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|Submitted||Dec. 23, 2016|
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To Whom It May Concern:
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:
Records relating to or mentioning the Oath Keepers, which claims tens of thousands of present and former law enforcement officials and military veterans as members, is one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the U.S. today. While it claims only to be defending the Constitution, the entire organization is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans.
The Oath Keepers was formed in 2009 by Yale Law School graduate and former U.S. Army paratrooper Stewart Rhodes in the direct aftermath of the election of the nation’s first black president. Today, it is one of the largest radical antigovernment organizations in the United States. By 2016, the group was claiming an improbable 30,000 members who were said to be mostly current and former military, law enforcement and emergency first responders.
The core idea of the Oath Keepers is that its members vow to forever support the oaths they took on joining law enforcement or the military to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” As a practical matter, what that means to the group is suggested most plainly by its list of the 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey” — a compendium of much-feared but entirely imaginary threats from the government, including forcing Americans into detention camps, imposing martial law, and disarming all civilians. Those supposed threats are all key to the central conspiracy theory of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement of which the Oath Keepers is a part. Basically, Patriots believe that the government will at any moment impose martial law, probably with the aid of foreign or United Nations troops; that all guns belonging to normal citizens will then be seized; that resisters will be thrown into concentration camps; and that, in the end, America will be forced into a one-world socialist government, “The New World Order.”
In 2010, Rhodes and his Oath Keepers deployed in public for the first time, traveling to Quartzsite, a small Arizona town, to defend local residents who were ejected after refusing to leave a town council meeting on alleged government corruption. The group’s website called Quartzsite a “pivot point” for Americans to finally see the looming danger of the “New World Order.” In the end, the Oath Keepers got a lot of headlines, but accomplished virtually nothing — other than Arizona officials censuring Rhodes for practicing law in that state without a license by writing letters threatening a lawsuit on behalf of the ejected residents. He was fined $600.
In a more serious episode, Daniel Knight Hayden, an Oklahoma man who identified himself as an Oath Keeper, was indicted by a federal grand jury after tweeting messages threatening a violent attack on Oklahoma state government officials on April 15, which is Tax Day. Hayden was sentenced to eight months in prison in 2010. Another troubling example: Matthew Fairfield, a suburban Cleveland man described by prosecutors as the president of a local Oath Keepers chapter, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for storing bombs at his and a friend’s home and for obstructing justice. After Fairfield’s 2011 sentencing, a county prosecutor said it would be fair to call the local Oath Keepers leader a potential terrorist.
In a widely publicized case, another Oath Keeper was sentenced to 30 years in prison for raping his own 7-year-old daughter. After failing to appear for trial in 2010, Charles Dyer, an ex-Marine, led police on a multi-state chase and began issuing threats against law enforcement, warning that they’d better not catch up to him. Although Dyer had spoken on behalf of the Oath Keepers and online videos identified himself as the group’s liaison to the Marines, Rhodes claimed after the charges were brought that Dyer wasn’t actually a part of his organization.
That wasn’t the only time that the Oath Keepers has sought to put distance between itself and members who bring it bad press. In 2015, the group censured prominent member Jon Ritzheimer after Ritzheimer suggested that he planned to travel from Arizona to carry out a citizen’s arrest of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D. Mich.). Ritzheimer was angry that Stabenow had signed an agreement between the U.S. and Iran on limiting the Iranians’ nuclear program. Ritzheimer also said he would go on to arrest all of those involved in making the deal, including President Obama.
In 2013, four years after its formation, the Oath Keepers announced the planned formation of “Citizen Preservation” militias, which are meant to defend Americans against the New World Order. The real goal of these militias, which have since been renamed Civilian Preparedness Teams, is to prey upon the fears and concerns of local communities and revitalize the American militia movement, all under the guise of neighborhood watch and self-sufficiency. “We want to see a restoration of the militia in this country,” Rhodes explained on a “God and Guns” podcast. “We think a good first step is to have the veterans stand up in every community and go help form and train neighborhood watches, to get the people to take back into their own hands their own personal self-defense and security.”
