(Jacquelyn Martin | AP) People wearing hats and patches indicating they are part of Oath Keepers attend a rally at Freedom Plaza Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in Washington, in support of President Donald Trump.
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Police officer William Stone first signed up to receive Oath Keepers emails a dozen years ago when he ran for county sheriff in rural Utah as a constitutional candidate.
Dirk Mullikin, an Air Force veteran and self-described constitutionalist, joined the Oath Keepers out of patriotism. But he’s since quit the anti-government militia group.
Utah Department of Corrections Director Brian Nielson denied ever being affiliated with the group — but he does remember going to a couple of events when he was the Sanpete County sheriff where an Oath Keepers’ board member was also present.
Their names were included on a hacked list with hundreds of Utah addresses kept by the Oath Keepers, a group federal law enforcement officials have identified as an anti-government militia.
The data, which includes tens of thousands of names, was sent to the Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDOSecrets), a journalism nonprofit that releases data to reporters and researchers.
The Salt Lake Tribune acquired a copy of the data set. Reporters identified 302 people with Utah addresses and reached out to around two dozen people that appeared to be public officials or had clear ties to the military or law enforcement. The Utah Oath Keepers did not confirm the roster nor respond to a request for comment via email.
The data, which includes emails, offers a rare glimpse into the membership of the private group. And it shows how the Oath Keepers have targeted the senior ranks of the nation’s policing and veteran community for recruitment, including in Utah.
The list of Utahns includes one current police officer and at least eight others who said on their social media accounts that they had experience working in law enforcement. More than two dozen others are military veterans. Others identified themselves as teachers, pilots and firearms instructors.
Also on the roster was William Keebler, a Stockton man who spent two years behind bars after admitting he tried to blow up a Bureau of Land Management cabin in 2016.
The majority who spoke to The Tribune confirmed they had at one time been members, or at least were interested. Others hung up on a reporter or were adamant they were never involved.
“I deny any affiliation or known membership at any time with an organization called the Oath Keepers,” said Nielson, the top corrections boss and a recent Gov. Spencer Cox appointee.
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Department of Corrections Director Brian Nielson in Draper on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
Nielson, who was the Sanpete sheriff for a decade prior to taking his current job, said in a statement that his name could have landed on the list because his contact information had been “shared liberally over the years.” He is actively trying to have his information removed from any current Oath Keepers rolls. The database entry for the prison director was scant compared to most others, listing only his name and his P.O. Box.
The governor’s office reiterated Nielson didn’t know why he would be on the list and offered no further comment.
A Utah Oath Keepers’ website refers to its members as a group of “proud patriots, dedicated to upholding the constitution of the United States.” They say their members include veterans, police officers and first responders — and the name alludes to the oath they took when joining the military or police forces to defend the Constitution.
But for the Oath Keepers, there are exceptions to upholding the oath of their sworn profession. The militia has their own “Declaration of Orders We Will Not Obey,” which includes refusing military or law enforcement orders to disarm an American citizen or participate in martial law and order on American soil, among others.
Some Oath Keepers have been tied to the U.S. Capitol insurrection earlier this year. In charging documents, the U.S. Justice Department described the Oath Keepers as a “large but loosely organized collection of militia who believe that the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”
FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo violent rioters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
None of the seven Utahns accused of entering the Capitol on Jan. 6 are on the leaked membership rolls.
Mullikin, a Utahn who said he spent six years in the Air Force and held a top-secret clearance during the late 1970s, was a member of the local chapter of the Oath Keepers “for a while,” but stopped paying dues when he retired and went on a fixed income. The veteran said he didn’t believe his oath to the country expired when he left the Air Force.
During his time with the Oath Keepers, Mullikin said it never felt militant, and “we were all just concerned about voting for the right guy.”
He added that he didn’t think the Oath Keepers chapter in Utah was very big. The Tribune found that Utah addresses made up nearly 1% of all those listed in the rolls, which is roughly equal to Utah’s population makeup in the United States.
“I do know there’s some that were involved with militias and they were not only Oath Keepers, but they also belong to the Three Percenters and groups like that,” Mullikin said. The Justice Department also identifies the Three Percenters (or III%ers) as a domestic, anti-government militia with loose ties to the Oath Keepers.
Stone, who currently works as a Woods Cross police officer, said he signed up for an Oath Keepers’ mailing list while he was running for Grand County sheriff in 2009, but said he no longer interacts with the group.
