EXTREMISMThe Oath Keepers Data Leak: Unmasking Extremism in Public Life

Published 9 September 2022

A data leak revealed the information of thousands of people whose names were in an Oath Keepers database as having paid for a membership at some point. The Oath Keepers are an anti-government extremist group associated with the militia movement.

In the wake of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, significant public and legal scrutiny was focused on the Oath Keepers, a large anti-government extremist group associated with the militia movement. Despite the group’s national profile, few specifics were known about its membership.

That changed in September 2021, when the non-profit journalist collective Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets) published – among other data – more than 38,000 names on the Oath Keepers’ membership list. The membership data provides unique insight into the people who signed up and paid dues to the organization over the years and helps illuminate the extent to which the group’s anti-government ideology has permeated mainstream society.

Traditionally, militias have largely eschewed engaging with civic institutions on an organizational level. However, in some ways, the Oath Keepers’ tactics presaged a shift across the far right. The group places a focus on seeking institutional power by specifically targeting current and former law enforcement, military, and emergency services personnel with their messaging and recruitment in the hopes that they will be able to utilize these unique skillsets to advance their cause and that the presence of group members in these institutions will obstruct any order, law, or action that the organization deems unconstitutional.

A review of these membership lists revealed that while there are many members of law enforcement, military, and first responders in the membership rolls, there are also elected officials, government employees, teachers, religious figures, and businessmen, among others. It’s important to acknowledge that some individuals in the Oath Keepers database may have initially joined because they were sold a watered-down version of the group, and some may have disavowed the group since signing up. That said, the range of individuals represented in the Oath Keepers leak shows the extent to which this extremist ideology has gained acceptance. Even for those who claimed to have left the organization when it began to employ more aggressive tactics in 2014, it is important to remember that the Oath Keepers have espoused extremism since their founding, and this fact was not enough to deter these individuals from signing up.