Why Mainstream Media Pros Pledged Themselves to the Oath Keepers
When joining a right-wing militia, most members brag about their military credentials, tactical training, or prowess with firearms. But a select group of members in the hacked Oath Keeper rolls touted a very different skillset — pledging to be information warriors for the extremist group.
These Oath Keepers signed up pitching past affiliations with the Washington Post, USA Today, Tampa Tribune as well as local television news and newspaper outlets from New Jersey to Kansas to Arizona. Still others offered experience in film and radio production or pledged to serve the Oath Keepers on the public affairs front, helping to market the militia to the masses.
“I spent 10 years as a TV news reporter,” wrote one New York man, who claimed his career was derailed “after speaking up for the police.” He pitched the militia on his services: “I can help tremendously as a media spokesman and recruiter.”
A man from Virginia touted high-level jobs at national newspapers as well as his “Ph.D. and 28 years’ experience in opinion and marketing research and strategy.” He added: “If you want to do REAL polling/survey work, I’m your guy.” (This individual also highlighted his weapons expertise as an “NRA-certified instructor.”)
Another well-educated Oath Keeper offered broadcast experience: “I have a masters degree in radio, television, and film production and worked for… years in the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service producing television programs.” An Oklahoman highlighted similar, deep journalism experience — “I have been in print journalism for almost 30 years,” he wrote — and offered: “I can deal with the media/public.”
For the Oath Keepers, having access to such a deep pool of media talent “can be incredibly useful,” says Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher at the Center on Extremism, housed at the Anti-Defamation League. These information warriors, he says, can help the militia group “create an image that is cool, competent, and appealing to potential members — and then blast it out to a far larger audience than if they were trying to recruit in person.”
These media militiamen are among nearly 40,000 individuals listed in an Oath Keeper membership database that was hacked, leaked to a transparency group called Denial of Distributed Secrets, and then made available to the media. The membership rolls have formed the basis of reporting for outlets from New York Times and NPR to BuzzFeed and the Daily Dot. Rolling Stone’s own reporting has identified Oath Keepers in state government, sheriffs departments, and even the board of the National Rifle Association.
The Oath Keepers are an antigovernment militia, whose members have frequently engaged in armed vigilantism. The group is steeped in right-wing conspiracy theories that a tyrannical federal government is preparing to perpetrate horrors on the American public, from confiscating guns to creating city-sized concentration camps.
The Oath Keepers imagine themselves as heroes, defending the republic. But in reality, militia members have struck blows against democracy. At least 18 Oath Keepers have been indicted for participating in the insurrection of Jan 6 that sought to block Joe Biden’s lawful ascension to the presidency. Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes — who summoned his followers to D.C. to help Trump fend off what Rhodes decried as a “coup” — has been subpoenaed by Congress’ Jan. 6 committee.
The Oath Keepers recruit specifically from the military and law enforcement. But the militia preys off a warped notion of patriotism that attracts many civilians to its ranks. The phenomenon of Oath Keeper members pitching their skills as message-makers and spin doctors shouldn’t surprise us, Friedfeld says. “Militias have this culture of self-sufficiency, and they want their members to bring skills to the table,” he says. “When you look at the Oath Keeper membership rolls, a lot of the people who signed up don’t have traditional combat skills, and so they probably offered what they thought would be most useful.”
None of the media professionals who signed onto the Oath Keepers are household names, but, collectively, their involvement with the militia shows how the extremist group has made inroads into an influential part of American public life.
A man from Kansas who described himself as the owner of “an award-winning newspaper” wrote to the Oath Keepers of his interest in “promoting this organization,” offering his writing and editing expertise. A Coloradan pitched that he’d “worked in the film and television industry for twenty years,” and offered to create “video promotions or anything else you might need.” An Illinois man identified himself as a “producer for a Korean Television company,” and insisted he wanted to “further this cause and help save the sovergnty [sic] of the United States.”
Similar offers flooded in from across the country:
- A Floridian wrote: “I’m a Broadcast Engineer and can help you with anything to do with Television or Video Production.”
- A Virginian wrote: “I live close to Washington DC and I work in Information Technology. I specialize in social media and public affairs.”
- Woman from Texas wrote: “I have a marketing MBA and am a great communicator I will help with all kinds of projects.”
- Man living in Georgia highlighted his past journalism experience “working for the Tampa Tribune.”
- An Arkansan offered his services in “public affairs, public speaking, voice talent (radio broadcasting)”
- An enthusiastic Ohioan wrote: “I am a recording engineer with 32 years of, experience in this feild [sic]. If I can help out, let me know!!!!!!!”
- A Californian offered to be a militia flack: “I was a public affairs officer and have a great amount of experience speaking in front of groups and giving media interviews”
- A Wisconsinite offered assistance with “marketing and communications. I have over 25 years of broadcast experience.”
While many of these Oath Keeper info-warriors appear to be veterans of the media mainstream, others hail from identifiably right-wing outlets. One enrollee described themselves as the “owner of monthly newspaper in south Texas with decidedly constitutional, libertarian political bent.” An Illinois man claimed to “own and manage an Anti-Establishment Financial News Network” with a “following of over 100,000 and rapidly growing.”
“I host a nationally syndicated radio show based on Second Amendment rights,” a Nevadan bragged. A Mississippian billed himself as “commentator on the American Family Radio network.” A Georgia member bragged of being a columnist for LewRockwell.com — a site that calls itself ANTI-STATE • ANTI-WAR • PRO-MARKET. One Floridian claimed they were “already working with Elias on The Oath Keeper newspaper” — appearing to reference Elias Alias, the now-former editor-in-chief of the Oath Keeper’s website.
Rolling Stone reached out to several of these media militia members. Only one responded substantively — to insist he was no longer on board with the Oath Keeper agenda. The research Ph.D. who offered his polling help to the militia tells Rolling Stone, “I had no idea I was still listed as part of that crackpot group. I haven’t been a member in many years,” he adds. “They’re hideous.”