Oath Keepers: Who are white militia at Ferguson protests and why are they allowed to carry guns?
A group of white men armed with assault rifles have been filmed “patrolling” the streets of Ferguson during a fourth night of protests marking the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death.
Dozens of demonstrators had been arrested for offences including obstructing police, throwing bottles and “obstructing the normal use of the entrances” to a court but the gun-wielding men were not detained, sparking accusations of hypocrisy.
At least three members of the “Oath Keepers” group were seen on the streets of the St Louis suburb overnight.
Wearing bullet-proof vests, branded hats and camouflage gear, they walked among protesters after police appeared to have left the immediate area.
Kayla Reed, a prominent civil rights activist involved with the Black Lives Matter movement – who had been arrested and released earlier on Monday – asked on Twitter: “Why are there men with guns and the police are doing nothing?”
Fellow activist Johnetta Elzie, who had also been arrested, asked if black people would have been able to carry high-powered guns around St Louis so freely.
Who are the Oath Keepers?
The Oath Keepers, whose members were seen claiming to guard homes and businesses from rooftops during protests in Ferguson last year, have been accused of vigilantism by opponents but claim they are exercising Americans’ democratic rights.
Formed by a former US Army paratrooper, members pledge to fulfil the oath taken by the country’s military and police to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic”, even if that means defying other laws and orders.
A former police officer gave a speech to the group’s St Louis chapter last year where he was filmed saying: ““I’m also a killer. I’ve killed a lot, and if I need to I’ll kill a whole bunch more. If you don’t want to get killed, don’t show up in front of me.
“I’m into diversity – I kill everybody”.
Alarmed protesters asked the Oath Keepers to leave on Monday, with some filming conversations where the men claimed they were on the demonstrators’ side and defending civil rights.
“If you’re armed, why can’t the protesters be armed?” one demonstrator asked.
The organisation has not released an official statement on its presence in Ferguson or intentions in the area.
Is it legal to carry guns in Ferguson?
Under normal circumstances, yes, although it was unclear whether those laws could be affected by the current state of emergency.
Missouri is one of the US states with what is known as an “open carry” law, meaning that anyone legally possessing a gun can display it openly in public.
Proponents of the rule argue that criminals normally conceal such weapons and that people should not be afraid of law-abiding gun owners displaying them.
The practice is strongly opposed by advocates of increased gun controls in the US, who argue that the practice is intimidating, menacing and unnecessary.