The Oath Keepers Come to Ferguson: Race, Power and the Not-So-Secret History of White Men with Guns

Police patrol on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson was a community on edge again Monday, a day after a protest marking the anniversary of Michael Brown's death was punctuated with gunshots. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Police patrol on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson was a community on edge again Monday, a day after a protest marking the anniversary of Michael Brown's death was punctuated with gunshots. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Police patrol on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson was a community on edge again Monday, a day after a protest marking the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death was punctuated with gunshots. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

(Salon) – According to multiple media reports, a group of at least four or five heavily armed white men showed up on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, overnight on Tuesday, following the street unrest around the one-year anniversary of the killing of Mike Brown and Sunday’s shooting of another man who allegedly fired on police. The men told reporters they were members of the Oath Keepers, a militia group that describes itself as nonpartisan supporters of the United States Constitution and says it includes many current and former U.S. military personnel, police officers and first responders. One of the men said they had come to Ferguson to protect correspondents for Infowars, Alex Jones’ conspiracy-oriented site – from whom or what was not clear – although Infowars subsequently denied having asked for armed backup.

As we say these days, the optics of this murky and bizarre little media moment were troubling, to say the least. White dudes with bulletproof vests and assault rifles – weapons “that aren’t available at Walmart or Cabela’s,” as a St. Louis Post Dispatch reporter put it last year – and an unmistakable good ol’ boy vibe, patrolling an African-American neighborhood. Reuters reporter Scott Malone wrote that the men’s presence “added a disquieting element” to Ferguson, an unusual intrusion of opinion or analysis in a straight news story. St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar, who has struggled against the perception that his department is racially insensitive or worse, and has repeatedly responded to Ferguson protests with military-style force, described the Oath Keepers’ presence as “unnecessary and inflammatory.”

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