Who are these militia seen charging up the steps of the U.S. capitol during the Capitol siege?


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In the aftermath of the January 6 assault on the US Capitol by a mob of pro-Trump insurrectionists, a Twitter video posted on January 10 caught the eye of social media sleuths trying to identify the perpetrators of the assault. In it, a line of men equipped with combat helmets, bullet-proof vests, and radios move steadily up the Capitol steps amid cheering protesters. They are members of the Oath Keepers — one of the largest radical anti-government militia groups in the US readying themselves for a civil war.

This Twitter video of the January 6 Capitol assault shows a line of men with tactical gear making their way up the steps of the Capitol before the building was stormed.

 

Largely unknown to the public and overshadowed by flashier far-right groups like the Proud Boys, extremist right-wing militia groups like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters asserted their presence as key actors in the Capitol assault.

“When the doors of the Capitol were breached, I witnessed many militia members among the crowd.”

James Townsend, an independent photojournalist who was at the Capitol, tells us what he saw in regards to militia activity:

Militia members were very present throughout the day. I saw the Oath Keepers always together in pods of around ten members, sometimes moving with a hand placed on the shoulder in front of them so they couldn’t be separated. They were the only group I saw that was wearing their militia name on their vests, shirts and helmets as a uniform. I also saw some people wearing Three Percenter badges. Other groups seemed to be operating in pairs, without identification.

Twitter photos of the January 6 Capitol assault show Oath Keepers in a human chain making their way up to the Capitol building, identifiable by their Oath Keeper jackets and patches.

 

A Twitter photo by Yahoo News correspondent Hunter Walker shows Oath Keepers gathered outside the Capitol.

 

The militia members were equipped with radios, mostly military-grade combat helmets, bullet-proof vests, and filtering masks and goggles in preparation for tear gas. Some also had cameras on their vests hooked up to a power bank. They usually wear politically affiliated patches on their vests such as the popular yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. [Editor’s note: Also known as the Gadsden flag, a symbol that has been adopted by conservative and far-right groups.]

A Twitter photo shows a group of Three Percenters at the Capitol, identifiable by the “III” patch. The militia member also seems to be carrying a furled Gadsden flag.

 

When the doors of the Capitol were breached, I witnessed many militia members among the crowd. I also saw one member holding a broken flag pole as a club. Other than that, I didn’t personally see any militia violence. 

In an image by photographer Saul Loeb widely shared on social media, militia members take pictures in the atrium of the Capitol.
In an image by photographer Saul Loeb widely shared on social media, militia members take pictures in the atrium of the Capitol. © Twitter

In most other protests or events I’ve witnessed in DC, people are told not to come with any sort of flag pole or stick, but to hold signs and flags on their own. This was the case during the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration in 2017. So I was surprised to see so many flag poles, considering that other groups have had to forgo them as they could be possible weapons.

Will militia mobilisation increase leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration?

Like many far-right groups that try to distance themselves from taboo politics, Oath Keepers is purposely shrouded in ambiguity. The organisation describes itself as non-partisan and not a militia “per se”. However, in a 2020 interview with The Atlantic, founder Stewart Rhodes called the group’s members to defend an “insurrection” against the outgoing President Trump in a country that he says has already descended into civil war. This also fits into the organisation’s broader vow to “support and defend the U.S. Constitution against foreign and domestic enemies” and other threats based on conspiracy theories like the so-called socialist “New World Order”. A membership list reviewed by the Atlantic in 2019 counted 25,000 people.

Interviewed by The Independent on the grounds of the Capitol, Mr. Rhodes said that he thinks half of the country will not recognise Biden as legitimate and will not recognise this election. “Anything he signs into law we won’t recognise as legitimate. We’ll be like the founding fathers — we’ll end up nullifying and resisting.”

The Three Percenters, an American-Canadian movement of armed extremists that sees itself as the modern-day counterpart of the 3% of American Revolutionary-era patriots believed to have taken up arms against the British, has also associated with the Oath Keepers in armed standoffs against state authorities. Although they identify as non-partisan and non-racist, a Canadian military report on hate and racist groups says that the group “harbours anti-Muslim, anti-government views bolstered by right-wing conspiracy theories”, evidenced in armed confrontations and acts of terror against Muslim Americans.

In light of the surge in extremist recruitment since the Capitol takeover, as well as the recent shutdown of right-wing social media website Parler, many fear that far-right militias and other pro-Trump groups will mobilise even more intensely in the days leading up to Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration. An FBI bulletin obtained by ABC News warned of armed protests at all 50 state capitols in the event that President Trump was removed before Inauguration Day. Trump supporters in Parler “lifeboat” channels formed on other platforms said that the inauguration would be watched by “8 million snipers” and urged users to “take up arms and show up”. 

A “Million Militia March” has also been planned by Trump partisans in Washington D.C. on January 20. A comment under a promotional poster for the march on Parler read, in all caps, “We’ve tilled this soil with our blood and we must take it back, by force if necessary.”

Screenshots of posts from the now-shuttered Parler social media website showing promotional posters and comments about the scheduled Million Militia March.

 





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