Members of the Oath Keepers walk with their personal weapons on the street during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, on Tuesday.
Members of the Oath Keepers walk with weapons on a street during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, on Tuesday.Reuters

The presence of a heavily armed militia group, Oath Keepers, on the violence-marred streets of Ferguson during the Michael Brown death anniversary has raised several questions as to why its members were being allowed to openly carry weapons.

Members of Oath Keepers armed with automatic rifles and wearing bullet-proof vests patrolled the riot-torn streets in Ferguson, Missouri on early Tuesday. According to Reuters, they told civilians that they are there to protect a media organisation. Their presence, however, is making the largely black dominant area jittery. 

Johnetta Elzie, a civil rights activist, asked why were the Oath Keepers being allowed to carry weapons. "Would the blacks in Ferguson have been able to carry high-powered guns around St Louis so freely?" Elzie said, reported The Independent.

A state of emergency has been declared in Ferguson since Monday following reports of violence. 

Who are the Oath Keepers?

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organisation, the "Oath Keepers" are a "fiercely anti-government, militaristic group."

Here are few facts about them:

1. The group was founded in 2009 by Yale Law School graduate and former US Army paratrooper, Stewart Rhodes.

2.  Most Oath Keepers are either current or former US military and law enforcement personnel.

3. The armed outfit calls itself an American non-profit organisation.

4. One of the top dictates of the group is: "Disobey any order if they believe violate the Constitution of the United States."

5. The Oath Keepers website outlines a list of 10 "Orders" that its members will never obey, including orders to disarm the American people, conduct warrantless searches or "blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps."

6. It's the fourth "order" in the list, which has significance in the context of Ferguson. It states: "We will NOT obey order to impose martial law or a 'state of emergency' on a State."

7. The final item: "We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances."

8. Following the deadly attack on a Naval reserve centre in Chattanooga, Oath Keepers Founder, Stewart Rhodes asked all Americans: "Go armed, at all times, as free men and women, and be ready to do sudden battle, anywhere, anytime, and with utter recklessness. That is the price of freedom."

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