The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kroger unknowingly funneled donations to a militant group. After the Capitol riots, it’s cutting it off.

A Kroger spokesperson said the company was not previously aware it had been funding the Indiana Oath Keepers through a community rewards program. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

When Kroger launched its community rewards program more than seven years ago, the supermarket chain pitched the initiative as a way shoppers could support charities of their choosing.

But, the company said Tuesday, one of the nonprofit groups being funded through the program was the Indiana Oath Keepers — the local branch of a self-styled militia group whose members now are accused of planning to storm the U.S. Capitol days in advance.

Self-styled militia members planned on storming the U.S. Capitol days in advance of Jan. 6 attack, court documents say

After court documents filed Tuesday disclosed disturbing new allegations about the extremist group — including plans to make “citizens’ arrests” of elected officials — Kroger pulled the Indiana Oath Keepers from its rewards initiative.

“We were dismayed to learn today this group is part of the Community Rewards program,” a Kroger spokesperson said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Given the concerning nature of the allegations against this organization, we have immediately removed the group from receiving customer-directed funds.”

The Kroger spokesperson said the company was not previously aware it had been funding the Oath Keepers. Many on social media, including the activist account Sleeping Giants, pointed out the Indiana group listed the rewards initiative on its website.

As major companies have decried the Jan. 6 mob that stormed the Capitol and a range of businesses have fired employees charged with participating, the grocery chain’s announcement shows how public pressure has continued to force the private sector into holding the rioters accountable.

Internet detectives are identifying scores of pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol. Some have already been fired.

Kroger’s community rewards program, launched in 2013, funnels donations from the supermarket to thousands of charities, the company said. Customers with loyalty cards can choose nonprofits approved by the Internal Revenue Service. The more they spend on their cards, the more their selected organization will receive directly from the grocer at the end of the year.

While the Indiana group characterizes itself as a “non-partisan association” of law enforcement officers and military personnel, critics like the Southern Poverty Law Center have labeled the national Oath Keepers — which share the same logo and mission statement — as an extremist, anti-government group.

But in 2017, the Indiana Oath Keepers were granted tax-exempt status by the IRS, which classified them as a “public safety” nonprofit.

Some of the flags seen during the Jan. 6 Capitol siege symbolize support for far-right causes, white supremacy and anti-government militias. (Video: The Washington Post)

They are not the only extremist, far-right group to receive this accreditation. As CBS News found last month, dozens of white-supremacist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ groups are registered as tax-exempt charities, including several linked to the 2015 Charleston church massacre and the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

It is unclear whether any members of the Indiana Oath Keepers were involved in the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, when a mob of President Trump’s supporters stormed the building to disrupt the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

Yet federal authorities said in court documents Tuesday that an apparent leader of the Oath Keepers, Navy veteran Thomas Edward Caldwell, helped organize a ring of dozens who boasted they had “stormed the castle,” communicating in real time as they breached the building and talked about hunting for lawmakers.

Following social media pressure, Kroger cut the group from its rewards program, noting it was “not aligned with the company’s values.”

Representatives for the supermarket told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the Indiana Oath Keepers received only a “nominal” amount of money from Kroger. A spokesperson told The Post that Kroger had not directed corporate grants or charitable dollars to the Oath Keepers.

The Indiana Oath Keepers’ website continued to list a giving opportunity similar to the Kroger program through Amazon Smile, which lets buyers donate a small piece of a purchase to a selected charity. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos is the owner of The Post.) Amazon told The Post the company is looking into the situation.