By Kris Hermes, Mass Defense Coordinator
It is deeply troubling to learn about the deployment in Ferguson and surrounding areas of so-called “Oath Keepers,” predominantly white men armed with automatic assault weapons and positioned near protest activity mainly led by Black youth.
Without even considering their reasons for being in Ferguson—on multiple occasions since Michael Brown’s murder by white police officer Darren Wilson—the mere presence of heavily armed white men serves to increase tension, and stoke the fear and distrust rightly held by people of color protesting in the streets.
According to OathKeepers.org, the self-described “non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders,” was in Ferguson to guard businesses from protesters.
Not only were the “Oath Keepers” in Ferguson to assist the efforts of police in repressing political protest whether intentional or not—the presence of an armed militia undoubtedly has a chilling effect on free speech and political resistance—they also inherently demonize the protesters and stand ready to attack them.
The double-standard held by police and public officials in tolerating the presence of “Oath Keepers” is palpable and cause for outrage. Forced to live under institutionalized oppression on a daily basis, people of color are routinely murdered by police for just possessing a weapon, let alone threatening to use it against others as the “Oath Keepers” have done. This double-standard should not necessarily invite wider use of guns in public places, thereby threatening the safety of an even greater number of people, but it should definitely inform how we address the stark disparities and inequality that persist at fundamental levels in our society.