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Secret Service under scrutiny after Oath Keepers emails revealed

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The Secret Service has come under scrutiny after purported correspondences between agents showing evidence of communications with a right-wing activist who played a central role in the January 6, 2021, uprising were revealed.

Emails published by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), an anti-corruption non-profit, appear to show a cordial relationship between outreach officers and Stewart Rhodes, leader of anti-government militia group Oath Keepers, who in May was imprisoned for 18 years on charges including seditious conspiracy over his role in organizing the siege of the U.S. Capitol.

In one email, an agent appears to claim that Rhodes “has denounced White Nationalist ideals” based on open-source research and described conversations with him regarding a rally of then-President Donald Trump in North Carolina.

Newsweek could not immediately verify the authenticity of the emails. The Secret Service was approached via email for comment on Thursday.

Oath Keepers January 6
Men belonging to the Oath Keepers wearing military tactical gear attend the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Emails appear to show a cordial relationship between Secret Service officers and Stewart Rhodes, leader of anti-government militia group Oath Keepers.
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Oath Keepers, founded in 2009, have previously had an armed presence in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of racial unrest there and at Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd. As of 2011, it claimed to have 30,000 members.

The group has been described as extremist by anti-hate organizations, having appeared to coordinate its activities with known white supremacist groups. However, it states in its bylaws that anyone who “advocates discrimination, violence, or hatred toward any person based upon their race, nationality, creed, or color” cannot be a member.

The group “explicitly focuses on recruiting current and former military members, police officers and firefighters,” the Anti-Defamation League wrote in 2015. According to the Southern Policy Law Center, an extremism watchdog, at least 17 members of the Oath Keepers have been charged with offenses relating to the January 6 uprising.

Rhodes, a former attorney and army paratrooper, described the 2020 presidential election “a communist/Deep State coup,” having previously prophesized that there would be “civil war” if Biden won.

Screenshots of emails disclosed by CREW date from September 2020—less than three months before Oath Keepers members were involved in the January 6 uprising—and tell of communications by a self-described “unofficial liaison” with the militia group who was “inching towards” being official at the time.

On September 15, 2020, the officer—whose name has been redacted—said they had received a call from Rhodes that day, who said the group “plan to have a security detail in Fayetteville [North Carolina] for POTUS supporters.”

Another undated email said that the agent had contacted Rhodes the following day, who had “conferenced in” some of the Oath Keepers members in North Carolina. It recounted they “wanted to ensure they were not impeding our operational posture” during the Trump rally.

Stewart Rhodes
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, is seen on a screen during a House Select Committee hearing to Investigate the January 6, 2021 uprising on the U.S. Capitol, in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on June 9, 2022.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

The officer said they told the Oath Keepers members that the Secret Service could not divulge operational information, but added: “They are NOT there to demonstrate or push a political agenda.”

On September 16 that year, another email detailing open-source research into the Oath Keepers suggested the group was also planning a “security mobilization” for a trip by Trump to Berkeley, California.

CREW said the emails had been obtained as part of an ongoing public records request. The authors of the report criticized the Secret Service for “failing to acknowledge the group’s ties to white nationalists and clashes with law enforcement.”

Referring to the open-source research detailed in one email, the CREW authors noted there was “plenty of other publicly available information about Rhodes and the Oath Keepers at the time that should have easily raised alarm.”

They admitted that the emails “offer only a snapshot of the communication between the Oath Keepers and the Secret Service” but suggested further disclosures could be on the horizon.

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