Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
More than 3,000 Texans — including a North Texas constable and dozens of other elected officials, law enforcement officers, members of the armed forces and first responders — have been members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right extremist group that played a prominent role in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, according to an analysis of leaked membership rolls.
The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism published a report Tuesday after reviewing more than 38,000 names on a massive cache of documents from the Oath Keepers that was leaked to transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets and released last year. The documents included chat logs, emails and membership rolls from 2020 and 2021. It’s unclear when the membership lists were last updated.
The ADL’s report analyzed where the members lived and worked and found that Texas had more people listed in the Oath Keepers’ membership rolls than any other state. Texas is the country’s second-most populous state.
Texas also had the most people who were either elected officials, law enforcement officers, military members or first responders, the report found. Of the Texas signups, 33 were law enforcement officers, 10 were members of the military, eight were elected officials and seven were first responders. No federal officials were listed in the membership documents.
Among the signups was Joe Wright, a constable in Collin County in North Texas and the highest-ranking elected official in Texas mentioned in the ADL report. The ADL notes that Wright signed up for the organization before he took office for the first time and noted his government position: “Constable elect for Collin County Pct. 4 Constable’s office. Currently a Collin County deputy sheriff.”
Wright did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. When the Oath Keepers’ documents were first leaked in October 2021, Wright told USA Today that he didn’t know much about the group when he joined.
“To be honest, I felt pressured to join it in this county for political support,” Wright said. “The Oath Keepers, if you didn’t support them, you were going to get bad reviews.”
Wright said he did not support the group and had not engaged since.
“I’m not into radical. I’m into doing my job,” he said.
The Oath Keepers’ membership list does not reflect the extent of the members’ involvement in the group. The ADL report notes that some may have been introduced to a watered-down version of the group’s mission and many have since left the group. Hundreds tried to cancel their memberships after the Jan. 6 riot, BuzzFeed News reported. But the ADL also points out that the Oath Keepers have always been vocal about its extremist far-right views since its inception in 2009.
“Even for those who claimed to have left the organization when it began to employ more aggressive tactics in 2014, it is important to remember that the Oath Keepers have espoused extremism since their founding, and this fact was not enough to deter these individuals from signing up,” the report notes.
The Oath Keepers asks its members to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The group, fueled by baseless conspiracy theories, claims that the government poses a threat to civil liberties. In reality, former Oath Keepers spokesperson Jason Van Tatenhove — who has since left the group and speaks publicly about its dangers — has said the group is actually “selling the revolution.”
On Jan. 6, 2021, the Oath Keepers descended on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to lead the siege challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election. At least 26 members of the group have since been arrested in connection with the attack. They include Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes, a Texan who was arrested in January and is accused of conspiring to oppose the transfer of presidential power by force.
The fringe group has focused on recruiting current and former military, police and first responders. The ADL report says that in written comments provided to the Oath Keepers, some people seeking to join the group offered to use their positions of power to aid the Oath Keepers in a variety of ways. One member of the Idalou Police Department, outside of Lubbock, said he would use his position to introduce other law enforcement officers to Oath Keepers ideology through presentations, according to the report. The report does not identify the person or say whether they were a police officer.
The city of Idalou declined to comment on whether the police department has policies regarding staff’s membership in extremist groups.
Members of the Oath Keepers listed in the documents also included Texans in other occupations. An attorney with a law firm based in East Texas told the group that he “may be able to assist in legal matters,” the report said. The ADL did not identify the attorney.
More than 70 Texans have been charged for their roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to a USA Today database. They include Guy Reffitt who was sentenced to 7 1/4 years in prison last month after prosecutors said he “lit the match” for the riot.
North Texas has been a focal area for the investigation into the riot, with more than a dozen area residents having been charged in the federal investigation into the attack, including Kellye SoRelle, a lawyer for Oath Keepers based in Granbury.
The full program is now LIVE for the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 22-24 in Austin. Explore the schedule of 100+ mind-expanding conversations coming to TribFest, including the inside track on the 2022 elections and the 2023 legislative session, the state of public and higher ed at this stage in the pandemic, why Texas suburbs are booming, why broadband access matters, the legacy of slavery, what really happened in Uvalde and so much more. See the program.