Members of the U.S. Secret Service were not only familiar with the right-wing extremist “Oath Keepers” group — at least two also parroted their talking points and discussed a “liaison” arrangement between the two organizations, according to emails between agents produced by a Washington D.C. advocacy group.
The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), published the emails on August 23 2023 as part of what it called an ongoing public records request.
The messages between the unidentified agents concerned a request by the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, to have the Oath Keepers provide security during a September 2020 rally by then-U.S. President Donald Trump in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
In one email, an agent introduces himself as the “unofficial liaison … (inching towards official)” to the Oath Keepers, whose extremist beliefs have been documented by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). As the SPLC reported:
The main crux of the group’s messaging asserts that the government is engaged in attacks against its own citizens, working to strip them of their civil liberties. The group advocates for Americans to prepare for inevitable conflict with the government by stockpiling goods and supplies, engaging in paramilitary training and working to create small, self-reliant community networks.
The group’s leader, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, was sentenced in May 2023 to 18 years in prison on charges of seditious conspiracy connected to the January 2021 right-wing coup attempt by supporters of Trump, who had lost the presidential election the previous November.
During that trial a former Oath Keeper, John Zimmerman, testified that he thought Rhodes had a contact inside the Secret Service in the days leading up to the coup attempt. In its report, CREW noted that the agency told CNN at the time that it did not have “enough information to say whether or not this call actually took place.”
But the emails produced by CREW show that two separate agents had spoken to Rhodes, who allegedly claimed he did not want to get in the way of the Secret Service’s “operational posture” during the Trump rally. In one message, an agent who said they contacted Rhodes wrote that the Oath Keepers “are NOT there to demonstrate or push a political agenda.”
Another agent also downplayed the Oath Keepers’ beliefs in a separate email, saying only that Rhodes “has denounced White Nationalists ideals while sharing his dislike for ANTIFA” and parroting its claim that it was a “local community response team for natural or civil disorders.”
As CREW noted, Rhodes’ group indeed has a “political agenda”:
The group [has] compared Hillary Clinton to Hitler on its website, and on May 5, 2015, Rhodes was recorded saying that then-Sen. John McCain should be tried for treason, convicted and “hung by the neck until dead.” A long list of former Oath Keepers allegedly cut ties with the group by 2017, citing concerns with Rhodes’s leadership.
And according to the ADL, Rhodes’ group also pushes well-worn conspiracy theories based on thinly-veiled antisemitism:
Oath Keepers view the United Nations (UN) as a tool of the “New World Order” that is actually designed to undermine American sovereignty. Some looming UN transgressions anticipated by Oath Keepers include the implementation of global taxation and a global currency that would end the use of the dollar. Overreaching laws or regulations are also expected. For example, the Oath Keepers believe that a UN Small Arms Treaty will be implemented to bypass the Second Amendment and prohibit firearms. Many believe a voluntary UN sustainable development plan known as Agenda 21 is a scheme to take away private property and civil liberties in the name of sustainability.
In April 2023, an investigation into deleted text messages among Secret Service personnel around the time of the January 6 2021 coup attempt was expanded to include messages sent by Joseph V. Cuffari, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security. Cuffari was appointed to the role by Trump.