Months after the Oath Keepers played a major role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a list of about 38,000 people from across the country who had joined the anti-government extremist group emerged publicly through the nonprofit journalist collective Distributed Denial of Secrets.
Since then, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project has obtained more detailed Oath Keepers membership data from a law enforcement source. That broader data set and another, newer list obtained by OCCRP span from 2009 — shortly after the Oath Keepers were founded — through 2018.
The leaked spreadsheets used to report this story included:
- When members joined.
- Their personal home addresses, phone numbers, emails and information for credit cards used to pay the membership fees.
- How much they paid to join and to renew memberships, with different categories for varying member statuses.
- The reasons they gave the group for wanting to sign up.
- Extensive biographical details, including where individuals were working or how they had gained what they consider to be relevant experience.
Some of the Oath Keepers applicants identified themselves as active or retired “peace officers” at the time they joined the group, in many cases sharing their work histories with multiple departments and describing any specialized weapons training they received.
Reporters with WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times then filed more than 200 open-records requests with the Chicago Police Department and other law enforcement agencies across Illinois. Those requests sought the personnel files for dozens of current and retired cops from the state whose names appeared in the leaked Oath Keepers membership data.
To verify the identity of the officers allegedly involved, the reporters then compared the records obtained from police departments against the information that the officers themselves had given to the Oath Keepers when they signed up, finding in case after case that they matched.
The reporters then examined thousands of pages of records from scores of misconduct cases involving the cops who had ties to the Oath Keepers. Those documents included details of the complaints against the officers and all records of how police investigated those cases.
The reporters also obtained and reviewed recordings of internal affairs interviews with the citizens who filed complaints against the cops, in some cases alleging racist mistreatment. WBEZ and the Sun-Times interviewed complainants themselves to hear about their experiences.
The open-records requests provided reporters with all public records from the few cases in which police officials conducted investigations into the officers’ association with the Oath Keepers.