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North Dakota sheriff, representatives from Minnesota, South Dakota listed as members of Oath Keepers

Four elected officials across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota appeared on the list of registered members of the Oath Keepers.

Bowman County Sheriff Frank Eberle.jpg
Bowman County Sheriff Frank Eberle
Special to The Forum
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FARGO — The names of 81 North Dakotans, 514 Minnesotans and 167 South Dakotans are included in a leaked membership roster of the Oath Keepers, labeled an extremist group associated with the militia movement by the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism.

The Oath Keepers was founded in April 2009 by Stewart Rhodes and from its inception has displayed an extremist anti-government ideology, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The group came under scrutiny for its involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Anti-Defamation League said.

The Anti-Defamation League’s story was published Sept. 6, but the investigative work started in September 2021 with the nonprofit journalist collective Distributed Denial of Secrets, or DDoSecrets, which discovered 38,000 names across the nation on the Oath Keepers' roster.

In North Dakota, the Anti-Defamation League revealed one elected official, one law enforcement officer and two military personnel were Oath Keepers members.

In Minnesota, one elected official, six law enforcement officers, three military personnel and two first responders were on the list.

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In South Dakota, two elected officials and one military personnel were listed as members.

The Anti-Defamation League could only provide names of elected officials, including sheriffs or appointed police chiefs, from the leaked list, said Jake Hyman, associate director of communications for the organization.

In North Dakota, Bowman County Sheriff Frank Eberle was reported to be a member of the Oath Keepers, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Eberle did not respond to repeated requests for comment by The Forum, but earlier this year, he pledged to protect farmers and ranchers against the federal government by publicly stating he would deputize as many citizens as necessary.

In February, Eberle confirmed that he wrote a Facebook post saying he learned about “a dangerous attempt by the federal government to attack our ranchers and farmers by stealing their lands, under the cover of climate change."

Calling himself the “Constitutional Sheriff,” he said he stands with ranchers and farmers, and “will deputize as many of our citizens of Bowman County as necessary to bring a halt to this unconstitutional act.”

One senator and one representative were listed as Oath Keepers members in South Dakota.

Rep. Phil Jensen, R-Mead, Pennington.png
Rep. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City
Special to The Forum

Rep. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, did not respond to requests for comment. He is listed by the South Dakota Legislative Research Council as a small business owner.

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Sen. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls , said he is no longer a member of the Oath Keepers.

“I don’t remember the exact date, but it was probably in the 2013 or 2014 range, and I became a member because I had gone to a conference. I’m a veteran, and I took my oaths seriously. I probably should have looked into the organization, but they've probably become more radical since then. I am no longer affiliated, nor do I want to be,” Stalzer told The Forum.

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Sen. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls
Special to The Forum

He said the Oath Keepers were described to him as an organization that believed in the U.S. and state constitutions but couldn’t say if the organization’s advertising methods were softened to attract his attention.

“I belonged one time and never renewed, and I haven’t heard back from them in years,” Stalzer said.

In Minnesota, Rep. Donald W. Raleigh, R-St. Paul, was listed as an Oath Keepers member by the Anti-Defamation League.

Andrew Wagner, director of public affairs for the Minnesota House Republican Caucus, answered questions on Raleigh’s behalf, saying the representative is no longer a member of the Oath Keepers.

Raleigh joined the group in 2013 while co-founding a company called TrustVets, an organization that helps connect veterans with business opportunities, Wagner said. At the time, Raleigh was assigned to do market research on veteran groups. He used his business email address to become a member, Wagner said.

Rep. Donald W. Raleigh, R-St. Paul.png
Rep. Donald W. Raleigh, R-St. Paul
Special to The Forum

“He has never posted anything online in support of them. He signed up for multiple different veteran organizations to find out what they were providing their members,” Wagner said.

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“All (groups) were fairly normal, except for Oath Keepers. It did not have the extremist bent that it has today, although it was on the right of the political spectrum,” Wagner said. “It’s not accurate to call him a member, and not fair to do a story on this series of incidents."

The Anti-Defamation League reported that many people on the leaked list were elected officials, government employees, teachers, religious figures and business people across the United States.

“It’s important to acknowledge that some individuals in the Oath Keepers database may have initially joined because they were sold a watered-down version of the group, and some may have disavowed the group since signing up,” the Anti-Defamation League reported.

Members of the Oath Keepers have been arrested in connection with a wide range of criminal activities, including various firearms violations, conspiracy to impede federal workers, possession of explosives and threatening public officials, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The Oath Keepers began garnering national attention in 2014 and 2015 for their armed participation in disputes between ranchers or miners and federal agencies, most famously in Nevada where they joined the 2014 Bundy Ranch armed standoff against the Bureau of Land Management, the Anti-Defamation League reported.

Armed Oath Keepers also participated in a 2015 standoff in Lincoln, Montana, between the White Hope Mine and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as a 2015 armed confrontation in Josephine County, Oregon, between the Sugar Pine Mine and the Bureau of Land Management, the Anti-Defamation League reported.

The Oath Keepers group differs from other militia groups because they target former law enforcement, military and emergency services personnel for recruitment, the Anti-Defamation League said.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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