On the one year anniversary of the death of an unarmed black teen at the hands of police in Ferguson Missouri, the streets once again filled up with protesters. This time, however, something was different with the group gathered. Among those gathered were four men known as “Oath Keepers.” This group, who call themselves a non-partisan association of current and former soldiers, police, and first responders, say that their major aim is to protect the U.S. constitution. They aimed to do so in Ferguson by patrolling the streets with military-style rifles and side arms.
According to this story on Yahoo News, four Oath Keepers could be found patrolling the streets just before dawn on Tuesday. When confronted by reporters as to why they were there, Yahoo reports that the Oath Keepers claim they were in Ferguson to protect a media organization known as Infowars. Infowars has denied that the Oath Keepers were hired by them or affiliated with them in any way, despite multiple reports to the contrary.
On Sunday night, Post-Dispatch reporter Paul Hampel was beaten, bloodied and robbed by a group of attackers as he covered the Ferguson protests. According to the Post Dispatch, “the attackers punched him in the face, hit him in the head at least three times and kicked him in the back of the head when he was on the ground.” They also stole his phone and wallet before leaving him bloodied in the street.
Although the aim of the Oath Keepers may have been protection or keeping the peace, many people and organizations, including the St. Louis County Police Department, did not see the heavily armed men as a welcomed sign to the riot-torn city.
“Their presence was both unnecessary and inflammatory,” St. Louis County Police Chief Joe Belmar told reporters. Belmar went on to explain that the police department is investigating whether or not the group violated any laws with their presence there. Provided that they were licensed to carry the firearms, it doesn’t seem likely they were in violation of any laws, as a 2014 amendment to the Missouri state constitution allows for the open carrying of firearms as long as they are not used in a threatening manner.
According to the Oath Keepers many business owners in Ferguson have thanked them for their protection.
“Clearly the people who are carrying these weapons are trying to send a message that some might see as threatening but it’s probably not a violation of the statue,” Marcia McCormick, a professor of law at St. Louis University Law School told reporters.
Many media outlets have tried to demonize the Oath Keepers for their presence by calling them “armed white gunman,” but they failed to mention the African American business owners and locals who were grateful.
According to Channel 4 News, the four Oath Keepers wore bullet proof vests during the protests. The Oath Keepers claim to be 30,000 members strong after being founded in 2004 by Stewart Rhodes, a former U.S. Army paratrooper and graduate of the Yale Law School.
Despite the police feeling that their presence there was inflammatory, none of the Oath Keepers were challenged in any way by the police, and they were not the cause or target of any violence.