Capitol riot suspects had more ties to Oath Keepers than previously known
NPR has identified previously undisclosed connections between the far-right anti-government group the Oath Keepers and defendants charged in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
We've known for months that members of an extremist group called the Oath Keepers took part in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Prosecutors have already secured guilty pleas from multiple members, and now a leak of data believed to be from the Oath Keepers' web servers has exposed even more information on the group. And using that data, NPR has found more links between alleged Capitol rioters and the extremist group.
NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach has been looking into all of this and joins us now. Hi, Tom.
TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So what new information have we learned from this leak?
DREISBACH: Yeah. So we compared the membership list that purportedly comes from the Oath Keepers from their web servers, and we compared that with NPR's ongoing database of all the criminal charges from the riot. We found some expected overlap; you know, people prosecutors have described as Oath Keepers in court documents already. But we also found five other Capitol riot defendants in the database who otherwise have not been identified as Oath Keepers. There's no hint in the court record yet that they have those ties.
CHANG: Interesting. And did you reach out to those five people? Like, what do they say about what you found?
DREISBACH: Yeah, I reached out to all five. And the big question I had was to what extent they were possibly involved in the Oath Keepers. Only one of them responded to me. I reached out to all five and their attorneys. The one who I talked to was a guy named Kevin Loftus. He has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for entering the Capitol building and taking a picture of himself during the chaos.
The Oath Keeper records showed that he had joined the group in 2016. And when I called, he didn't want to go on tape, but he did tell me that he had joined because he heard about the Oath Keepers from far-right media like Infowars. He's an army vet. He liked their pro-Trump politics.
Ultimately, he participated in an Oath Keepers action in 2019, which was escorting Trump supporters from a Trump rally in Minnesota, said it was unarmed for that. But he said he ultimately left because he didn't like how they handled the money. So they didn't feel that it was transparent. He felt they were getting a bit too extreme. And so he stopped giving them money in the end. And by the time of the Capitol riot, he said he had no idea they would be there and didn't see them that day.
CHANG: OK, let's just step back a little bit. For people who aren't familiar, just remind us who the Oath Keepers are.
DREISBACH: Yeah. So they were founded about a decade ago, and they've focused - you know, what sets them apart is their focus on recruiting police and military veterans. The founder, Stewart Rhodes, has made some pretty extreme comments about how the Democratic and Republican parties are supposedly taken over by Marxists and calling for people to arm themselves with military-style weapons. He's been talking about a supposed second civil war coming since the group started; very pro-Trump. And before January 6, you might have seen them openly carrying rifles at big protests or for their links to anti-government standoffs in the West, you know, with federal authorities.
CHANG: OK, so what do you make of all of these connections here?
DREISBACH: A couple of things stick out. You know, one is that, with these groups, there's always a wide spectrum of people and how they are involved; people who are deeply involved and others who are more like hangers-on or fellow travelers. I think what this leak shows is that the group's ideology may be more widespread than we initially realized. The group is often described as like a militia, and there's truth to that.
But Stewart Rhodes, the head, he's been a regular guest on Infowars for about a decade. He's almost a media figure. And that has really helped them grow and find people who share this anti-government ideology.
CHANG: That is NPR's Tom Dreisbach. Thank you, Tom.
DREISBACH: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.