In April 2014, Rhodes and several fellow Oath Keepers traveled to the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy, answering a nationwide call Bundy had made asking militiamen to join him in standing up to federal officials seeking to seize his cattle because he had refused to pay federal grazing fees for some 20 years. But the Oath Keepers made fools of themselves that day, excitedly telling Bundy’s rag-tag army that they had received “intel” that President Obama was about to attack the Bundy ranch with drones. The Oath Keepers fled, leaving Bundy’s other supporters to mock them as cowards and delusional paranoids. Because the government ultimately stood down in the face of armed threats from Bundy’s defenders, the standoff wound up being a highlight of the radical right — but one that the Oath Keepers got no glory from.
Four months later, white, heavily armed Oath Keepers showed up in Ferguson, Mo., during the racial unrest that followed the shooting death of Michael Brown, a black man, by a police officer. The heavily armed group members were seen on rooftops patrolling in what they said was an effort to protect businesses from rioters. Though they later claimed to have protected one black woman’s business, it seemed clear that they were really there to protect white businesses against black protesters.
The Oath Keepers also has been involved in a number of confrontations between the federal government and militants in disputes over public lands.
In 2015, an Oregon chapter of the Oath Keepers acted in support Rick Barclay and George Backes, two Oregon gold miners running an illegal mining site. The miners received a “letter of noncompliance” from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) telling them they either needed to clear out of the mine within 60 days or file an appeal of the noncompliance ruling. Instead, the miners appealed to the Oath Keepers, and what followed was an Oath Keepers nationwide call to action, put out by Joseph Rice of the Josephine County Oath Keepers, to help the miners fight the BLM. Operation Gold Rush, as it was called, was dubbed a “security operation” because owner Rick Barclay insisted that the BLM was notorious for burning down miners’ cabins in the backwoods, and he said later that they would have destroyed his mine if he had not called for help. BLM spokesman Jim Whittington told the Southern Poverty Law Center that these accusations were groundless.
Regardless, according to the local Oath Keepers chapter, at least 700 supporters responded to the call to action. Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel told High Country News that he wasn’t worried about conflict between law enforcement and the miners. But the militia, who effectively turned the mountains around the mine into a heavily armed patrol base, was a different story. “I was [concerned] in that there were militia, Three Percenters and Oath Keepers from around the country that had come in and were potentially unpredictable. [A group spokesman] will tell you that everyone was vetted properly. I have a difficult time believing that 100 percent of the people were cleared or were 100 percent controllable.”
Ultimately, there was no standoff. James Roberts, an administrative law judge with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, issued a stay which stated that the miners were allowed to operate the mine while the board deliberated. This was seen as yet another victory for the Oath Keepers and the antigovernment movement.
Also in 2015, Oath Keepers in Montana put out another call to action, summoning members to help another local miner fight the government– even though the Forest Service had been working with the miner for some time to resolve the issue. “Obviously, we’re not in a confrontation,” David Smith, regional spokesman for the Forest Service, told the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s not the people who are there I’m worried about – it’s the ones from the fringe who want to join in. And I’m worried about the safety of the people up there. We don’t want to see things escalate, especially over an issue that we have been working all along in a very cooperative way to resolve.” Ultimately, again, no real standoff developed.
But that wasn’t the case in early 2016, when members of the same Bundy family that was at the center of the 2014 Nevada standoff got interested in another conflict with the federal government, this one in Harney County, Ore.
The cause that drew the Bundys — Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of Cliven — was two ranchers near Burns, Ore., who had recently been ordered back to prison for arson of public lands after an appeals court decided they had initially been sentenced to terms that were too short by law. The Bundys and other sympathizers tried to get Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son, Steven Hammond, 46, on their side, denouncing both the Hammonds’ resentencing and the management of public lands by federal agencies. But the Hammonds said they were planning on reporting to prison, did not want their help, and asked them to return to Nevada. Despite this, the Bundys and a number of other heavily armed militants decided suddenly to break away from a pro-Hammond rally in Oregon and occupy the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a famous birding location. The standoff with federal and other law enforcement agencies that followed lasted 41 days. It was broken up only after officials arrested the Bundys and others at a roadblock near the refuge.
The Oath Keepers did denounce the Malheur occupation — not so much because it was an illegal armed invasion but, as Rhodes wrote, “specifically because it is not being done with the consent of the locals or at their request, without the request of the Hammond family . . . and because it is not in direct defense of anyone.” Another group official, associate editor Brandon Smith, said he opposed the occupation because “starting this fight from a much stronger position is more than possible.”
