DENVER — A new report released by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shows Colorado elected leaders, law enforcement personnel and military members expressed interest in or became members of the far-right extremist group, the Oath Keepers.
The report, released Wednesday, gives new insight into domestic extremism and fuels growing concerns about who is becoming radicalized.
Data specialists with the ADL spent nearly a year combing through five gigabytes of Oath Keepers' files released by Distributed Denial of Secrets last fall. Distributed Denial of Secrets describes itself as a "a journalist 501(c)(3) non-profit devoted to enabling the free transmission of data in the public interest."
"Since then (September 2021), we had a team of investigators who were looking through all of the data, making sure we were matching names with public records, so that we were identifying the correct people in the correct fields," said Jessica Reaves of the ADL.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Oath Keepers "claims tens of thousands of present and former law enforcement officials and military veterans as members, [and] is one of the largest far-right anti-government groups in the U.S. today."
Denver7 sorted through the data — which spanned across periods in 2020 and 2021 — and found several emails allegedly written from people interested in joining Oath Keepers.
"I live in Denver. I've seen Stewart Rhodes many times on Infowars. How can I help?" one man wrote.
Another person inquired, "Hey, who is running the Colorado chapter now?"
Jason Van Tatenhove, who currently resides in Estes Park, testified before the Jan. 6 Insurrection Committee about Oath Keepers. He recalled to Denver7 how he became embedded with the group.
Van Tatenhove explained, as a journalist, he'd covered several standoffs, including the 2014 Bundy Standoff, before being tapped by Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes to help with matters pertaining to the press.
"I kind of saw it as an opportunity to write my own Hells Angels kind of breakout novel," he said. "I worked for the Oath Keepers for about a year and a half as their national media director."
Van Tatenhove said he decided to leave the group about five years ago.
"It just became too radicalized and moving more into racist ideology that I just couldn't stand it anymore — not necessarily the group's ideology, but the people involved with the group and kind of their audience," he said.
According to the ADL, nearly a thousand people in Colorado "signed up" to become members of Oath Keepers. Of those sign-ups, the ADL reports there were two elected officials, 14 members of law enforcement, seven military members and two first responders.
"Any number of people who hold or have expressed sympathy for or support for extremist ideologies in these positions of power, anyone… that's too many," Reaves said.
However, the ADL emphasized, "An individual’s inclusion in the Oath Keeper database is not proof that they were or are still an Oath Keeper, that they hold or held all or some of Oath Keeper ideology or viewpoints, or that they ever actively participated in Oath Keeper activities."
In one message uncovered by Denver7, a woman wrote, "I'm interested in becoming n Oath Keeper. I live in Longmont, Colorado. Are there any chapters near me?"
Denver7 cross-referenced the email and found it was written by a former veteran paramedic of a major healthcare system.
"Colorado falls right in sort of the middle ground. We don't have the most per capita, and we don't have the fewest per capita," Reaves said.
One of the more prominent Coloradans the ADL has tied to the group is Otero County Sheriff Shawn Mobley. Denver7 reached out to Mobley several times, but received no response.
Mobley told the Associated Press, "Their views are far too extreme for me."
"It's important to note that the Oath Keepers have been an extremist organization with exactly the same ideology since their founding," Reaves said of recent responses from public officials to the data leak.
Van Tatenhove relayed a similar sentiment, saying, "I think it's a very dangerous thing, and we need to be very aware of it and really begin to think critically again and really look at the sources of the information we’re getting."