After members of the Oath Keepers appeared on the frontlines of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, the organization’s inboxes were flooded with emails. Some came from prospective members looking to join the group. Others came from members who wanted out.
The would-be Oath Keepers and defectors had a common complaint: They had sent money to the far-right group and never heard from it again.
A cache of internal Oath Keepers emails was made public this week by the transparency group Distributed Denial of Secrets. The leak, first reported by The Daily Dot, includes messages from a number of Oath Keepers chapters, as well as inboxes used for the paramilitary group’s recruiting efforts. But some of those recruitment campaigns left prospective members feeling scammed.
One prospective member, Coy Castleberry, gave up on the organization before fully enrolling.
“I still haven’t heard anything on my membership package,” Castleberry wrote the Oath Keepers in March. “Last I was told is it was being put together a month ago or close to a month ago. Let me Know when I can expect it. I won’t contact my local chapter until I have my membership package. So please get that to me. If you don’t want me as a member please refund my membership fee.”
The leaks indicate that the emails, including Castleberry’s, reached the inbox of Edward Durfee, an Oath Keeper currently running for state assembly in New Jersey. Durfee appears to have forwarded those emails to other Oath Keepers email addresses, although it is unclear whether he personally forwarded the emails or they were automatically redirected. (Neither Durfee nor the Oath Keepers returned requests for comment.)
Castleberry confirmed the email’s authenticity and said he never received a follow-up.
“No, I did not,” Castleberry told The Daily Beast via email. “Have never even received an answer from them. I will not renew my membership. They do send me email from time to time. But I’m done with them will not renew.” (He later clarified that while he believed the Oath Keepers had sent him an email about assembling a membership package, the group went quiet and did not return multiple follow-up emails.)
Durfee does appear to have answered at least one annoyed applicant, writing in January that onboarding issues were the product of “the lefty attacks... Membership will process as soon as they can.” (“I joined and paid my dues over a month ago and have heard NOTHING since,” the applicant had written. “I’m extremely disappointed.”)
Other aspiring members expressed similar grievances.
In February, an Alabama man emailed the group that, “I have attempted many times to reach out to the local chapter. They only responded one time and said they would reach out for more information or to set up a meeting, but that was weeks ago.. haven’t heard a thing since. I have joined oathkeepers with a recurring payment of 10 dollars per month and I haven’t received anything from National or local level. I can’t even login to the website yet...just sort of feel like I’m out here on my own....”
“I am a former Police Officer,” another applicant wrote in February. “I filled out the initial application on your website, 2 months ago. I gave my Credit Card information and my Account was charged $ 50.00 for full membership. I never received any response from Oath Keepers. I tried to reach you via email, when I first attempted to become a member... those efforts showed negative results. Any help in this matter will be appreciated.”
One applicant, who did not return a request for comment but claimed to be a retired Navy commander, accused the Oath Keepers of being an illegitimate organization.
“I joined back in November and I have received NOTHING, not one thing from you all except you took my $50 membership and told me you were backed up so the membership package might take a little time. Well from November to February is not a LITTLE time. So if you want to keep me as a member, you need to HONOR your obligation! I am also not given access to the forums or other stuff online and when I go to Contact you NO, no info, phone number or email. I just found this one on the listings looking for the state chapter of which I have received NO RESPONSE FROM either!
“I joined thinking I was to be part of an organization that did what it says. If this is a bogus organization now, why did you take my money? Do I have to contact someone more official to resolve all this? I expect to hear from someone who can fix all this very soon.”
Another correspondent, who did not return a request for comment but appears to be a recently retired fire department leader, questioned whether the Oath Keepers were simply out for money.
“I had heard of oathkeepers from a coworker but was hesitant since I was still employed with a government organization,” he wrote. “After retiring, I decided to join. I requested info on local contacts and ways to be involved but have yet to hear anything. I feel like it was all about the money and that is very disappointing.”
Long-running questions about the Oath Keepers’ membership and fundraising have intensified this year, following the group’s involvement in the Jan. 6 attack.
An internal membership log, reviewed by BuzzFeed in May, suggested that new recruitment had slumped by spring 2021. That lackluster enrollment (which followed a boom in membership in late 2020) came as more than a dozen Oath Keepers were indicted in a conspiracy case for their alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 attack. Donations to the Oath Keepers’ crowdfunding efforts hit a similar early-2021 slump, BuzzFeed noted: although the group had pulled in hundreds of thousands during past campaigns, its post-Jan. 6 fundraiser fell far short of its goal. Bank records reviewed by the Wall Street Journal earlier this year suggested that Oath Keepers’ leadership had spent the organization’s money on car repairs, liquor, cellphone games, and undisclosed items at an adult entertainment shop.
Not all the post-Jan. 6 emails came from prospective members. Some of the messages claimed to be from disenchanted members who wished to quit. Like their peers in the Oath Keepers’ onboarding inbox, they too struggled to reach anyone in charge.
“I sent a membership cancellation to OK [Oath Keepers] on 7 Jan and another on 11 Jan, both to the only email addresses I could find,” wrote one woman, who did not return a request for comment. “I am sending another cancellation request. I am not asking for a refund, I just want confirmation that my membership has been cancelled.”