Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes appears on a video screen above members of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol during the seventh hearing on the January 6th investigation in the Cannon House Office Building on July 12, 2022 in Washington, D.C. The bipartisan committee, which has been gathering evidence for almost a year related to the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, presented its findings in a series of televised hearings. On Jan. 6, 2021, supporters of former President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol Building during an attempt to disrupt a congressional vote to confirm the electoral college win for President Joe Biden. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
More than 30 police officers from multiple states attended former President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally or participated in the insurrection that day. Many more with a law enforcement background joined the attempted coup.
Thousands of law enforcement officers, as well as military members, have joined anti-government militia groups. Such groups have demonstrated a potent ability to propagate conspiracy theories and foment violent outbursts, and the presence of combat- and firearms-trained members makes their activities a serious threat to constitutional order.
This became spectacularly clear during the insurrection, which was propelled in part by such extremist groups as the Three Percenters, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
That’s why it was so alarming to see the name Stan Hilkey appear on a leaked Oath Keepers membership list.
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The Oath Keepers has emerged as one of the country’s most consequential and largest anti-government militias ever. It was founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and Yale-educated lawyer who once clerked at the Arizona Supreme Court. From the beginning, the group was preoccupied with resistance to what it deemed tyrannical national leaders, even though its view of the federal government was mostly based on conspiracy theories. It amassed almost 40,000 members, many with law enforcement, military or first responder experience.
In 2014, the group earned national notoriety for its involvement in the Bundy ranch standoff with federal agents in Nevada, and on Jan. 6, 2021, the group earned a place of disgrace in American history.
Rhodes and other Oath Keepers face charges of seditious conspiracy for their alleged involvement in planning and executing the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Jury selection for their trial began this week.
The Oath Keepers, like most militias, kept the identity of members secret. But a trove of data related to the group, including membership, leaked, and, as reported by The Denver Post last week, “more than 950 Coloradans are included on the list of more than 38,000 members nationwide.”
One of those Coloradans was Hilkey, executive director of the state’s Department of Public Safety. He’s not just in law enforcement, he is law enforcement. He occupies a cabinet-level position that oversees the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Colorado State Patrol, and the Department of Criminal Justice, among other state agencies. He is about the last person in the state you want to see associated with anti-government extremism, let alone the violent, coup-plotting Oath Keepers.
Members of law enforcement agencies — particularly their leaders — become a threat to the communities they're supposed to serve when they entertain anti-government sympathies.
In a statement to the Post, Hilkey condemned the Oath Keepers.
“I am, frankly, horrified to have my name associated with this group that is known for their dangerous and hateful deeds,” he said, “which I fully denounce.”
As the Post describes it, Hilkey “responded to a solicitation to learn more about the Oath Keepers, a group that he said was prominent in Mesa County politics” when he was sheriff of the county, though the story doesn’t specify when the solicitation occurred.
This is what one would hope Hilkey would say. Maybe his association with the Oath Keepers was minimal and short-lived, and that’s a relief.
However, Hilkey’s interest in the group such that he responded to a solicitation is cause for concern. The group was dangerous from its very founding, and this was a secret to no one. Google existed years before Oath Keepers did, and if the group was “prominent” in Mesa County, it’s implausible that Hilkey didn’t know, or couldn’t easily have found out, that it promoted a militant form of anti-government extremism. Just a year after the group formed, the nationally popular TV host Bill O’Reilly interviewed Rhodes on Fox News, and even the conservative O’Reilly concluded Rhodes espoused “a pretty extreme position.”
Hilkey wasn’t the only Colorado law enforcement officer on the leaked list, which according to an Anti-Defamation League analysis included 14 current Colorado law enforcement officers, such as Otero County Sheriff Shawn Mobley, according to the Post.
This revelation underscores a disconcerting feature of the broader anti-democratic forces gaining influence throughout the country. The MAGA mob on Jan. 6 comprised a remarkably large proportion of people with a law enforcement or military background. This quality of the insurrection “continues to bother” Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, Crow told Newsline earlier this month. He sent letters to law enforcement leaders in his district, which includes Aurora, asking them to assess whether they had anyone in their ranks who participated in the insurrection.
“Several of them said that they would take it seriously and look into the issue,” Crow said.
These forces manifest in other ways, such as when Second Amendment-crazed Colorado sheriffs say they’ll refuse to enforce gun safety measures, or in the extremist “constitutional sheriffs” movement, whose adherents advance the ludicrous view that local sheriffs can unilaterally decide which laws are unconstitutional and decline to enforce them. Richard Mack, founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, was a founding member of the Oath Keepers.
Members of law enforcement agencies — particularly their leaders — become a threat to the communities they’re supposed to serve when they entertain anti-government sympathies. Cops take an oath to uphold the law. They cannot pick and choose when it’s an oath they’re willing to keep.
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