Armed to the teeth with semi-automatic assault rifles and handguns, members of the Oath Keepers Militia, a group of mostly military veterans and former law enforcement officers, have blended into the crowd of Ferguson protesters, saying “We’re on your side.” At least four members of the ‘Oath Keepers’ arrived in Ferguson on early Tuesday and began patrolling West Florissant Avenue, walking through the many crowds of protesters gathered there for a ‘day of civil disobedience’ following the anniversary of the killing of 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown, shot dead by white Police Officer Darren Wilson.
The Oath Keepers are wearing military harnesses, bullet-proof vests and are armed with AR-15 assault rifles. Videos and pictures posted online show that the Oath Keepers spotted at the rally are all white. According to a Guardian reporter, they allegedly have an agreement with police not to walk through the ranks of law enforcement. They are also cited to “be on the protesters’ side.”
The appearance of heavily-armed white men stirred unease on the part of the civil rights activists from the Black Lives Matter movement, heavily represented at Ferguson protests.
“Why are there men with guns and the police are doing nothing?” prominent activist Kayla Reed demanded on Twitter.
— John Haltiwanger (@jchaltiwanger) August 11, 2015
The American nonprofit organization Oath Keepers consists mainly of former and current serving US military and law enforcement personnel, as well as members of other paramilitary services, who declare their aim as protecting the US Constitution even at the cost of disobedience to official orders, in case these orders violate fundamental American law.
Expressing his disapproval at the government’s handling of the situation in Ferguson, Oath Keepers volunteer Sam Andrews told RT: “Why the National Guard was not here supporting the St. Louis County Police and supporting the highway patrol and protecting these businesses, to me, is either such a grotesque incompetence or downright criminal negligence.”
“We are family people. And you know what? Nothing is going to change unless we stop electing politician lawyers to officers,” Andrews said, as quoted by Ruptly.
Small group of heavily armed “oath keeper” militia just walked into the crowd. Told protesters “we’re on your side” pic.twitter.com/jnvLprn91r
— Oliver Laughland (@oliverlaughland) August 11, 2015
“You elect Donald Trump, you put Donald Trump in office, he’ll change it all, he’ll get rid of these clowns he’ll get rid of these people that violate our rights and we’ll have somebody that actually cares about Americans again,” Andrews said, expressing his support for the Republican presidential candidate.
The Oath Keepers were also present patrolling a year ago, during the first round of protests,and in November 2014, when more protests erupted in the St. Louis, Missouri, neighborhood.
“Private business people that cannot afford security have asked the volunteers to help protect their businesses. The people in Ferguson have learnt a sad and difficult lesson, that there are not enough police and National Guards to protect all the homes and all the businesses,” a man in military fatigues told Sky News.
But Andrews said it’s not just about defending businesses.
“We have people living in apartments above these businesses…so arson is a lethal threat,” he told RT.