The Oath Keeper Who Wants to Arm Black Lives Matter
In early August, on the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, Ferguson was simmering again. Near midnight, a gunfight erupted between four plainclothes detectives and an 18-year-old black man on West Florissant Avenue, the main commercial drag. Hours later, a different group of cops charged with their batons at a different group of black men who were standing near a car outside a hair salon. An angry crowd threw rocks and Ferguson’s favorite weapon: frozen bottles of water. A state of emergency was declared; police were out in riot gear; sirens whined; the bitter scent of tear gas filled the air.
Arriving amidst the chaos was a middle-aged white man named Sam Andrews. Andrews, a member of the notorious militia group the Oath Keepers, had come to Ferguson on a mission: Joe Biggs, a journalist for the conspiracy-minded website Infowars.com, was in the city to cover the anniversary, and Andrews, who lives nearby, had offered protection. With their body armor and semiautomatics, Andrews and his handpicked detail — an Air Force air-controller, a Navy engineer, a retired cop and a young Marine — looked like they had just stepped out of Soldier of Fortune magazine. They were immediately heckled by a group of black protestors standing at the barricades who assumed that they were cops — or members of the Klan.
“Black people see white people dressed in military gear, with AR-15s,” says Tony Rice, a local black protester who was on the street that night, “and their first thought is: They’re here to hurt us.”
Andrews, however, was accustomed to the turbulence in Ferguson. Nine months earlier, amid the much more violent riots that had broken out after the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the local cop who killed Mike Brown, he had spent three weeks in the city on his debut operation with the Oath Keepers. Armed with fire buckets — and a large private arsenal — Andrews and a team of 30 men had established a position on the rooftop of a bakery and set about their self-appointed goal of protecting local residents and their property.
It was during that mission that Andrews met Tony Rice; they had struck up an unexpected friendship talking about the First Amendment and the destructiveness of setting it aside in lieu of violence. Now, in August, when Rice saw Andrews and his team getting heckled, he offered them a lifeline. “I went up and talked with Sam,” Rice says. “And everyone assumed, since they know me and I knew him, that maybe he wasn’t so bad.”
Within a matter of minutes, Andrews and the crowd were engaged in a debate, discussing everything from Donald Trump to police brutality. Eventually, Andrews says, many of the protestors asked about his gun. “They were like, ‘Yo, man, what are you carrying? What kind of gun is that?'” He says. “And I just told them, ‘It’s the kind that you should have.'”