Armed White Militia Freely Patrols Ferguson, Yet Peaceful Protestors Arrested

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One year after a white police officer shot and killed unarmed, black teen Michael Brown, the streets of Ferguson, Missouri are gripped by unrest and palpable tensions once again.

Late on Sunday, as peaceful demonstrations were held to commemorate the anniversary of Brown's death, gunfire could be heard; an 18-year-old, black male was shot and critically wounded by police.

Lots of gunshots on W Florrisant. Just got here. Everyone running. Cars driving like crazy. #Ferguson — Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) August 10, 2015

Protests continued into Monday, and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency.

A number of people were arrested throughout the day during acts of peaceful civil disobedience.

Clergy action at the DOJ. Downtown STL. #Ferguson pic.twitter.com/codNhCMf5X — ShordeeDooWhop (@Nettaaaaaaaa) August 10, 2015

Prominent Black Lives Matter activists DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie, as well as scholar-activist Dr. Cornel West, were among those arrested.

Earlier arrest of @deray. pic.twitter.com/yLGSOta139 — Shaun King (@ShaunKing) August 10, 2015
.@Nettaaaaaaaa in custody pic.twitter.com/EQgAaA33ld — Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 10, 2015
Today, @Nettaaaaaaaa was arrested as she filmed the police. & once I realized she was being arrested, I questioned it. I was then arrested. — deray mckesson (@deray) August 11, 2015
Cornel West just got arrested together with around 40 other activists BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/lkMwHkgEZE — Lorena de la Cuesta (@LorenadlaCuesta) August 10, 2015

Early on Tuesday, people began feeling unsettled by several white men dawning military gear and armed with assault rifles patrolling the streets.

It was eventually discovered they're part of a group known as the Oath Keepers.

Protest died down and as we were about to leave these guys showed up. #Oathkeepers #Ferguson pic.twitter.com/FLHxX9p159 — daniel shular (@xshularx) August 11, 2015

According to Newsweek, the men were there to serve as security for a journalist from Infowars.com, a website founded by the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Armed civilians, Oath Keepers, have shown up to "protect the businesses" of Ferguson. Said they were hired. pic.twitter.com/W6ONEJDoRD — Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) August 11, 2015

The Oath Keepers' website claims,

[The group is] a national organization of current and retired military and law enforcement personnel.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, however, characterizes the Oath Keepers as "a fiercely anti-government, militaristic group."

Others went further, labeling them as white supremacists.

They call themselves "oath keepers" but they're actually white supremacist. We're not dumb. #Ferguson #BlackLivesMatter — Robert Lewis (@Lewis8499R) August 11, 2015
The cops in #Ferguson are allowing the white supremacist, anti-gov group #OATHKEEPERS to help patrol the protests armed. What could go wrong — Left in the South (@BluedotGa) August 11, 2015

In spite of the group's startling appearance, police reportedly did not confront the Oath Keepers whatsoever -- a fact many found particularly troubling given peaceful protestors were arrested throughout the day.

Some Twitter users expressed how they found it difficult to believe black people carrying assault rifles would also be treated with such nonchalance by police.

12 y/o girl arrested yesterday @Nettaaaaaaaa arrested yesterday. Heavily armed white men don't even get ID's checked pic.twitter.com/8mOn9bpWWk — Shaun King (@ShaunKing) August 11, 2015
I wonder what would have happened if I showed up to a protest in Ferguson with a fuckin' AR-15. — IG: TechImmortal (@ImmortalTech) August 11, 2015
So @deray and journalists are arrested in #Ferguson but @Oathkeepers walk around with semi-automatic weapons w/o issue? #iseeyou — Calvin B. Lester Jr. (@CalvinBenLester) August 11, 2015

Missouri law allows individuals with concealed weapons permits to openly carry weapons unless they do so in an “angry or threatening manner," but it's not clear whether or not police asked the Oath Keepers to provide any documentation.

Regardless, with everything going on, many feel the presence of the Oath Keepers only serves to escalate tensions.

Correspondingly, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar characterized the group's presence in Ferguson as "both unnecessary and inflammatory."

This is not the first time the Oath Keepers showed up in Ferguson, but it's apparent many were upset by the timing of this most recent appearance.

Citations: Heavily Armed Oath Keepers Arrive in Riot Hit Ferguson (Newsweek), Emergency Declared in Ferguson After Shooting (NYT), Oath Keepers Turn Up at Michael Brown Protests in Ferguson Missouri (NBC News)