The Oath Keepers in Ferguson just lost their highest-profile member. Sam Andrews, who led armed members of the militia-style group into protests following Michael Brown’s death and its one-year anniversary, quit in characteristically loud fashion amid a verbal war with the group’s founder this week, citing what he called a “racist double standard” within the Oath Keepers.
Andrews’ spat with the Oath Keepers follows his announcement that he plans to hold a march in conjunction with black protesters in Ferguson during which marchers would legally carry guns in a symbolic showing of force against the police. Like most Oath Keepers, Andrews is a fierce believer in the Second Amendment. Where he may diverge from the orthodoxy of the group—which is mainly composed of ex-members of the military and law enforcement agencies—is his belief that residents of Ferguson and similar communities should arm themselves to combat oppressive police forces.
Reason reports that Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes asked Andrews to lay off the arm-the-protesters rhetoric, and that Andrews flatly refused. “All we were doing is saying, ‘Look, Sam, don’t make it sound like we’re gonna arm violent people who were rioters,’” Rhodes said. “We’re gonna arm the good people of Ferguson, to stand up for their rights against the police and to control the hoods.’”
Andrews noted Rhodes’ apparent hypocrisy, pointing to the standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch, where Oath Keepers were more than happy to assist people who stood against the government and happened to be white. “The law enforcement side of [Rhodes’] board and membership are racist, and he does not want to lose their money,” Andrews said. Rhodes shot back, calling Andrews a “lying sociopath” with a “personal vendetta.”
It is not surprising that Andrews would leave the formal Oath Keepers organization, and the split will likely mean little to him in practical terms beyond the loss of a nationally-recognized group with which to affiliate his name. I spoke with Andrews and other Ferguson-area Oath Keepers extensively following the one-year anniversary protests of Brown’s death earlier this month, and learned that despite his high public profile, Andrews was already acting on the fringe of the group. Even before quitting, he had never attended a meeting of the local Oath Keepers chapter, and when he brought his men and rifles into Ferguson, he was acting independently, without the knowledge or authorization of Oath Keepers leadership.
Andrews plans to move forward with his march, which has been dubbed #BlackOpenCarry; he just won’t be doing it as an Oath Keeper. He’ll be doing it as a YETI—that’s You Exterminating Tyrant Ideologies, the splinter group he started after quitting.
Time will tell whether Andrews’ departure signals a larger rift within the Oath Keepers, which lacks a cohesive power structure above its network of loosely connected local chapters. Andrews, who weeks ago told me with bravado that the Oath Keepers had signed up 2,500 new members in two days, now says that “state and chapter leaders are bailing out of Oath Keepers all around the nation.” Rhodes claims that he’s lying, telling Reason that the exodus “exists only in Sam Andrews’ brain.”