Capitol riot suspects had more ties to Oath Keepers than previously known

Prosecutors have brought some of the most serious charges stemming from the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol against alleged members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right group that targets law enforcement and military veterans for recruitment. More than 20 suspected members of the Oath Keepers have been arrested, and some are facing charges of conspiracy. Now, an examination of hacked records – purportedly taken from Oath Keeper web servers – shows more defendants may have ties to the group than has been previously known.

The Oath Keeper records were obtained from the nonprofit organization Distributed Denial of Secrets. The organization describes itself as a “transparency collective” and has publicized a variety of leaked material. Included in the Oath Keepers leak were chat logs, emails and a list of nearly 40,000 names and contact information for members. Many of the people whose information appears in the Oath Keepers leak have confirmed to NPR and other news organizations that they did, in fact, sign up with the group.

Some defendants that appear in the leaked data have already been described as Oath Keepers by federal prosecutors. For example, Mark Grods signed up for an annual membership with the group in October 2016, according to the data. Grods has since pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding related to the storming of the Capitol, and has agreed to cooperate with the government.

At least five defendants charged in the Jan. 6 attack, however, have identifying information that appears in the leaked records, but have not been tied to the Oath Keepers as part of their Jan. 6 criminal cases. The news organization ProPublica first reported on three of those defendants. By comparing the Oath Keepers membership data to NPR’s ongoing database of all Capitol riot criminal cases, NPR was able to identify another two.

NPR contacted all five defendants as well as their attorneys by phone and email. Only one responded: Kevin Loftus of Chippewa Falls, Wisc.

Loftus entered the Capitol building on Jan. 6 and posted photos of himself inside the building on Facebook with the message, “That is right folks some of us are in it to win it,” according to court documents. He pleaded guilty to Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building, a misdemeanor, and is set to be sentenced at the end of January 2022. He has not been accused of committing any violence or property damage. None of the court documents in his case allege a connection to the Oath Keepers.

The Oath Keeper records, meanwhile, indicate that Loftus signed up for an annual membership with the group in November 2016. Loftus confirmed those details. He told NPR by phone that he first heard about the Oath Keepers from podcasts and web shows like Infowars, the conspiratorial media organization led by Alex Jones. Infowars has regularly featured the Oath Keepers on podcasts, videos, and articles going back about a decade.

Loftus said he served in the U.S. Army in the 1990s, and he was attracted to the group’s pro-Trump stance and their motto – taken from the military’s oath of enlistment – that they “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” So Loftus paid for an annual membership with the group, which cost $40 at the time. (The membership fee is now $50 per year.)

Loftus said he ultimately only participated in one event with the Oath Keepers. In October 2019, the group called on volunteers to provide “security escorts for rally attendees” at a Trump event in Minneapolis, Minn. Oath Keepers have frequently been seen at similar events openly carrying rifles, but Loftus said he went to Minneapolis unarmed, and just helped escort rally-goers back to their cars.

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