The question posed on the group’s YouTube channel isn’t whether you’re prepared to vote during this year’s presidential election — it’s whether you and your family are prepared to survive it.
“No doubt we’re all concerned about this election,” Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes said during a three-hour webinar devoted to the election.
The Army veteran, speaking with an eye patch over his left eye, added that it’s “become a crazy roller-coaster ride of an election, and we’re all concerned about the possibility of civil unrest or violence either on Election Day or shortly after.”
The Oath Keepers, a group of former military and law enforcement officers who came together in 2009, have been gearing up for the election for months.
In October, the group urged its members to “blend in” with voters and do “incognito intelligence gathering and crime spotting” at polling places across the country on Nov. 8. Members were instructed to report unseemly activities to police.
The national group presents itself as nonpartisan, “but their concerns clearly echo Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s warnings about a ‘rigged’ election and his calls for his supporters to monitor polling places for evidence of fraud by supporters of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton,” The Washington Post’s Kevin Sullivan reported last month.
In its latest webinar, the group told listeners that Donald Trump should emerge victorious — “unless large-scale fraud is perpetrated” using millions of ineligible ballots.
That fraud might also be perpetuated using violence, the group said, noting that voters may face the threat of improvised explosive devices and widespread danger at polls around the country.
“It’s a serious threat,” Rhodes said.
After detailing a list of possible threats that would allow Democrats to maintain their grip on federal power, an Oath Keeper who goes by the name “Navy Jack” offered a list of potential “Major Threat Groups” that he said are primed to create chaos.
The list included La Raza, which Navy Jack called “a Hispanic supremacist organization,” the Revolutionary Communist Party and its affiliates, the New Black Panther Party, Black Lives Matter, ISIS and North Korea.
“We’re going to be providing you with information on how to keep track of these people,” Navy Jack said, noting that Oath Keepers should monitor everything from social media to police scanners and local news — with an important caveat.
“The first news report coming out of a local news station most likely wasn’t influenced by Washington, it’s kind of a nuance that we figured out over time,” he said. “That very next news report most likely will be filtered by Washington.”
Navy Jack also identified cities that he said are most likely to see voter intimidation, fraud and false news reports: Cleveland, Atlanta, Richmond, Phoenix and Philadelphia.
These cities, Navy Jack explained, “are in swing states that are in contention, where a riot could have a meaningful outcome on the election.”
Last week, in a letter to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) warned that fringe nationalist groups had targeted Philadelphia polling places for surveillance and possible disruption. He urged the Department of Justice to support jurisdictions where “voter suppression efforts” might occur.
“In the absence of credible and substantial evidence to support the claim that elections in Philadelphia are subject to widespread fraud, these calls to action are little more than thinly veiled attempts to suppress and delegitimize the votes of predominately minority citizens, inflected with innuendo that recalls dark times in our country’s civil rights struggle,” Casey wrote. “These calls are more than wrong and irresponsible; if executed, they could be illegal.”
In his call to form “incognito intelligence gathering and crime spotting teams,” Rhodes instructed Oath Keepers: “Dress to blend with the crowd. That may mean wearing a Bob Marley, pot leaf, tie-die peace symbol, or ‘Che’ Guevara T-shirt . . . or it may mean wearing working-man Carhartt pants and a plaid shirt.”
“But please don’t dress in cammo pants or shirt, like a wanna-be militia member,” he added.
A Washington-based group, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said last week that it planned to ask the Justice Department to investigate the Oath Keepers’ actions.
“What’s particularly disturbing here is that they are encouraging their members to go out covertly and not disclose their identities,” said Kristen Clarke, the group’s president. “We want elections where there is transparency and openness. This kind of rallying call stands to intimidate voters and could have a chilling effect on Election Day.”
John Karriman, a webinar participant who claimed to have provided security during protests in Ferguson, Mo., urged listeners to leave areas where violence may occur and be ready to fight back when faced with danger. His ominous, 10-minute talk invoked dramatic themes reminiscent of a Hollywood post-apocalyptic thriller.
“Cast your vote, gather up your family, your friends, your meds, your pets, your important documents and leave,” he said. “If you can’t afford to get a motel room outside of the area, go stay with family and friends somewhere where it’s relatively safe.
“You wouldn’t want to put yourself or your family through the horrors of having to fight for your lives,” he added.
Be prepared to repel violence with violence “if you can’t leave a city with arson, looting and murder,” Karriman said.
“Once that happens, though, beware of what happens next,” he said.
“If they had family and friends in that group, then you can count on them being back,” he said, without specifying who “they” are. “They’ll be back with a vengeance, they’ll want payback, they’ll be bitter, they’ll be better prepared, they’ll be more determined.
“It’s a sad fact that at the end of the day all people understand is force or threat of force.”
On their Web site, the Oath Keepers are described as a group focused on fulfilling “the oath all military and police take to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’” The site notes that the organization is composed of members who have, or have previously had, some sort of connection to law enforcement or the military.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, however, describes the Oath Keepers as a “fiercely antigovernment, militaristic group.”
“The core idea of the group is that its members vow to forever support the oaths they took on joining law enforcement or the military to defend the Constitution,” reads the SPLC site. “But just as central is the group’s list of 10 ‘Orders We Will Not Obey,’ a compendium of much-feared but entirely imaginary threats from the government — orders, for instance, to force Americans into concentration camps, confiscate their guns, or cooperate with foreign troops in the United States.”
During the group’s pre-election webinar, speakers moved from discussing politicians manipulating elections to survivalist training.
Listeners learned about family preparedness, prepping for medical emergencies and useful supplies in a disaster scenario, such as a knifes, flashlights, comfortable walking shoes and “4 to 8 ounces of silver.”
Listeners were also treated to lessons about creating a neighborhood contingency plan, reconnaissance and identifying explosive devices.
The only thing Americans can expect on Election Day, the speakers repeatedly emphasized, is the unexpected.
“We can speculate on what these options are,” Navy Jack warned readers in a blog post last month about the manipulative plans of America’s political leaders, “but I seriously doubt any of us are devious enough to even think of the methods that these demon infested parasites can come up with.
“What is important to remember is that they are animals; predators; wolves, intent on devouring the sheep and hunting down the sheepdogs,” he added. “It is also important to remember that cornered animals are the most dangerous.”