The Oath Keepers are a far-right militia, the leader of which, Stewart Rhodes, was recently convicted of sedition for his role in the January 6 insurrection. The Oath Keepers also believe in the strategy of winning hearts and minds. To that end, they show up to “protect” and “serve” communities in the wake of disaster (or what they perceive as such). As climate change becomes more devastating and the government struggles to respond, extremists are stepping in to fill the gaps — and potentially gain followers in the process:
In 2013, Rhodes launched a program aimed at preparing communities for a natural disaster, a civil war, or anything in between. He originally said the program — a national network of community groups akin to neighborhood watches — was intended to create “civilization preservation teams.” He soon gave them a far more innocuous-sounding new name: “community preparedness teams,” or CPTs. CPTs provide volunteers with medical, disaster, and fire safety training. As the Oath Keepers grew, changed, and increasingly made themselves known in the public sphere, the CPT program remained a relative constant — something “the group seems to view as core to its identity,” Jackson wrote in his book.
The CPTs kept their eye on events with potential for conflict with government agencies. In 2014, they responded to Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s call to arms, after he refused to pay federal land management agencies millions of dollars in required fees to graze his herd of cattle on public land. They defended a gold mine from the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon in 2015. They were present that same year in Ferguson, Missouri, providing security, according to the group, for business owners during widespread protests on the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager who was killed by police in 2014. And they provided relief in Conroe after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in 2017.
That year saw the dawn of a new era for FEMA. Harvey and two other hurricanes called Irma and Maria made landfall on U.S. soil in the same 30-day period, claiming thousands of lives, causing widespread destruction, and generating hundreds of billions of dollars in cumulative costs. The back-to-back disasters made it exceedingly clear that the federal government is unprepared for the consequences of climate change — more intense hurricanes, heavier floods, rising sea levels.