EDITOR'S NOTE: In our “state of hate” series we have attempted to avoid using the names of specific hate groups. In this report, it couldn’t be avoided. But Jason van Tatenhove’s former group is, by no means, the only extremist group active in Florida.
The Oath Keepers, an extremist, armed militia gained members, money, and power in the years leading up to the January 6, 2021 insurrection at our nation's Capital.
Jason Van Tatenhove, the former chief propagandist for the group, warned that the anti-government organization remains a dangerous threat.
The ABC Action News I-team's new series “State of Hate” is digging into the growth of extremist groups across Florida. Van Tatenhove agreed to share his insider’s story with ABC Action News after testifying before the January 6th Committee.
Van Tatenhove, who said he’s always had a healthy distrust of government, met the group at a Nevada ranch in 2014 during an armed standoff between several militia groups and federal agents.
The organization gained notoriety after backing the owner of the Bundy cattle ranch who refused to pay fees for grazing on government-owned land. Van Tatenhove said the event was one of several in which the Oath Keepers squared off against law enforcement with little consequence.
“They pointed, you know, assault rifles across the way at federal law enforcement agents, and then basically got off scot-free,” Van Tatenhove said.
Van Tatenhove worked for the Oath Keepers as their national spokesperson between 2015 and 2016.
“As I was exposed to it every day and really helped to craft a lot of the propaganda they are doing and seeing how certain stories were handled, I started drinking the Kool-aid and got sucked into it,” he said.
“I couldn't stomach it anymore.”
He cut ties with the group in 2016 after hearing fellow members discussing the Holocaust.
“Several associates in a public deli talking about how the Holocaust had never happened,” he said. “I couldn't stomach it anymore.”
Van Tatenhove, a writer and podcaster who covers all things local around his home in rural Colorado, watched the attack on the nation’s Capitol on TV. The battle and bloodshed over the election fueled Van Tatenhove’s road to redemption.
“I’ve been calling out extremists for what they are,” he said.
Earlier this year he warned the January 6th committee that the Oath Keepers remain a threat, telling the committee, “This could have been the spark that started a new civil war.”
Growing membership, little accountability
Georgetown Law professor and former federal prosecutor Mary McCord heads up the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP). ICAP’S report, submitted to the January 6th Committee in March, detailed the activities of the Oath Keepers and other extremist groups.
“They've been allowed to really sort of grow and proliferate over the years with very little accountability for their extremist rhetoric and their extremist activity,” Professor McCord told the I-team:
The report stated the Oath Keepers in recent years provided armed security at rallies led by extremist organizations. It also laid out how the militia used social media to round up those with military experience.
Federal agents arrested Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, several Florida-based Oath Keepers, and more than 700 others connected to the attack on The Capitol. But new data showed the loss of life and arrests that followed, have yet to deter the growth of this group in the Sunshine State and across the county.
A 2021 data leak of the Oath Keeper’s membership revealed 38,000 names. According to the Anti-Defamation League, more than 2700 are Floridians. Of those, 600 are elected officials, law enforcement officers, military, or first responders.
The ICAP report also found that “recent polling suggests alarming numbers of Americans believe that violence against the government may be justified."
SUBHEAD: “Formers” should come forward
Van Tatenhove is writing a book about his life with the militia.
“It's going over my experience from day one of meeting and getting embedded with Stewart Rhodes,” he said.
Professor McCord said more "formers," as she calls them, need to come forward to warn and educate the public.
“People who have been formally involved with extremist organizations are so important to help not only dissuade others from getting involved but to help community organizations, researchers, and government officials,” she said.
Van Tatenhove told the I-team he hoped would-be supporters of any extremist movement hear his story and step away.
“That is the best I can hope for,” he said.
"What to do if you are victimized or see a hate crime?"
If you are a victim of or witness a hate crime, you should reach out to your local law enforcement immediately.
You can also report the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
You can also report the incident to the Anti-Defamation League on the organization's website.
Organizations Fighting Hate Groups & Resources