A national online network of thousands of right-wing, self-described “Oath Enforcers” threatens to unleash harassment tactics against elected officials and government workers around the country, the Guardian can reveal.
While the founder of the network insists that the group is neither violent nor a militia, internal chats indicate that some members are planning confrontations with law enforcement and their perceived political enemies.
The chats also indicate that white supremacists and others associated with the militia movement aim to exploit the group̵
The group’s founder, who makes videos and organizes under the name Vince Edwards, lives off the grid in a remote corner of Costilla County in Colorado’s high desert region. Arrests from 2016 show that he has also used the name Christian Picolo, and other public records associate him with the name Vincent Edward Deluca.
Experts say Edwards’ personal story reflects the potential danger in the spread of “sovereign citizen” ideology – along with extensive online propaganda that the story includes an armed resistance with Costilla County sheriff’s deputies in 2016.
Edwards originally published videos and a printable flyer promoting the formation of an “ed enforcement team” of at least 30 people in each county in the country by the end of January 2021, just weeks after his own self-documented participation in a meeting in the national capital on 6 January.
His first videos explicitly appealed to QAnon supporters, pointing out that “Q,” the alleged Trump administration insider whose gnome forum posts animated the conspiratorial social movement, had not communicated with the movement since December, rather than “trusting the plan.” As followers are required to do, they must begin to act.
In the wake of the Capitol attack, his efforts appear to have resonated with a growing pool of grassroots. The Guardian found over 3,100 members in 50 state-based Telegram chats and a national chat. Some state-based groups – in Texas, Washington and Alabama – were very active and had hundreds of members.
The stated goals of the group include the posting of flyers designed by Edwards, the formation of “constitutional enforcement groups”, for each person to distribute 1,000 of the Edwards flyers, and the creation of local hotlines to help “enforce the contract we made. with our public “servants” by live-streaming interactions with them or by filing false legal claims against them.
In an introductory video titled “OE Training”, Edwards encourages new recruits to the network to emulate so-called “first change audits” (FAAs).
Professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSHE) at California State University in San Bernardino, said in a telephone conversation that FAAs are a social media-driven movement of libertarian provocateurs who “go to sensitive places to see if law enforcement, security guards or property owners will interfere in their activities, which are annoying but usually not illegal ”.
Meanwhile, some local groups show that well-known extremists see opportunities in the group’s rapid growth.
The Oregon Oath Enforcers group, for example, was added on February 5 by Chester Doles of Dahlonega, Georgia. Doles, a longtime former member of the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi national alliance who was imprisoned in 1993 for beating a black man and later marching in the union of the Conservative Party in Charlottesville in 2017.
Doles recently received media attention when he and other members of the organization he currently leads, American Patriots USA, were among an armed crowd protesting outside Georgia’s capital on January 6, an act led by Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger , who had been demonized by the far right for his role in Georgia’s census, to flee the building.
In recent months, Doles has reportedly sought to form alliances with Three Percenters and other militia organizations in Georgia.
A former member of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, joined the Oregon Oath Enforcers chat on February 9th. Toese, a proud boy, was a prominent and often violent participant in a long line of contentious, controversial street protests in Portland throughout the Trump era. He was jailed in Clark County, Washington, last October after violating the condition of his probation after being previously convicted of assault due to an unprovoked daylight attack on a man in Portland.
In a video message to the Oath Enforcers group, Toese said, “Are you organizing? Me and my people will be there to take a stand with you. ”
Elsewhere in the Oath Enforcers’ Instructional Telegram channel, Edwards and others have shared documents from a number of organizations around the country that promote false legal and constitutional doctrines associated with the so-called sovereign civic movement.
A document is being presented as a verdict by a self-developed human rights court with an arrest warrant for a number of officials and philanthropists, including Anthony Fauci and Bill and Melinda Gates, for the crime of genocide.
The sovereign civic movement does not have a universally consistent set of beliefs, but most supporters believe in a false alternative history in the United States and that the present and especially the law reflect a conspiracy ordered by esoteric rules. Many treat all legal and state authority as illegal.
In the enforcement chats of the oath, sovereign doctrine is presented side by side with false beliefs about vaccinations and masks, claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and conspiracy theories about links between anti-fascist activists and powerful figures like billionaire George Soros.
Vince Edwards and Chester Doles did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In intelligence assessments and public statements, federal agencies have recommended that sovereign citizens pose an ongoing and specific threat to law enforcement officers.
Extremism researcher Levin said of the apparent synergies between sovereign citizens and white supremacists that “there has been a shift in the far right-wing extremist”, where “law enforcement is considered an arm of a tyrannical government in much the same way that sovereignty citizens looked at them decades before ”.
Levin adds that “not only does the ideology get a new label, so do many right-wing extremists like the former Clan leader Chester Doles”.
In a March 28 post on the Oregon Oath Enforcers page, a user sent a white nationalist television broadcaster, Vincent James, comment on a clash between antifa and far-right street protests in Salem the previous day.
Partly read the post: “The police were never and will never be your friend. They are also the US regime. Not allies. ”