While criticizing the occupation, the Oath Keepers did take part in a coalition of militias in the Pacific Northwest called the Pacific Patriots Network, which served as a “buffer” between the occupiers and government forces. The Pacific Patriots Network also includes antigovernment extremist groups aligned with the Three Percenters, and the Oath Keepers’ contingent is the very same chapter that took part in Operation Gold Rush in Oregon in 2015.
During the 2016 presidential election, the Oath Keepers were at it again, with Rhodes announcing “Operation Sabot 2016” as a method to prevent the election from being stolen from Donald Trump, something the candidate had predicted numerous times. “[W]e call on you to form up incognito intelligence gathering and crime spotting teams,” Rhodes said. “And go out into public on election day, dressed to blend in with the public … with video, still camera, and notepad in hand, to look for and document suspected criminal vote fraud or intimidation activities.” And he made clear that it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who might steal the election. “[W]e are, indeed, most concerned about expected attempts at voter fraud by leftists,” Rhodes said. “But we will spot, document, and report any apparent attempt at vote fraud or voter intimidation … as is our duty.”
Please conduct a search of the Central Records System, including but not limited to the Electronic Surveillance (ELSUR) Indices, the Microphone Surveillance (MISUR) Indices, the Physical Surveillance (FISUR) Indices, and the Technical Surveillance (TESUR) Indices, for both main-file records and cross-reference records of both HQ and all field offices for all relevant names, agencies, organizations, companies and events including but not limited to those cited in the previous paragraphs and/or links as well as a cross-reference with the Southern Poverty Law Center to include any information provided by the SPLC. My request includes but is not limited to 137, 157, 176, 177, 183, 184, 188, 214 and 266 files. If previously released records are available, then I request a rolling release consisting of those records while additional records are located and processed for release.
I am a member of the news media and request classification as such. I have previously written about the government and its activities for AND Magazine, MuckRock and Glomar Disclosure and have an open arrangement with each. My articles have been widely read, with some reaching over 100,000 readers. As such, as I have a reasonable expectation of publication and my editorial and writing skills are well established. In addition, I discuss and comment on the files online and make them available through the non-profit Internet Archive, disseminating them to a large audience. While my research is not limited to this, a great deal of it, including this, focuses on the activities and attitudes of the government itself. As such, it is not necessary for me to demonstrate the relevance of this particular subject in advance. Additionally, case law states that “proof of the ability to disseminate the released information to a broad cross-section of the public is not required.” Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep’t of Justice, 365 F.3d 1108, 1126 (D.C. Cir. 2004); see Carney v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 19 F.3d 807, 814-15 (2d Cir. 1994). Further, courts have held that "qualified because it also had “firm” plans to “publish a number of . . . ‘document sets’” concerning United States foreign and national security policy." Under this criteria, as well, I qualify as a member of the news media. Additionally, courts have held that the news media status "focuses on the nature of the requester, not its request. The provision requires that the request be “made by” a representative of the news media. Id. § 552(a)(4)(A)(ii)(II). A newspaper reporter, for example, is a representative of the news media regardless of how much interest there is in the story for which he or she is requesting information." As such, the details of the request itself are moot for the purposes of determining the appropriate fee category. As such, my primary purpose is to inform about government activities by reporting on it and making the raw data available and I therefore request that fees be waived.
The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.
In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.
Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.
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A no responsive documents response.
I am appealing the integrity of the search, as the parameters I specified were not met, including but not limited to a failure to search the field offices I requested and a failure to search for the name I actually specified. Nor was an attempt made to locate correspondence with the SPCL. I specifically requested "a search of the Central Records System, including but not limited to the Electronic Surveillance (ELSUR) Indices, the Microphone Surveillance (MISUR) Indices, the Physical Surveillance (FISUR) Indices, and the Technical Surveillance (TESUR) Indices, for both main-file records and cross-reference records of both HQ and all field offices for all relevant names, agencies, organizations, companies and events including but not limited to those cited in the previous paragraphs and/or links as well as a cross-reference with the Southern Poverty Law Center to include any information provided by the SPLC. My request includes but is not limited to 137, 157, 176, 177, 183, 184, 188, 214 and 266 files. If previously released records are available, then I request a rolling release consisting of those records while additional records are located and processed for release."
01/27/2017 04:39 PM FOIA Request: DOJ-AP-2017-001915
A letter stating that the request appeal has been received and is being processed.
DOJ-AP-2017-001915 has been processed with the following final disposition: Completely reversed/remanded.
A letter stating that the request appeal has been received and is being processed.