Two constables, four police chiefs and over 3,000 other Texans were members of the Oath Keepers, report says
By Sneha Dey and William Melhado, The Texas Tribune
“Two constables, four police chiefs and over 3,000 other Texans were members of the Oath Keepers, report says” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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More than 3,000 Texans — including four police chiefs, two county sheriffs, two constables and two county commissioners — 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.
At least six law enforcement officers who have been affiliated with the far-right group at some point are currently at the helm of their departments: Howe Police Department Chief Carl Hudman; Tom Bean Police Department Chief Timothy Green; Idalou Police Department Chief Eric Williams; Amarillo ISD Police Department Chief Paul Bourquin; Nueces County Sheriff John Chris Hooper; and Clay County Sheriff Jeff Lyde.
Other people in the Oath Keepers’ membership rolls who currently serve as elected officials in Texas include Ellis County Commissioner Paul D. Perry; Galveston County Commissioner Joseph Thomas Giusti; Collin County Constable Joe Wright; and Faulkey Gully Municipal Utility District board member Mark H. Syzman. Syzman is also a retired U.S. Army Military Police Master Sergeant.
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.
With the exception of Hood County Constable John D. Shirley and Steven Glenn, an alderman in the North Texas town of Quitman, none of the Texans named by the ADL responded to calls or emails from The Texas Tribune seeking comment Wednesday.
Glenn, who was sworn in as alderman in November 2020 and is seeking reelection this year, said in an email statement that he was with members of the Oath Keepers during a hurricane in Houston helping deliver supplies to residents hit by the floods. He said he has “zero idea of any of (the Oath Keepers’) involvements” since then.
“Shortly after that, I saw exactly what the founder was all about. I cut ties with them immediately,” Glenn wrote in a statement to the Tribune.
Shirley said he publicly resigned from the group in November 2020. Shirley was a member for more than a decade and served as the Oath Keepers’ Texas chapter president, national peace officer liaison and on the group’s board of directors. In February 2020, Shirley submitted a letter to Hood Country Today defending the organization’s mission.
The Oath Keepers’ membership list does not reflect the extent of the members’ involvement in the group. The ADL report said 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 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 who joined 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 the Oath Keepers’ ideology through presentations, according to the report.
The ADL report does not identify the person or their position in the department. Williams, the Idalou police chief, told PBS Newshour that it had been over a decade since he had been a member or had interaction with the Oath Keepers. Williams denounced the riot of Jan. 6 as “terrible in every way.”
The city of Idalou declined to comment on whether the police department has policies regarding staff’s membership in extremist groups.
Wright, the constable in Collin County, signed up for the organization before he took office for the first time. The ADL noted that he shared his government position during sign up: “Constable elect for Collin County Pct. 4 Constable’s office. Currently a Collin County deputy sheriff.”
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 at the time. “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.
Lyde, the sheriff of Clay County, was also identified as a former member of the Oath Keepers last November. He was indicted by a Clay County grand jury that same month for two charges of official oppression, according to court documents filed last year. Lyde is also facing questions about why he left the Department of Public Safety over a decade ago, in part, for submitting false information on performance reviews.
Hooper, the sheriff of Nueces County, was reported to be a former member of the Oath Keepers last November. He told the Corpus Christi Caller Times that he had not been a member since 2009 and had distanced himself from the organization.
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 and declined to share the names of individual law enforcement officers or military personnel identified through their analysis, citing concerns that the report could be used to dox rank-and-file personnel.
Among those arrested in connection with the attack on the Capitol Jan. 6 is 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.
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.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/09/07/texas-oath-keepers-adl/.
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