11 Aug 2015

Oath Keepers: who are the armed militia men in Ferguson?

Heavily armed white men have been making unofficial patrols of the streets of Ferguson with assault rifles – who are they and why are they allowed to carry guns?

The four, who say they are from a patriotic organisation called the Oath Keepers, were seen by police and protesters armed and protected by bullet proof jackets on the fourth protests.
However, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told NBC news that their presence was “both unnecessary and inflammatory.”

Who are they?

Oathkeepers on the streets of Ferguson: Police in riot gear clashed with protesters who had gathered in the streets to mark the anniversary of the shooting of an unarmed black teen

The organisation says it is made up of current and former U.S, soldiers and police who pledge to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

They say that they are loyal to the constitution, not to politicians. They often wear military fatigues.

The organization – which claims to have more than 30,000 members – was founded in 2004 by former U.S. Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate Stewart Rhodes.

How many are there?

Members of the Oath Keepers provide security at the Sugar Mine Mine in Oregon after mine owners invited them to help with a bitter dispute the the U.S. Government

It is unclear. The organisation has claimed to have more than 30,000 members.

Only four were present on the streets of Missouri. On Facebook they have almost 330k likes.

Why are they allowed to carry guns?

Missouri state has an “open carry” law which allows people to openly carry a fire arm in public.

No licence is needed to carry a gun when outside of a vehicle. If the gun is carried inside a vehicle a concealed pistol licence is needed.

It is not clear how the current state of emergency affect these laws but the men went unchallenged by police on the streets of Ferguson suggesting they were not openly flouting a law.

Gun-rights advocates see the practice as a way to normalize gun ownership and deter crime.

Those who want gun-control see the open display of weapons in safe places such as restaurants and shops is intimidating and encourages violence.

Why were they in Ferguson?

The armed Oath Keepers had been called in by mine owners to an effort to protect their claim in April

The men said that they were there to protect a media organisation. A man, who gave his name as John, said that the journalist in question was from the InfoWars website.

InfoWars is a conspiracy theory website fronted by the controversial radio host Alex Jones.

“There were problems here, there were people who got hurt. We needed to be prepared for that,” the man told Reuters news agency.

The presences of four heavily armed white men in a mainly black neighbourhood quickly drew criticism from those who questioned the sense of being heavily armed in such a sensitive situation.