A national online network of thousands of self-described right-wing “oath-executors” threatens to unleash harassment tactics against elected officials and government workers across the country, The Guardian may reveal.
While the network’s founder insists the group is not violent or a militia, internal conversations indicate that some members are planning clashes with law enforcement and their perceived political enemies.
The chats also indicate that white supremacists and others related to the militia movement are aiming to build on the group’s success in recruiting disillusioned supporters of former President Donald Trump and the “QAnon” conspiracy movement, who are being exposed. to a wide range of conspiracy theories. white nationalist material and right-wing legal theories within the groups.
The founder of the group, who makes videos and organizes under the name Vince Edwards, lives off the grid in a remote corner of Costilla County, in the Colorado desert region. Arrest records from 2016 indicate that he also used the name Christian Picolo, and other public records associate him with the name Vincent Edward Deluca.
Experts say Edwards’ personal story reflects the potential danger in the spread of sovereign citizen ideology, along with voluminous propaganda online, which the story includes an armed confrontation with Costilla County Sheriff’s deputies in 2016.
Edwards initially posted videos and a printable flyer promoting the formation of “oath fulfillment teams” of at least 30 people in every county in the nation during late January 2021, just weeks after his own documented attendance at a rally at the National Capitol on January 6.
His initial videos explicitly appealed to QAnon supporters, noting that “Q,” the alleged Trump administration insider whose gnomish forum posts animated the conspiratorial social movement, had not communicated with the movement since December, and that in Instead of ‘trusting the plan’ ”, as adherents are asked, they must begin to take action.
In the wake of the attack on the Capitol, their efforts appear to have resonated with a growing group of grassroots rightists. The Guardian found more than 3,100 members in 50 state-based Telegram chats and one national chat. Some state groups, such as those in Texas, Washington, and Alabama, were very active with hundreds of members.
The group’s stated goals include publishing Edwards-designed brochures, forming “constitutional enforcement groups,” for each person to distribute 1,000 of Edwards’s brochures, and creating local hotlines to help “enforce the contract. what we did with our public servants ”through live broadcast interactions with them or by filing false legal claims against them.
In an introductory video titled “EO Training,” Edwards encourages new members to the network to emulate so-called “First Amendment Auditors” (FAA).
Professor Brian Levin is the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSHE) at California State University, San Bernardino. In a phone conversation, he explained that the FAA is a social media-driven movement of libertarian provocateurs who “go to sensitive places to see if law enforcement, security guards or property owners interfere with their activities that are disruptive, but generally not illegal. “
Meanwhile, some local groups show that known extremists are seeing opportunities in the group’s rapid growth.
Oregon group Oath Enforcers, for example, joined Chester Doles of Dahlonega, Georgia, on February 5. Doles, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi National Alliance, who was jailed in 1993 for beating a black man, then marched at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Doles recently received media attention as he and other members of the organization he currently leads, American Patriots USA, were among an armed crowd protesting outside the Georgia capital on January 6, an action that led to the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who had been demonized by the far right for his role in Georgia’s electoral recount, for fleeing the building.
In recent months, Doles has reportedly been trying to build alliances with the Three Percenters and other militia organizations in Georgia.
A former member of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, joined the Oregon Oath Enforcers chat on February 9. Toese, a Proud Boy, was a prominent and frequently violent participant in a long series of fights and controversial street protests in Portland during the Trump era. He was jailed in Clark County, Washington, last October after violating the condition of his probation after being convicted of assault for an unprovoked attack in daylight on a man in Portland.
In a video message to the Oath Enforcers group, Toese said: “Are you organizing? My people and I will be there to take sides with you. “
Elsewhere on the Oath Enforcers Telegram instructive channel, Edwards and others have shared documents from a variety of organizations across the country promoting false legal and constitutional doctrines associated with the so-called sovereign citizen movement.
One document comes as a judgment from a self-proclaimed human rights court, which orders the arrest warrant for a number of officials and philanthropists, including Anthony Fauci and Bill and Melinda Gates for the crime of genocide.
The sovereign citizen movement does not have a universally consistent set of beliefs, but most adherents believe in a false alternative history of the United States, and that the present, and especially the law, reflects a conspiracy ordered by esoteric rules. Many treat all legal and governmental authority as illegitimate.
In Oath Enforcers chats, sovereign doctrine is featured alongside false beliefs about vaccines and masks, claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, and conspiracy theories about links between anti-fascist “Antifa” activists. and powerful figures like billionaire George Soros. .
Vince Edwards and Chester Doles did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In intelligence assessments and public statements, federal agencies have warned that sovereign citizens pose an ongoing and specific threat to law enforcement officials.
Levin, the extremism researcher, says of the apparent synergies between sovereign citizens and white supremacists that “there has been a realignment in the fringe of the far right,” in which “law enforcement is seen as an arm of a tyrannical government in much the same way as sovereign citizens viewed them decades before. “
Levin adds that “not only is ideology getting rebranded, so are many far-right figures like former Klan leader Chester Doles.”
In a March 28 post on the Oregon Oath Enforcers page, a user reposted Vincent James’ comment about a clash between antifa and far-right street protesters in Salem the day before.
In part, the post read: “The cops were never and never will be your friends. They are also the American regime. Not allies. “