A revolution-minded, conspiracy-bent militia group named the Oath Keepers is recruiting law officers in Hood County to take up arms in what the founder predicts will be a “bloody civil war” against the U.S. government.
A national director of the Las Vegas-based Oath Keepers, John D. Shirley, moved to rural Hood County in 2015 and has been appointed by county commissioners as a constable, giving him both access to confidential information and a political platform to recruit more militia members.
A regional recruitment rally announced for Monday was canceled by Harbor Lakes Golf Club, citing misrepresentation. It was supposed to launch Shirley’s “Oath Keepers of Hood County” chapter.
The Oath Keepers’ current recruiting pitch focuses on gun rights and the Second Amendment. But unlike other gun libertarians, the Oath Keepers promote paranoid fears of a “New World Order” conspiracy and spread veiled anti-Semitism in distrusting “elites,” similar to discredited Austin showbiz personality Alex Jones.
Mainly, the group asks for money. Its website begs law officers and veterans to militarize and also pay $1,200 for a “lifetime membership” or $50-$120 for annual memberships.
“They view themselves as ready to rise up” to oppose the government, said Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League, which watches militia hobbyists and so-called patriot-movement groups along with monitoring neo-Nazis and race or religious hate groups.
Officially, the Oath Keepers are nonpartisan and nondiscriminatory. The ADL labels the group as “anti-government extremist.”
But the group rose in 2009 along with the Tea Party months after the election of President Barack Obama.
Founder Stewart Rhodes had worked and campaigned for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a gun-libertarian Republican.
In a Jan. 22 speech posted on the Oath Keepers’ Facebook page, Rhodes claimed Americans have a legal right to the same weapons as the U.S. military.
“A weapon of war is what you want in your hands,” he said.
Accusing “pencil-neck lawyers” in government of conspiring against gun owners, Rhodes said “they know we will resist. And that’s precisely why they want your semiautomatic rifles. … They are useful in resisting tyranny.”
The Oath Keepers’ mantra is a list of 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey” — say, turning cities into concentration camps, or forcing Americans into detention camps.
Neither seems likely in Hood County.
At the height of the recent debate over new stricter Virginia gun laws, Rhodes said in a speech: “We are being pushed towards a revolutionary war.”
He blamed presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg and Democratic campaign donor George Soros, both of Jewish descent, using the term “elites.”
“Texans beware — they’re coming for us,” he said.
Shirley, a retired Houston police officer, has said he was one of Rhodes’ first allies in 2009 and spoke at a 2009 Tea Party rally, calling for law officers and veterans to organize. He has been described as the group’s law enforcement recruiter.
He operates a false Twitter account, “@HoodCoTxConst2,” that is labeled the public office’s official Twitter feed but actually contains personal political content.
It uses the official badge as artwork. Commenters or those sending direct messages may falsely believe they are sending information to a law enforcement agency and not to a political account.
The badge appears to be used illegally for a personal campaign account.
In a guest column in the online publication Hood County Today, Shirley wrote that the Oath Keepers shouldn’t be called anti-government, because “I am a public servant OF the government.”
He went on: “The U.S. Constitution, the document this organization holds as sacrosanct, is the foundational document of our GOVERNMENT.”
His Oath Keepers plans were first reported in the Hood County News.
Hood County Judge Ron Massengill did not return a message asking about Oath Keeper infiltration of law enforcement.
Sheriff Roger Deeds left a message saying he is not a member of the Oath Keepers but “I have heard of it.”
One of Shirley’s two opponents on Tuesday in the Republican Party primary, Keith Martin, responded to a message and said he is not a member but “I am aware of the organization.”
Shirley’s other opponent, James D. Edwards, did not return messages left on both his personal and campaign Facebook pages.
I asked a Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office spokesman whether our county has a policy against outside memberships in militias like the Oath Keepers.
Tarrant County has no policy. Sheriff Bill Waybourn of Dalworthington Gardens had no comment.
His Democratic opponent, Vance Keyes of Fort Worth, had plenty of comment.
Keyes wrote by email that the Oath Keepers have no place in law enforcement.
“I am absolutely concerned about militia groups infiltrating law enforcement,” Keyes wrote.
“Their presence in policing undermines our obligation and ability to provide impartial justice … free from the thinly veiled, and often outright, racial bias that exist in such organizations.
“ They destroy sincere efforts to strengthen police/community relations in minority communities. Their anti-government rhetoric is also an affront to police professionals that take seriously their obligation to public service and the rule of law.”
The Oath Keepers are selling poison. And charging $1,200.