No one’s expecting Donald Trump’s Thursday rally in Minneapolis to go seamlessly. Some 20,000 mostly out-of-towners will descend on the Target Center. An even larger crowd of locals will be frothing outside. It's a recipe that makes collisions inevitable.
So Republicans will be escorted to and from their cars. That duty will fall to Oath Keepers, a “patriot” group whose members fancy themselves as “guardians of the republic.” Or as the Southern Poverty Law Center calls them, “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the U.S. today.”
They are not the kind of people you want entering your city. Especially since they tend to be heavily armed.
The group was launched in 2009 after—not coincidentally—we elected a black president. Its beliefs roughly mirrored the conspiracy theories of the day: that the black guy was preparing to invoke martial law. That he would take away your guns. That he would relegate patriots to detention camps.
A decade later, it appears Obama forgot to execute his plot, likely because he never entertained it in the first place. Yet the Oath Keepers carry on, raising “Citizen Preservation” militias to defend against “global elitists” and fight the imaginary forces arrayed against them.
Though a rainbow of people will be protesting—everyone from Veterans for Peace to Muslim civil rights groups to people organizing a knitting sit-in—the Oath Keepers have a new enemy: Antifa. Also known as “violent communists” and “America-hating leftists.”
The group's website notes examples of Antifa “thugs” harassing old people, beating Trumpites with bike locks, and spitting on attendees at a previous Trump fundraiser at the Minneapolis convention center.
The problem is that Oath Keepers has a dark history too, and it's a bit more alarming.
The president of a suburban Cleveland chapter got 20 years for stockpiling bombs. Another member was imprisoned for tweeting violent threats about attacking the Oklahoma state government over taxes. Still another was convicted of raping his 7-year-old daughter.
The group has shown up heavily armed at the Ferguson, Missouri protests and Cliven Bundy’s Nevada standoff with the federal government. So bringing them to Minneapolis is a bit like dumping lighter fluid on a national forest.
Nonetheless, the Oath Keepers are calling for volunteers to provide Republicans security near the Target Center. Successful applicants will demonstrate “prior service, training, or experience that is relevant to a security mission.”
The group promises these guardians will be “heavily vetted.” They will not accept “anyone who advocates, or belongs to any group that advocates, the overthrow of the U.S. government or that discriminates along racial lines. We also cannot use anyone who is a convicted felon.”
But since conspiracy groups tend not to be filled with the crème de la crème of America—and the call to action is being circulated by sites like Ammoland—none of this feels consoling.
In the meantime, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo seems prepared for the worst. He’s urging residents to not just avoid bringing firearms, knives, and sharp objects, but such innocent items as backpacks, coolers, and strollers.