Maybe you’ve seen a photograph of John Karriman perched on top of a building in Ferguson, Missouri: a sturdy-looking white man with white hair wearing a camo jacket, wielding an assault rifle and a pensive expression. We saw these images and first learned about the Oath Keepers in the fall of 2015. Depending on who you talk to, the Oath Keepers are constitutionalists, gun rights activists, an antigovernment group, extremist nimrods—or somehow resist easy categorization. Confused about what they were doing in Ferguson, we got in touch with Karriman, who is the Spokesman for the Missouri chapter of the organization, and a Police Academy Instructor. We met Karriman in a meeting room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Joplin, a small city in southeastern Missouri. We spoke about the militarization of United States police forces, outsider politics, and the participation of Oath Keepers in the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri: in November 2014, after Darren Wilson’s exoneration by the Supreme Court, and again in August 2015, when they returned to Ferguson during the protests marking the anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder. Our conversation surprised us, and confused us for months.
The questions raised in this episode still feel very much unresolved. We are pursuing follow up conversations with people with different personal and/or political connections to this context. If you have strong responses to this episode, or ambivalent responses, we want to hear from you.
That’s not a badge, it’s a shield was produced by Sarah Mendelsohn and Fred Schmidt-Arenales. It was released on 2.13.2016. The episode is punctuated by sounds composed and produced by John Niekrasz, who is an incisive and thoughtful drummer, composer, teacher and writer. Visit his website here. Thank you to John Karriman. Thanks also to John Niekrasz, and to everyone who’s helped us think about this conversation so far.