(WGHP) — Leaked information has revealed just how large the footprint of right-wing extremist groups could be in North Carolina.

A report released Wednesday revealed thousands of names on a registry belonging to far-right extremist militia group the Oath Keepers. Hundreds of the people who appear on this register are law enforcement, elected officials and members of the military. 

The Associated Press reported that The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism reviewed thousands of names that appeared on leaked membership lists belonging to the Oath Keepers and identified hundreds of people who work in aspects of “public life,” such as elected officials, first responders, police officers and the military.

It also identified more than 80 people who were running for or served in public office as of early August. The membership information was compiled into a database published by the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets.

Of the over 38,000 names on the database, North Carolina boasts 1,180 names. Only seven other states had more Oath Keepers on the database; Texas, California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Ohio.

Texas has the highest number of registered Oath Keepers, with over 3,300 individuals. New York has the highest concentration of law enforcement officers with 45 names on the database being associated with the police. Virginia had the most names associated with military members at 15. 

Appearing in the Oath Keepers' database doesn't prove that a person was ever an active member of the group or agrees with the Oath Keeper ideology. 

Who are Oath Keepers?

The Southern Poverty Law Center says that the Oath Keepers were founded in 2009 by Elmer "Stewart" Rhodes, a former paratrooper and Yale Law School Graduate. The group was officially launched with a rally in Lexington, Massachusetts, on Apr. 19, 2009.

The SPLC says that the group, a highly militaristic anti-government militia, consists of national leadership and state, county and local chapters. Rhodes reportedly claimed in 2014 the group had 35,000 dues-paying members that were "mostly" current and former military, law enforcement and emergency first responders. 

The leaked report did not support Rhodes' claim. While there were over 38,000 names on the list, that doesn't indicate active, due-paying membership and the ones that the ADL were able to verify as military, law enforcement and first responders only numbered in the hundreds, a far cry from 'mostly.'

Oath Keepers in North Carolina

Of the nearly 1,200 people from North Carolina on this list, 22 of them were either a politician, police officers, first responders or active duty military.

The full breakdown for North Carolina looks like this:

  • Elected Officials: 3
  • Law Enforcement: 9
  • Military: 9
  • First Responders: 1

It isn't just first responders or associated jobs on the database. Also among those listed are religious figures, teachers, civil engineers, and government employees. 

According to the ADL, someone identified as "an educator and pastor based in White Oak, North Carolina" told the group that "his skills include, 'Public speaking, membership drives, have current access and interaction with many current and retired servicemembers through church and my current work as quality control director for a [sic] assault weapons manufacturer.'"

Capitol Riot involvement

More than two dozen people associated with the Oath Keepers have been charged in connection with January 6 Capitol Riots, including in the Triad.

Laura Steele was a former law enforcement officer from the High Point area who was arrested and charged in connection to the Capitol Riot was identified as an Oath Keeper. A 31-page indictment details the involvement of the Oath Keepers in the insurrection. 

Steele is charged with conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging any duties, destruction of government property and aiding and abetting, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, civil disorder and aiding and abetting along with the other members identified. 

She is also charged with tampering with documents after she allegedly burned evidence in a pit in her backyard. Laura Steele was with the High Point Police Department for 12 years but was terminated in August of 2004. 

Public records show Steele was terminated for conduct toward superiors, absence from duty and violation of communications policy. She was working as a security guard at the time of the riot.

Steele’s husband served as assistant police chief at the High Point Police Department from 2015 until his retirement on January 1, 2021.