One year after criticizing the militarized police force in Ferguson, the Oath Keepers — a group of armed white militiamen — took to the city’s streets, clashing with protesters on Monday night.
The day after a tense standoff between cops and protesters, as well as the police shooting of an armed teenager, hundreds of protesters gathered on West Florrisant Ave after a state of emergency was declared in St. Louis. Officers in riot gear told the crowd to disperse and arrested people who did not comply. Then, several white militiamen showed up to the protest carrying rifles, and would not leave when demonstrators asked them to.
“Open carry is open carry,” said one of the armed men. “I’m not an attorney, I’m just happy we’re able to defend ourselves. It’s been our right for a long time, and various states have finally come on line and acknowledged that’s what the people want.”
“People got knocked down and stuff stolen from them, that’s why,” said another.
But according to Ferguson Committeewoman Patricia Bynes, their presence put a spotlight on the hypocrisy of Missouri’s open carry law. “If there were black and brown people in this country who showed up in the streets open carrying assault rifles in paramilitary garb would they still be received the same way?” she speculated to NBC News. “It seems to be that especially when it comes to the Second Amendment there seems to be a different way that it is enforced.
“There were two blocks of police. They saw them,” she continued. “It’s more about the hypocrisy. Of wow, if anybody out here tried that they’d be met with a different greeting from police.”
— Ryan Herring (@infiniteideal) August 11, 2015
According to the self-identified patriot group’s website, Oath Keepers are “formerly serving military, police, and first responders who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” However, the group is widely perceived as an anti-government vigilante organization.
In a communique released several weeks after Michael Brown was shot and killed last year, the group released a communique blasting law enforcement’s treatment of Ferguson protesters. It said:
The current riot control tactics of the local police, rooted in outmoded techniques developed in the 1950’s—and only made worse by the ongoing militarization of our police—are failing the people of Ferguson, giving them a false choice between rampant looting on the one hand, and hyper-militarized police and curfews on the other (which also fail to stop the looting, leaving the mistaken impression among many of the American people that even more militarization and curtailment of free speech and assembly is needed).
One officer in St. Louis, Dan Page, was suspended last year for his racist and sexist rhetoric at an Oath Keeper meeting. He was relieved of duty weeks into the Ferguson protests, when video of his April tirade went viral. Page was charged with quelling the unrest in the aftermath of Brown’s death.
The group has been active in other parts of the country as well. During the armed standoff between Cliven Bundy — an outlaw rancher who refused to relinquish his cattle — and federal officials, Oath Keepers descended on Nevada to provide the rancher with additional manpower.