John Shirley, an constable based in Hood County, south west of Dallas, recently wrote an “insiders perspective” for the local paper, saying he had been a member of the Oath Keepers group for a decade and held “multiple leadership positions at both the state and national levels”.
In the article, published ahead of statewide and local elections and an event apparently intended to recruit new members, Mr Shirley denied the group was anti-government and merely sought to protect the constitution.
“In that time I’ve seen the multiple waves of attacks by the media and progressive NGOs. The Oath Keepers organisation has been called right-wing, racist, anti-government, a militia, among many other hot-button epithets,” wrote Mr Shirley, who described himself as a Republican
Writing in Hood County Today, he added: “From the beginning, the Oath Keepers have been a non-partisan organisation almost exclusively dedicated to teaching first responders and soldiers to respect their oaths.”
Yet organisations that monitor extremist groups in the United States have raised alarm bells.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has described the Oath Keepers as “a growing anti-government extremist group whose avowed purpose is to enlist current and former military, police, and first responder personnel into its ranks in order to oppose a supposedly “tyrannical” government”.
Meanwhile the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), another watchdog group, says the “entire organisation is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans”.
Mr Shirley’s role as police officer in Hood County and his efforts to recruit other police officers and former military, was detailed in a report by the Star-Telegram, and denounced one of the Democrats running for a neighbouring sheriff’s office.
Vance Keyes said Oath Keepers have no place in law enforcement.
“I am absolutely concerned about militia groups infiltrating law enforcement,” he told the newspaper. “Their presence in policing undermines our obligation and ability to provide impartial justice…free from the thinly veiled, and often outright, racial bias that exist in such organisations.”
Mr Shirley did not respond to enquiries. However, another member of the county’s law enforcement said he saw nothing wrong with him being an Oath Keeper.
Roger Deeds, the sheriff of Hook County, said that like Mr Shirely he was also elected. He said he was the senior law enforcement officer in the county, but said Mr Shirley did not report him.
He said he himself was not a member of the Oath Keepers, but that from what he had been told the group was simply trying to “protect the constitution and protect Texas”.
“I’ve read that they’re made up of people who are anti-government but I don’t think that’s correct,” he told The Independent. “I don’t think they’re anti-government. This guy is running for reelection so he’s bragged about being a member.”
Reports suggest the Oath Keepers, which claim to have as many as 30,000 members, were formed in 2009 Yale Law School graduate and former US army paratrooper Stewart Rhodes.
The SPLC says the group is known for supporting the oaths they took on joining law enforcement or the military to defend the constitution, but also a list of 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey”.
In 2017, after a mass shooting at Sutherland Springs church in Texas, Mr Rhodes wrote on the organisation’s website that people should be armed at all times.
“Go armed at all times, in all places, and be ready for it when (not if) the attack comes,” he wrote. “Prepare for the worst – a wave of left wing terrorism targeting conservatives, libertarians, Christians, police, military, veterans, etc (anyone the left considers on the right or part of the system). Expect it. Prepare yourselves in case this does lead to a full blown civil war.”
Mr Shirley’s Oath Keepers event was cancelled after management of the Harbour Lakes Golf Club in the town of Granbury, claimed it had been mislead.
Stating that it was often used by political candidates to speak to the public, it added: “Harbour Lakes does not support nor favour any of these candidates or political agendas, we simply provide a facility for events to take place. An event was booked that was misrepresented in the planning, this events agenda was unbeknownst to Harbour Lakes, and for this reason will not be taking place at our facility.”