ferguson, a small citizen militia armed with semi-automatic assault rifles was roaming those same streets overnight Monday. Known as the Oath Keepers, the men added another layer of tension onto an already volatile scene.
Their movements tactical and deliberate, as if in a war zone.
“We’re just keeping an eye on activities down here,” said the leader, John, who declined to give his last name. “We’re just keeping an eye on them, making sure they stay safe.”
Founded in 2009 by a Yale Law School graduate and devout libertarian, the often controversial Oath Keeper organization formed at a time when patriot and militia groups were booming at unforeseen rates. Their political leanings are often difficult to nail down. Leaders adamantly reject labeling the group as “anti-government,” yet their 35,000-member following nationwide of law enforcement and military veterans often openly question federal laws.
Larry Kirk, an Oath Keeper from Old Monroe, Missouri, said the goal of the group is not to instigate unrest.
“To the far right, the people think we’re trying to overthrow the government. On the far left, people think that we’re some Klan organization or white supremacist group, and they don’t really see what our true message is,” Kirk told msnbc. “We take an oath to the Constitution.”
Monday was not the first time the Oath Keepers have been on standby in Ferguson. In November, when a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, the city roiled in protest. Oath Keepers, perched on the rooftops in the Old Town Ferguson’s business district, were on guard to prevent further destruction and looting.
Police eventually asked them to leave.
Within minutes of the Oath Keepers’ arrival, protesters swarmed around the group, some frozen with a mix of anger and confusion. Others fled out of fear that the situation would devolve.
One protester in the crowd, a white man, jumped out in front of the squad unable to control his outrage.
“Only a white man can get away with this,” he yelled. “Can you imagine if a black man came looking like this, walking this way? What do you think would happen to him? He wouldn’t be left alone like you are.”
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