“We Build The Wall,” the private GoFundMe-powered border wall project, made its outreach to armed right-wing groups even more explicit over the weekend.
In a cell phone video live-streamed Saturday, “Foreman Mike,” a motormouthed spokesperson for the group, gave a tour to a man wearing a black eyepatch and cowboy hat: Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of Oath Keepers, an anti-government group oriented toward veterans and first responders.
Oath Keepers is perhaps best known for its members’ armed patrols on the rooftops of Ferguson, Missouri during the protests of the police killing of Mike Brown and subsequent non-indictment of officer Darren Wilson. Rhodes has since found a partner in We Build The Wall (WBTW).
“We’re going to have a ceremony here, we’d like any of our Oath Keeper friends to come on in, any of our Three Percenter brothers, all of them. More than welcome to come in for a question and answer period,” Mike told Rhodes at one point, as the Oath Keepers leader filmed his own video.
Rhodes was sold. “They’re going to do the official flag-raising next week, that’s the 24th, 25th and 26th. So I’ll be here for that, absolutely it would be an honor to be here,” he said in a separate live-streamed video posted to the Oath Keepers Facebook page Saturday.
In addition to their Ferguson patrols, the Oath Keepers have long injected themselves into national debates. After the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, a writer for Oath Keepers said in a group webinar that pro-gun-control students were “the enemy.” The Oath Keepers have also engaged in disputes over federal authority, namely the Bundy Ranch standoff. Rhodes, a former Ron Paul staffer, is particularly outspoken.
In 2015, he said then-Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) should be tried for treason, then executed. Later that year, attorneys for Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who denied marriage licenses to gay couples, declined Rhodes’ offer for an Oath Keepers security detail to prevent her arrest by federal agents.
TPM has reported on WBTW’s unofficial relationship with Guardian Patriots, a renamed splinter group of the United Constitutional Patriots, which gained international infamy for its armed mass “arrests” of migrants crossing the border. Guardian Patriots member “Viper,” or Steve Brant, was seen near the wall in the Oath Keepers’ video.
Guardian Patriots spokesperson Jim Benvie, whose live-streamed Facebook videos sparked the massive outcry, has become a de facto videographer of sorts for WBTW. In his video of Foreman Mike, Rhodes and another Oath Keeper, John Siemens, Benvie implied he was responsible for inviting the Oath Keepers onto the private property.
“They came down, they asked if they could get a tour of the wall, and I said sure,” he narrated. “So we brought them out with Foreman Mike. They’re up here checking it out, but also they’re checking out setting up operations on the border.”
WBTW spokesperson Jennifer Lawrence didn’t respond to TPM’s questions about the group’s relationship with several militias. Neither Oath Keepers or Rhodes responded to TPM’s questions. Rhodes and Siemens were recently seated directly behind President Donald Trump in the VIP section at his political rally in El Paso.
At several points Saturday, Rhodes alluded to a potential effort to invite his own militia members to the border. At one point, he said his group was doing “spot and report” in Eagle Pass, Texas but that it was “frustrating.” He urged the President to further deploy the military to the border and, at various points, said Oath Keepers were considering getting more involved.
“We were talking to some of the county commissioners in the border counties, we’re hoping to get them and the sheriffs to come on board, either to form posses, or otherwise to have some sort of volunteer… under the county’s authority so that they have a little bit more legitimacy and some liability protection,” he told Benvie at one point. “So we’re working on things like that.”
And later: “We were considering an operation, we still are, in the Coronado National Forest up in the mountains. That’s where the cartel has carte blanche.”
Foreman Mike, in salesman mode, bragged about the wall’s effectiveness at the top of its half-mile length, where steel bollards meet small cliff face on Mount Cristo Rey.
“We had some coyotes try to get through there,” he recalled. “They sent seven people through. They were near death when we got to them. Just begging for water. They gave us all the information we needed.”