Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco was a contributing member of the Oath Keepers in 2014, an affiliation he acknowledges and makes no apologies for despite the group’s reputation as a militia of anti-government extremists.
Members of the Oath Keepers were said to have played a key role in taking the nation’s Capitol during the “Stop the Steal” rally in January. Bianco, however, defended the group as a pro-Constitution and pro-freedom organization mislabeled by the FBI and mainstream media.
Bianco’s unique membership – along with the memberships of around 40,000 others, including current and former law enforcement and military personnel nationwide – have come to light after hackers hacked into the website of Oath Keepers and used their data.
The information was made available to the media by Distributed Denial of Secrets, also known as DDoSecrets, a subversive whistleblower group founded in 2018. Its members use cape and dagger nicknames such as The Lorax and The Architect and secure web browsers so that information can be disseminated anonymously. The group has been described as an offshoot of Wikileaks.
Bianco’s involvement was first made public on Monday in a Tweet by JJ MacNab, researcher and expert on extremist organizations at George Washington University who has followed the Oath Keepers since their formation in 2009 and, more recently, the activities of Bianco. She said Bianco appeared on her radar when she heard him describe himself as “the last line of defense against the excesses of the tyrannical government” on her podcast, RSO Roundup.
“When there are enough red flags, I start to pay attention,” MacNab said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Political lightning rod
Bianco, who was elected Riverside County Sheriff in 2018, has drawn strong criticism from the left, but praise from his Tory supporters for his strident stances. He has been a vocal critic of COVID-19 vaccine warrants, mask warrants and trade restrictions since the pandemic forced businesses statewide to shut down in March 2020.
Last month he said he would not require sheriff’s department employees or job applicants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 despite a state public health order requiring vaccinations or testing regular coronavirus disease for those who work in prisons.
In a telephone interview with the Southern California News Group, Bianco said he had forgotten everything about his affiliation with Oath Keepers until the data breach on his website and the publicity surrounding his involvement with the organization. shake the memory.
“I found an email from 2014 where I joined for a year. I don’t even remember it. It was an email saying, “Thanks for joining. “I paid for a year of membership,” he said in the interview.
Bianco believes he was made aware of Oath Keepers by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), another organization he was affiliated with at the time and signed on as a member.
MacNab said the CSPOA is another anti-government fringe group. “They’re probably even more controversial than the Oath Keepers, but they’re relatively small,” she said. The group believes county sheriffs are the most powerful law enforcement offices in the country, overtaking federal and state law enforcement, and have the power to disregard any law they see fit. unconstitutional, MacNab said.
She said Bianco, who was a lieutenant in the sheriff’s department when he joined Oath Keepers in 2014, signed up at a time when he was “growing by leaps and bounds” and gaining media attention. The Oath Keepers, MacNab said, were involved in the standoff at Bundy Ranch in Nevada in the spring of 2014 and the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri in August of that year following the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.
Oath Keepers officials did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Bianco has always stood firm.
“I’m not ashamed of what I did in 2014,” Bianco said, adding that he had nothing to do with the violation of the United States Capitol on January 6. “I was vocally against what happened there. What they did – the few who entered the building – was completely wrong and against the law and they should be held accountable. . “
He said the ill-advised and illegal actions of several individual members of Oath Keepers do not justify the mainstream media and the FBI describing the entire group as an “anti-government militia.” He said members of far-left militant organizations like Antifa and Black Lives Matter committed acts of violence and vandalism, with far less attention from the media and the FBI.
“Why was it not done with antifa and Black Lives Matter?” said Bianco. “I lost faith in the FBI a long time ago. The line workers are top notch. Their administration does not have to wear a badge. They moved away from impartial law enforcement a long time ago. “
“Of monumental importance”
Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, called Bianco’s affiliation with Oath Keepers “monumental.”
“He is the most senior law enforcement official among the largest agencies to be linked to this militant insurgency group,” Levin said.
As for Bianco’s comments on antifa and Black Lives Matter, Levin said that while the violent hard left has indeed become increasingly active in recent years, the overwhelming majority of extremist plots and homicides in the United States during of the last decade have come from the far right. , anti-government extremists.
Regarding Bianco’s comments on the FBI, Levin said: “Someone who runs a department that serves the 10th largest county in the country, but reported no hate crimes in 2020, the worst year ever. national since 2001, it might be better to assess the effectiveness of its own agency, rather than launching imaginary spades at my colleagues in the office.
Bianco’s statements infuriated Levin so much that he resigned from the Inland Empire Terrorism Early Warning Group on Tuesday, which includes the Riverside County and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Departments. Levin, a former New York City police officer, was a member for over 15 years. The group, made up of civilians and law enforcement officials, coordinates planned regional responses to terrorist attacks.
Although Levin has said he has not been active in the group for years, he said he will no longer remain a member as long as Bianco is sheriff in Riverside County.
Anaheim Sergeant inscribed
Another name appearing on the leaked Oath Keepers membership list is that of Anaheim Police Sgt. Michael Lynch, a nearly 30-year veteran of the department. Lynch’s LinkedIn profile indicates that he is a supervisor in the agency’s investigations division.
“I have experience in the fight against fraud and narcotics and have been a supervisor of community policing, patrols and SWAT,” says his profile. “From 1992 to 2006, I had patrol, field training officer, gang detachment, crime task force, and tourist-focused policing assignments. I was promoted to sergeant in 2006.
Lynch declined to comment on Wednesday whether he remained affiliated with the Oath Keepers. However, he told USA Today last week that he joined the Oath Keepers many years ago, but did not renew his membership when he learned more about the group.
“I didn’t get anything out of it,” he said in an interview with the newspaper. “There wasn’t a local or anything, so when it came time to renew, I figured I wasn’t sending $ 40 more.”
An internal affairs investigation has been launched into Lynch’s Oath Keepers membership, said Sgt. Shane Carringer, spokesperson for the Anaheim Police Department.
“We have policies that deal with conduct and behavior after hours of work, but at the same time officers have the same constitutional rights as any citizen,” he said Wednesday. “All we have right now are allegations of membership in the Oath Keepers. Information is also in conflict over the purpose of the organization from then (when Lynch joined) until now.
Oath Keepers Arrested Under Siege
In the nine months since the siege of the United States Capitol, more than 600 people across the country have been arrested for crimes related to the violation, including at least 185 people accused of assaulting or hindering law enforcement. About 20 people identified as members of Oath Keepers were involved, authorities said.
Last month Jason Dolan, 45, a member of the Oath Keepers of Wellington, Fla., Pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of obstructing an official for his role in the offense, making him the third Oath Keeper to be sentenced in the lawsuit.
Dolan, according to the FBI, conspired with other members to bring firearms to the event, including an M4 rifle, which Donland dropped off with at least one of his co-conspirators at an Arlington hotel, in Virginia.
Bianco said that he sees Oath Keepers as a group that supports and respects the oath he took as a peace officer and sheriff – to defend the constitutions of the United States and California and to stand up for themselves. protect against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
“In today’s politically toxic environment,” he said, “if you support the Constitution of the United States of America, you are bad – you are seen as an evil right-wing conspirator.
Editors Tony Saavedra and Nikie Johnson contributed to this report.