At an August “Appalachian Summit” Oath Keepers founder, Stewart Rhodes, outlined the far-right group’s intention to have members infiltrate local institutions, including volunteer fire departments and churches.
The three-day summit, held outside of Gilbert, West Virginia, gathered together around one hundred Oath Keepers, Threepers, Tea Partiers and militia members to network and train local activists on “taking back” the country—by force, if necessary. Many of the participants dressed in fatigues and carried assault weapons. Leaders arrived at the summit in an Oath Keepers helicopter.
Rhodes warned the crowd that the term “militia” has been “turned into the M-word. It’s dirty-word, now, like the N-word.” As a result, new techniques were required to “revitalize it.”
He then sketched out how Oath Keepers and others should infiltrate local institutions as a way to build trust with neighbors, and as a way of recruiting—what Rhodes called “shopping for talent.” In addition to targeting volunteer fire departments and churches, Rhodes recommended infiltrating neighborhood watch groups, search and rescue and other first responder groups, and VFW groups.
Before introducing Gilbert Police Chief Michael Rasmussen, Rhodes also discussed how the Oath Keepers have stepped into the breach created by cuts to rural law enforcement and were working as backup.
Rhodes mention of the “N-word” wasn’t the only time racially-charged language was voiced on the stage at the Oath Keepers summit. Earlier in the day, another Oath Keepers leader sung the praises of the Confederate battle flag flying on the grounds.
The moves Rhodes outlined further signal an organizational shift beyond recruiting current and former law enforcement and military personnel, and should be watched closely.