A North Carolina state lawmaker appears on the membership roster of the Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary organization that played a prominent role in the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol.
Rep. Keith Kidwell, who serves on the Republican leadership team as a deputy whip in the NC House, is among some 38,000 people whose names appear on a membership roster leaked to the media after a hacker reportedly breached the Oath Keepers data. The entry for Kidwell includes a notation for "annual" and a date in 2012, suggesting he made at least one donation to the organization. Other names on the roster are coded "life" and "liberty tree," suggesting more robust levels of financial support. Kidwell was first elected to the NC House in 2018, representing rural Beaufort and Craven counties near the North Carolina coast.
Reached by phone at a number included in the Oath Keepers data, Kidwell declined to comment.
"I am not going to exacerbate a theft of data from any organization," he said. "I'm going to refuse comment since the information was ill-gotten. That is just protection of people's rights."
The data breach has also uncovered participation in the Oath Keepers by a southern California sheriff and the chief of staff for the New York Guard, a state volunteer force that augments the New York National Guard. Based on reporting by WNYC/Gothamist, the office of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio opened an investigation into three members of the New York Police Department whose names appeared on the roster. WNYC/Gothamist reported that it was able to identify dozens of current and former police, court and corrections officers in the New York City area, although the news outlet did not name the officers. The breach also disclosed the identity of an Oath Keeper member who is running for New York City Council.
The Oath Keepers was founded by Stewart Rhodes in 2009, shortly after the election of President Obama. The organization targets retired law enforcement and military veterans for recruitment based on a premise that they will uphold their oaths and resist a vaguely defined "tyranny." Long hostile towards the Black Lives Matter movement, the organization and its leader Rhodes took an increasingly radical stance during the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020 and in the runup to the 2020 presidential election.
To date, 22 members of associates of the Oath Keepers have received federal charges in connection with the assault on the US Capitol, with a majority accused of participating in a conspiracy to obstruct the electoral certification on Jan. 6. Five have already pleaded guilty.
"The Oath Keepers adhere to a dangerous doctrine, which is the insurrectionist doctrine of the Second Amendment," said Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino. "It says there is a constitutional and natural right to armed rebellion — a right of armed rebellion upon subjective determination of government tyranny."
While declining comment on the inclusion of his name on the Oath Keepers' membership roster, Kidwell told Raw Story he doesn't believe the information should be in the public domain.
"I think you using the data is just as criminal as somebody going in and stealing it," he said.
According to the Freedom Forum, founded by former USA Today publisher Al Neuharth, "There's no official standard for when it's a crime for a journalist to publish leaked information, because the government has never prosecuted such a case." The nonprofit also advises that "a journalist can't be punished for publishing info that was obtained illegally, as long as the journalist didn't do anything illegal."
In 1971, the US Supreme Court upheld the right of news organizations to publish the Pentagon Papers, even though Daniel Ellsberg, the private contractor who leaked the materials, was prosecuted for violations of the Espionage Act. In 2001, the Supreme Court expanded the press freedom to include materials obtained from private citizens. In Bartnicki v. Vopper, the court held by a 6-3 majority that "the First Amendment protects the disclosure of illegally intercepted communications by parties who did not participate in the illegal interception."
NC House Speaker Tim Moore did not respond to calls from Raw Story seeking comment on Kidwell's information turning up on the Oath Keepers membership roster.
Four months after taking office in the NC House, Kidwell met with members of the NC Sons of Confederate Veterans at a reception in Raleigh that was attended by other lawmakers. At the time, the group was lobbying lawmakers to protect Confederate statues after students and antiracists tore down the Silent Sam monument at UNC-Chapel Hill in August 2018. The University of North Carolina System eventually reached a settlement to give the Silent Sam monument to the NC Sons of Confederate Veterans, but a judge later overturned it.
Kidwell's legislative track record includes sponsored bills to prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, and to increase punishments against individuals who point laser devices against law enforcement officers during protests. Another bill sponsored by Kidwell would allow private citizens to bring civil action against local jurisdictions seen as violating state law by enacting so-called "sanctuary" ordinances, which prevent law enforcement agencies from gathering information on citizenship and legal status, and then sharing it with federal authorities.
A handful of pending bills addressed concealed-carry laws in NC — a Second Amendment issue that is a top concern among the Oath Keepers membership. One would authorize state prosecutors and other officials to carry concealed firearms while performing their official duties, while another would carve out an exemption to allow emergency medical personnel to carry concealed weapons while assisting law enforcement.
This story was produced in partnership with Triad City Beat.