Oath Keepers Got Ammo Discount for Post-Election ‘Chaos’
The store offering the sale was until very recently run by police officers, including a member of the far-right militia group.
In the days before the Nov. 3 election, the far-right paramilitary group the Oath Keepers sent out an email warning: “No matter who wins, chaos is sure to follow.” Therefore, the missive said, die-hards should stock up on weapons and ammo at a cop-connected gun shop in Montana, which was offering a discount to members of the increasingly notorious militia group.
The Oath Keepers were prominent at the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, with members now facing charges for allegedly breaching the building and plotting to take lawmakers hostage. At least 150 people, including police officers, are accused of federal crimes in the saga. Leaders of the Oath Keepers, however, are also facing conspiracy charges, a development that suggests prosecutors are eyeing them as some of the attack’s central instigators.
But long before the attack, the group’s leadership drummed up calls to battle, talking of imminent hot civil war and urging members to take arms against an inevitable assault from the left.
Some of the Oath Keeper calls, which went out on email lists, directed members to use a special promotional code at the Western Montana Tactical Training Center, a gun shop and shooting range. At least until very recently, the shop was registered to a former sheriff’s deputy who was also an Oath Keepers member, as well as a second man who is currently a Montana Highway Patrol trooper.
The first man, Greg McWhirter, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that he was selling the business immediately, and that it would have new owners by Friday. The second, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Christopher Benson, told The Daily Beast that he no longer worked at the facility—in fact, that he had left before the election and the Oath Keeper deal last year—though he was listed on state business records as being affiliated with it as recently as this week. Neither man appears to have attended the Capitol riot.
Oath Keepers emails repeatedly promoted the store as its ammo dealer of choice.
“The election is days away, no matter who wins, chaos is sure to follow,” read one Oath Keepers email in late October. “Ammunition is already hard to get in many parts of the country, so Oath Keepers has struck a deal with ammunition supplier Western Montana Tactical Training Center to offer a special deal to our members for ammunition.”
The message offered an Oath Keepers-specific promotional code for the WMTTC website.
“As always,” it continued, “if you have the gear and ammo you need, please consider donating to Oath Keepers. Oath Keepers has been on the ground across the nation defending free speech against communist/Antifa violence; preparing our communities as part of our Community Preparedness Team (CPT) initiative; performing disaster relief; and preparing patriots for the struggle against the far-left terrorists Vice President Biden denies exist.”
Another Oath Keepers email from around the same time shared the discount code and warned that ammo supplies would likely sell fast. “We all saw the debate,” it read. “Former Vice President Biden is completely oblivious to the activities of his followers, the far left. As soon as he said ‘ANTIFA’ was an idea not an organization, it became clear, he has no intentions of using his influence to restrain the violence of the far left. So we must double our efforts to prepare.”
An email from after the election announced that “ammunition supplier Western Montana Tactical Training Center has renewed their deal with Oath Keepers to continue offering a special deal to our members for ammunition.”
At least one person appears to have taken the Oath Keepers up on the offer. “Appreciate the Oath Keepers discount,” one “verified buyer” wrote on the WMTTC’s review page on Jan. 12—a week after the Capitol attack.
Elsewhere, before the D.C. break-in, Trump supporters distributed the Oath Keeper emails on the notorious forum TheDonald.win, urging each other to use the promotional code “if anyone hasn't found ammo or still needs to gear up.”
A spokesperson for the Oath Keepers did not return a request for comment for this story.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, WMTTC owner Greg McWhirter told The Daily Beast that the deal was “just like anything else. You’re able to get a coupon from a coupon book. It’s the same thing. They [the Oath Keepers] asked about it, it’s the same thing… You can go to Groupon and get a coupon for Disneyland, it’s the same shit.”
Nevertheless, McWhirter said on Wednesday, he was in the process of closing up shop to sell the business the following day. Business filings with the Montana secretary of state reveal that WMTTC filed multiple documents early on Wednesday that transferred agency of the company from Benson, an officer who was sometimes listed in promotional materials as a co-owner, to McWhirter, who founded the shop.
McWhirter said he was selling the company due to COVID-related hardships. But while COVID-19 has undoubtedly crippled many businesses, the gun industry was among the few to experience a boom in 2020: By September of that year, Americans had purchased a record 17 million guns, “the highest total ever,” according to Small Arms Analytics.
Meanwhile, WMTTC advertises training for law enforcement, and in social media posts implies its staff are law enforcement officers themselves.
The center’s warm ties with police are not incompatible with its outreach to the militia group.
The Oath Keepers openly recruit law enforcement and military types. According to an Atlantic report last year, the group’s internal membership logs revealed that “about two-thirds had a background in the military or law enforcement. About 10 percent of these members were active-duty.”
McWhirter has long been an open member of both worlds. In a 2016 video alongside the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, McWhirter described himself as an Oath Keepers board member. He also detailed a “call to action” for Oath Keepers to monitor polling locations during the 2016 presidential elections. Although he stressed that members should be unarmed and non-confrontational, he cautioned viewers to be on the lookout for “busloads” of suspicious voters and “someone walking around with stacks and stacks of mail-in ballots.”
Those motifs would reappear in 2020 when supporters of Donald Trump falsely blamed his re-election loss on fraud. Ahead of the election, Rhodes warned that Oath Keepers would be standing guard outside voting sites to prevent fraud, and warned of bloodthirsty battles in the streets against the left, during which the Secret Service would “run out of bullets” slaughtering 20,000 leftists who would attack the White House. Rhodes, who also lived in Montana as of a 2018 domestic abuse allegation by his wife, was present at the Capitol on Jan. 6, but does not appear to have entered the building. (Rhodes denies the domestic violence allegations, and his wife’s petition for a restraining order was denied.)
Elsewhere, McWhirter has presented himself as an agent of law-enforcement. A Reveal News report that first disclosed his Oath Keepers membership in 2019 described him as “a sheriff’s deputy at the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office in Montana.” And McWhirter’s biography on the conspiratorial radio show Coast to Coast describes him as “a sheriff’s deputy in Indiana and Montana.”
Indeed, McWhirter was a deputy in Marion County, Indiana, court records show. But although notes from a Feb. 2019 public safety meeting in Ravalli County describe him as a sheriff’s deputy in Montana, the county’s sheriff said McWhirter’s actual role was not as straightforward.
“He did work for the Sheriff’s Office here as a probation officer,” Sheriff Stephen Holton told The Daily Beast. “There was a short time when he was considered a part-time deputy in that capacity, but that didn’t last.”
Holton said he couldn’t recall when McWhirter left his role, and McWhirter later told The Daily Beast the sheriff’s account was accurate.
Meanwhile, Benson—who was listed as the WMTTC’s agent until Wednesday, and was previously described as its co-owner—remains a Montana Highway Patrol Trooper, the department confirmed to The Daily Beast. But he does not appear to be affiliated with the Oath Keepers, and he denied having recent ties to the store. “I have nothing to do with them,” he told The Daily Beast. He said he cut ties with the business before it offered a discount to Oath Keepers in late October. (McWhirter, likewise, said Benson had “cashed out” in 2020 and was no longer affiliated.)
Even those law enforcement officers who do openly join the Oath Keepers are frequently allowed to hold posts in the paramilitary group and in police agencies simultaneously—though the group’s prominence at the Capitol Riot could change that.
Holton, the sheriff, said McWhirter had disclosed his Oath Keepers membership, which did not violate any department rules.
“Early on, when Greg was employed with us, he told me he was a board member,” Holton said. “As long as there’s no seditious acts or anything, there’s no rules being broken.”