The far-right Oath Keepers who call New Jersey home

The Oath Keepers were instrumental in the January 2021 attack on the United States Capitol. They made armed appearances at protests and spread violent anti-government views for more than a decade. They are currently in the center of attention of the January 6 committee of the United States House of Representatives, which held a new round of hearings today.

And at least 550 of them live in New Jersey.

It depends data collected by the collective of journalists Distributed Denial of Secrets, which in September 2021 uploaded information on more than 38,000 alleged members of the Oath Keepers. The data includes members’ names, home addresses and, in some cases, a small amount of biographical details.

As noted by the Anti-Defamation League, not everyone on the list is necessarily an active member of the organization, and some parts of the list have not been fully confirmed. Still, it offers a window into New Jersey’s far-right world as politicians and national investigators consider the aftermath of Jan. 6.

The goal of the Oath Keepers is allegedly to protect America and the United States Constitution from a “phantom conspiracy” that has overtaken the federal government, according to the FBI. Founded in 2009, the group has become one of the nation’s most prominent anti-government and paramilitary organizations, especially after many of its members took part in the Capitol storming.

Among New Jersey’s 550 so-called dues-paying oath keepers are a trio of semi-important political names: Ed Durfee, who ran for state assembly in the 37th arrondissement as a Republican last year; Peter Rohrman, the 2017 Libertarian Party candidate for governor; and King Penna, who handled Hirsh Singh’s failure 2021 Governors Campaign. (Bill Hayden, candidate for Sussex County Commissioner as Rep. Josh Gottheimer accused of being an oath keeper in 2020, is not listed.)

But the vast majority of the names on the list are unknowns – retirees, military veterans, businessmen and others who have chosen to get involved with a dangerous and allegedly seditious organization.

As might be expected given the group’s right-wing ideology, oath keepers are more common in Republican-leaning counties in New Jersey, and most members are registered Republicans themselves.

61 Oath Keepers listed an address in heavily Republican Ocean County, the most statewide total; Another 52 live in red-leaning Monmouth County and 49 live in the modest Democratic county of Bergen.

These are also three of the most populous counties in the state, however, so it’s more informative to look at the number of oath keepers as a percentage of a county’s population. By this measure, Sussex County has the highest proportion of Oathkeepers at 0.02%, followed by Cape May and Warren Counties at 0.018% and 0.013%, respectively.

Sussex County, in particular, has long been a hotbed of anti-government activism, and many of the county’s politicians are among the most conservative in the state, so it’s no surprise that it’s home to a disproportionate number oath keepers.

New Jersey’s more urban counties, on the other hand, have the lowest proportional membership. Essex, Hudson and Union counties are all tied last at around 0.002%, a tenth of Sussex County’s rate.

The city with the most oath keepers is, unexpectedly, Hamilton Township of Mercer County, a large Democratic-leaning suburb of Trenton that has 12 registered members. Close behind at 10 each are Middletown and Toms River, two staunchly Republican towns.

“Of our 92,000 residents, the vast majority are residents who watch over their neighbor and reside here because it is a peaceful place to live and raise a family,” Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin said in response to the data. . “However, any person or group that condones or participates in threats or actual incidents of intimidation or violence is not representative of our greater Hamilton community and is not welcome here.”

One such Hamilton resident is Christopher Rupp, the director of public works for the nearby town of Robbinsville. Rupp told the New Jersey Globe that his involvement with the Oath Keepers has been minimal, which may be true of a number of others whose names appear on the list.

“Over five years ago I bought an Oath Keepers t-shirt and some bumper stickers,” he said. “That has been the extent of my involvement in this group. I love my country, I love my job, and I work very hard every day on behalf of everyone in Robbinsville. I would never do anything to harm my country.

Many of the state’s densest and most diverse cities, meanwhile, are grossly underrepresented. Newark has only three alleged oath keepers despite being the largest city in the state, and several cities like Trenton and Camden do not have a single listed member within their borders.

As for the demographics of the Oathkeepers themselves, only a limited amount of information is available, but some conclusions can be drawn based on their names.

The vast majority of New Jersey’s so-called oath keepers appear to be male, which is consistent with studies showing that males are more likely to be involved in far-right groups and were much more common during the attack on the Capitol on January 6. There are still a few women listed as members, many of whom appear to be married or related to male members.

Based on surnames and geographic location, it also appears that the oath keepers are largely white. The names are, of course, not a perfect indicator of race for a variety of reasons, but many of those listed are white ethnic surnames that would be unusual for people of color.

This is apparently true even in majority minority towns. For example, Dover is majority Hispanic, Edison is majority Asian, and Fort Lee is majority Asian, yet none of the oath keepers living in each city have Hispanic or Asian surnames.

Although most of the alleged oath keepers on the list did not state their profession, the few who disproportionately mentioned military or police experience, including three members who made their home at the Joint Air Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The organization was founded by Army veteran Stewart Rhodes and has long attracted members of the military and law enforcement agencies.

Ultimately, 550 confirmed members out of a statewide population of 9.3 million isn’t a lot. The Oath Keepers and other far-right groups like the Proud Boys make up a drastic minority of the population, in New Jersey and elsewhere — but as January 6 showed, even a small subsection of the population can have an alarming impact.

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