Oath Keepers: The armed conspiracy-mad militia which seeks to defend the US Constitution by overthrowing the government

JESSICA Watkins served on the frontline for her country in Afghanistan for her country – a few years later, the trans soldier was decked out in tactical gear inside the Capitol after a mob smashed its way in.

Her lawyers argue she was merely there to provide security on behalf of the Oath Keepers a tooled-up militia which has been described as holding extremist right-wing beliefs.

The Oath Keepers militia was founded by former US Army Paratrooper and disbarred lawyer Stewart Rhodes in 2009 to "defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic".

It now has tens of thousands of members possibly making it the largest militia in the US.

But what makes the Oath Keepers particularly worrying to those studying extremism is that it actively recruits veterans and serving members of both the armed forces and emergency services, which Rhodes calls "the warrior class".

One leaked membership database of Oath Keepers between 2009-2015 listed around 25,0000 people, two-thirds of which previously had a military or law enforcement background.

Even more worrying was that 10 per cent were still on active duty, NPR reports.

Now nine alleged members of the Oath Keepers have been charged with conspiring to attack the US Capitol in January in a bid to stop the certification of Joe Biden's presidency.

Despite the scenes of violence which left five dead, Rhodes remains committed to pushing dangerous conspiracies.

"You gotta to declare everything that comes out of King Biden's mouth as illegitimate," he said on Infowars last month after the bloodshed.

"Null and void from the inception because he is not a legitimate president."

Napalm bombs & explosive conspiracies

It might seem strange that a group which professes to defend the US Constitution should end up being accused of attempting to overturn a free and fair election.

But that's because their extreme antigovernment beliefs are completely riddled with conspiracies.

"The entire organisation is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The non-profit legal organisation also claims the Oath Keepers are deeply concerned about an imagined socialist New World Order in which Americans are robbed of their guns and resisters are thrown in concentration camps, possibly with the help of foreign governments or the UN.

The Oath Keepers first came to national attention in Arizona in 2010 when they stood up for members of the public chucked out of a local council meeting about government corruption after refusing to leave.

Worrying crimes connected to the group soon followed including that of Oath Keeper chapter president Matthew Fairfield, who was jailed for 16 years in 2011 after he was found to be storing a napalm bomb and other explosives at his home in Cleveland, Ohio.

Another early high profile case was that of Charles Dyer, a former United States Marine Corps sergeant who identified himself as the Oath Keepers' liaison to the Marines.

He skipped court in 2010 after being charged with child rape and illegal weapons charges and went on a ten-day, multi-state run from authorities.

Dyer was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2012 for raping his seven-year-old daughter.

Rhodes claimed Dyer was never in the Oath Keepers after charged were brought against him.

'Kill these young kids'

The Oath Keepers as a militia have become infamous in more recent years for tense standoffs with their sworn enemies: the federal government and progressive protestors.

One of the first came in 2014 when they went to aid cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, who asked for support from militiamen in his legal fight against the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Bundy owed the BLM over a $1million (£713,000) in unpaid grazing fees racked up by using federally-owned land in Bunkerville, Nevada.

After refusing to pay for 21 years, authorities began rounding up Bundy's trespassing livestock.

Armed militiamen then answered the rancher's call for help, blocking off road sections to stop BLM officers' work.

Soon the militiamen and law enforcement literally had each other in their sights during a tense standoff.

The BLM eventually backed down to diffuse the situation which was seen as a victory by antigovernment groups – though the Oath Keepers' reputation among militias took a bashing when Rhodes pulled his men out of the standoff early, believing Obama was about to authorise a drone strike on Bundy's ranch.

But the Oath Keepers deployed against the BLM a year later, this time protecting an illegal mining site in Oregon from being shut down in what the militia called "Operation Gold Rush".

Arguably their most high-profile appearances, though, have come during protests.

Racial unrest ensued in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015 after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer.

During the street demonstrations, armed Oath Keepers were spotted patrolling on rooftops in the city, allegedly to protect businesses from rioters.

They've since appeared in other cities during protests, despite police departments asking them not to in order to avoid escalations.

Even Rhodes' own words suggested escalation could be on the cards.

Addressing a group of veterans last year, he was unequivocal about his view of Antifa – the anti-fascist movement – and other protestors who rioted after George Floyd's killing.

"They are insurrectionists, and we have to suppress that insurrection,” Rhodes said, The Atlantic reports. “Eventually they’re going to be using IEDs.

“Us old vets and younger ones are going to end up having to kill these young kids.

"And they’re going to die believing they were fighting Nazis.”

'Bloody' civil war

Now the group is at the heart of the US government's case against the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol in January.

As early as 2019, Rhodes had spoken on Infowars to say his group "won't accept the results" if Trump wasn't re-elected, and they'd have "no choice but to fight".

"If this kicks off into a civil war, a bloody one, they will instantly go to work and take it to the left," he said, CNN reports.

Now with several Oath Keepers in handcuffs and five people dead including a police officer after the Capitol riots, many are fleeing Rhodes' organisation.

Nine people associated with the group have already been charged – seven members and two people who travelled to Washington with members – and they all potentially face decades behind bars.

Those Oath Keepers are among the 140 people who have so far been accused of crimes during the Capitol riot, with members of other pro-Trump organisations like the Three Percenters militia and the far-right group Proud Boys have been arrested in connection with the event.

Lawyers for Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins have also made the explosive claim she met with Secret Service agents before the riot and that she was there to "provide security".

But the Secret Service has issued a statement rubbishing the claims.

"To carry out its protective functions on January 6, the U.S. Secret Service relied on the assistance of various government partners," the statement read.

"Any assertion that the Secret Service employed private citizens to perform those functions is false.”

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