The Chicago Police Department is denying a report from National Public Radio that says the Department has 13 active members of the Oath Keepers, an extremist right-wing group known for its white supremacist views and its involvement in the January 6 insurrection.
A story by NPR and WNYC/Gothamist last November showed Oath Keepers has active officers in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago on its membership roster, with Chicago showing the most members of the nation’s three biggest cities.
In response to the report, the Chicago Police Department in an emailed statement said, “Chicago Police Department members are expected to conduct themselves with the highest level of professionalism both on and off-duty. Allegations of CPD members violating Department policy are investigated thoroughly, and members are afforded due process during the course of these investigations. The Bureau of Internal Affairs thoroughly investigated this case and reached a finding of ‘not sustained,’ based on the evidence available.”
That investigation was blasted by Inspector General Deborah Witzburg, who complained that the Department did not review personnel records and other documents of Phillip Singto, the only police officer named in the NPR report, which included anonymous statements from other officers with alleged ties to the Oath Keepers.
The report was based on a leaked Oath Keepers’ database that NPR obtained through a non-profit collective, Distributed Denial of Secrets, which received the records from an anonymous person who hacked the records from Oath Keepers’ web servers.
The Crusader contacted NPR with ethical questions about using hacked data in its story, but the news outlet did not respond by press time Wednesday, January 25, for the print edition.
The leak included some of the group’s chat logs, emails and a list of nearly 40,000 entries about current and former members. NPR verified the records with social media posts and LinkedIn accounts.
The investigation led NPR to identify 13 Chicago police officers who are active members, on the Oath Keepers’ list.
According to its story, the Chicago officers range in age from 42 to 54 and are white, Hispanic and or Asian/Pacific heritage. The story also said five officers work in “training and support,” which includes firearms training.
Among the 13 police officers is a uniformed cop whom NPR quoted anonymously in the story after he told the news outlet he joined Oath Keepers but allowed his membership to lapse after many years with the group.
“I didn’t even know this thing still existed,” he said in the story. The NPR story said in the leaked database, that the officer had a listed address of a city police station where he confirmed he was working in 2009.
One story among the leaked documents is that of Phillip Singto. According to the story, Singto has an address in Chicago. NPR found a sworn officer working in CPD’s training and support unit by the same name.
The LinkedIn profile found by NPR for Singto in the Greater Chicago Area lists experience as a firearms instructor at the Chicago Police Academy and mentions “Oath Keepers” under the “Accomplishments Section.”
NPR reported that the social media page indicates Singto also works as a firearms trainer in a personal capacity. NPR published a screenshot of a portion of Singto’s LinkedIn account page.
In its story, NPR said it contacted Singto for comment, but he did not respond.
On January 13, the Sun-Times reported that Chicago police’s top brass came under fire for a second time in a week after the city’s Inspector General questioned the thoroughness of an internal investigation into Singto’s alleged ties to Oath Keepers following NPR’s publication of the story.
Inspector Witzburg complained that the Department declined to review personnel records and other documents that may have shown the level of Singto’s activity in the group, whose members have been implicated in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Locally, Police Superintendent David Brown and Mayor Lori Lightfoot face calls to fire Chicago police officer Robert Bakker, who was suspended for just four months after he lied to investigators about his ties to the Proud Boys, a right wing group that was formed when former President Donald Trump took office in 2016.
In a letter dated January 5, the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled the Proud Boys a hate group and urged Lightfoot and Brown to fire Bakker. Brown said there isn’t enough evidence to remove Bakker from the force.
The Oath Keepers was founded in 2009 in reaction to the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first Black president. Oath Keepers’ founder Stewart Rhodes and additional members are on trial for their involvement in the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building.
On Monday, January 23, Oath Keepers Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel and Edward Vallejo were convicted of seditious conspiracy for trying to keep President Trump in office after his 2020 election defeat. Federal prosecutors said while Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, Vallejo, an Army veteran, stayed in a Virginia hotel room stocked with rifles and sent frequent texts offering to ferry weapons into Washington, D.C., if needed. The men face up to 20 years in prison and a fine.
Oath Keepers is also known to spew white supremacist views at racial justice protests. The group reportedly has 38,000 members, and many believe there are hundreds working in law enforcement agencies, military branches and political governments.
While claiming to defend the U.S. Constitution, Oath Keepers patrolled the site of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, and polling locations in 2016 and 2020, allegedly to discourage and report voter fraud. Oath Keepers’ members have provided security for events and for individuals promoting “Stop the Steal” after the 2020 election.
In its bombshell story, NPR spoke to more CPD members who were on the Oath Keepers’ database.
According to NPR’s story, one CPD member acknowledged that he joined Oath Keepers more than a decade ago, and agreed to speak anonymously. He said he was among a handful of officers who joined because they felt that Chicago’s ban on handguns, which the U.S. Supreme Court eventually struck down, was unconstitutional.
The story also said despite telling NPR that he doesn’t engage in social media, the CPD member shared personal details that “matched to a Facebook page, including his name, military service and residences in both Chicago and a state other than Illinois.”
According to the story, that page “included several photos uploaded in March 2015 that included imagery to suggest an affiliation with the Oath Keepers.”
The story also said that a day after the uniformed CPD employee spoke with NPR, the Facebook profile had been changed and the biographical details stripped out; photos that included Oath Keepers’ iconography were removed.
In the story, NPR said it spoke with two CPD members it identified as matches on the Oath Keepers’ database. They denied ever joining the anti-government group. The story said one suggested that a third party had signed him up for the group as “a sort of setup to get police officers.” NPR said the other CPD members it identified did not respond to voicemails and emails.
The story also included an emailed statement from CPD, which NPR said it received from the Department. CPD said it has launched an investigation and said while members have a First Amendment right to express their views, it has “zero tolerance for hate or extremism within CPD.”
The story also said Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General would not comment on the record.
NPR said it found two members of the New York Police Department who were on the Oath Keepers’ database, but said the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau did not find any evidence that showed they were involved in the group’s activities.
No members of the Los Angeles Police Department were found on the Oath Keepers’ list. However, NPR said it found the names of three officers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that matched information in the Oath Keepers’ database. When contacted by NPR, one said, “No comment” before hanging up. NPR said the other two did not respond to voicemail and email messages.
The Sheriff’s Department is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the country and runs one of the largest jail systems in the world.
In previous years, one of the three posted a link to the Oath Keepers’ website on his public Twitter account.
The story quoted Priscilla Ocen, the chair of the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission, who said they have “a problem with white supremacy in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.”