“As for being a law enforcement officer that vows to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens, I am that and will always be,” he wrote in an email. “I am not ashamed of my belief in our Constitution nor of the individual rights of citizens. I guess that was the reason for joining in the first place, it sounded like a group of guys who made a promise to protect their oath to the Constitution and the citizens of this country.”
Journalists across the country have spent weeks verifying Oath Keepers who are high-profile law enforcement officers. Among the first was WNYC and the Gothamist, which published an investigation linking the hacked data to several members of the New York City Police Department, which led to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing an investigation into a possible connection between the city’s officers and the Oath Keepers.
“The Oath Keepers are a vile, extremist anti-government organization,” Bill Neidhardt, a de Blasio spokesman, told the news organizations. “An immediate internal investigation has been launched.”
Why Utahns wanted to join the Oath Keepers
Full names, phone numbers, addresses and a column designating the type of dues paid to the Oath Keepers was included in the data. The dues ranged from “Annual,” “Life” and “Liberty Tree” — which, based on an Oath Keepers website, was for monthly “sustaining members.”
Mullikin said Liberty Tree was likely a reference to the “tree of liberty,” a famous reference from a 1787 letter written by Thomas Jefferson that said “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
The list also included a column that let individuals leave a comment, with many using it as a way to express why they signed up or how they thought they could contribute to the Oath Keepers.
Several wrote they were interested in receiving a hat and pin. “Heard about you on Fox,” one Utahn wrote.
“I want to attend any occupations or protests you have if it will save people from getting murdered by our gov’t,” added another Utah man. “I can go armed if I need to but after what has happened in Oregon it’s plain to see strength is in numbers.”
The note appears to reference the 2016 occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon led by Ammon Bundy.
FILE - In this Jan 8, 2016, file photo, Burns resident Steve Atkins, left, talks with Ammon Bundy, center, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, following a news conference at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore. Cliven and his sons Ryan and Ammon have engaged in armed standoffs with the federal government, first in a fight over grazing permits on federal land in Nevada in 2014, and then in a 40-day occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016. Those standoffs drew the sympathies of some Western ranchers and farmers who feared they were losing the ability to prosper financially. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
A man who listed a Park City P.O. Box as an address wrote “spread the word” in the comments section. When The Tribune called him to ask about the Oath Keepers database and the meaning of his note, he said he “didn’t have much to say about that” and hung up.
Others wrote they were active and former police officers and military members, and responded in the comments section with small resume blurbs.
“I am currently deployed to Afghanistan and would like my initial membership package to be sent to me here,” wrote a Utahn, who added he was deployed with the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron. The military APO AE mailing address matched one that has been used in Afghanistan as recently as late 2020.
A former law enforcement officer advertised himself as an 11-year senior operator on a SWAT team. A LinkedIn account that matches the email address from the hacked roster showed the man was also a Utah firearms instructor and was trained to teach others how to use submachines and sniper rifles.
Another Air Force member wrote that he was a reservist at Hill Air Force Base. Additional identifying information on the roster matched details found on an online real estate account.
The reservist told The Tribune that he was still a member of a Utah-based air wing and that the information on the roster was old, but had been accurate.
Parts of the database appear outdated. The Tribune found several people on the list who are dead and reporters interviewed others who said some of the information wasn’t current, including place of residence.
The Air Force reservist said he’d never officially been a member or participated with the Oath Keepers, but “might have looked into it” nearly a decade ago. He described the Oath Keepers to be “constitutionally-based … and before you ever even join the military, you take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.”
He added unprompted that “about 3% of the population … stood up against tyrannical advances by the king” during the American Revolution. The stat is a reference to an inaccurate narrative of history claimed by the Three Percenters militia.
“And so I can appreciate some of those things,” he said. “We’re definitely living in unprecedented times.”
The reservist said after 12 years in the military, he was willing to give up his career to buck the Air Force’s looming Dec. 2 COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Another veteran told The Tribune he signed up with the Oath Keepers after leaving the Army around 2006, but added his interest in the organization didn’t last long. Andrew Preece said he’s patriotic and supports the Constitution, but never attended a meeting with the group.
He left after a year, and gave a simple explanation for doing so.
Tribune reporters Matt Canham and Paighten Harkins contributed to this report.