In what was perhaps a letdown for some members of the armed, unofficial organization known as the “California State Militia,” no Black Lives Matter protest took place in Oakdale on Saturday.
Instead, all the heavily armed group got was an earful from the cops.
The California State Militia’s “Echo Company” — part of a larger group of gun lovers with no actual law enforcement authority, just plenty of free time — did not come out to protest the police killing of George Floyd. Rather, they were invited by a local business owner to guard their property against a rumored protest that never actually took place, police told The Modesto Bee.
It’s not exactly clear where the speculation began, but a couple posts online suggested a flier that had, purposefully or not, incorrectly advertised a rally. The small town of about 24,000 people is a two-hour drive east of San Francisco.
A group of men wearing camouflage fatigues and carrying long guns guarded H-B Saloon and adjacent business on Saturday; the building owner invited the militiamen to stand guard, Oakdale Police Chief Scott Heller told The Modesto Bee. Some from Echo Company stood guard from the roof, ever vigilant for what turned out to be non-existent threat.
The organization is well-known among the fringe armed groups in the state, and photos from Echo Company’s Facebook page show crowded shooting range sessions and other fun activities like wading through chest-high water — “river crossing and navigation” — and lugging comically large sniper rifles.
Last month, members of the group were present at protests of California’s coronavirus-related public health orders, and they’ve been seen lingering on the edges of George Floyd protests. A website for the California State Militia declares it is “not a hate group,” “not anti-government” and “not conspiracy nuts.”
A militia has taken over #Oakdale #CA “to protect it”. Where’s Mayor JR McCarty and why is he allowing for “out-of-towners” to take over downtown? Or is this a coordinated effort between these minutemen, the city and OPD? @GavinNewsom @KristinOlsenCA @RepJoshHarder @sfchronicle pic.twitter.com/1mnKwVa8BW
— Alejandro Carrillo (@CarrilloA1) June 7, 2020
“The group wearing military attire were not members of the U.S. National Guard and they had no affiliation with the Oakdale Police Department or any of our partner agencies,” the Oakdale Police Department said in a Facebook post Sunday, noting they had heard residents’ concerns about “people dressed in camouflage or ‘militia’ at a downtown business.”
The county sheriff said Sunday that the group’s presence “was counterproductive to keeping the peace in the City of Oakdale” and “did nothing to protect the city.”
Lt. Jeff Henderson of the Oakdale Police Department told TPM Monday that “we’re evaluating that situation, but during our contact with them, they were on private property.”
“If any new information becomes available, we’ll definitely look into that,” he said.
The group dispersed “a short time” after a discussion with Oakdale police officers, the department said — but not before they “distracted our officers from our primary goal, which was to provide a safe space for a potential demonstration,” Oakdale’s police chief Scott Heller told the Bee.
The county sheriff, Dirske, told The Bee that he had received an email ahead of time from the group, but that he didn’t respond.
“If I need assistance, I will call other law-enforcement agencies or the National Guard,” he said.
The California State Militia did not return TPM’s request for comment.