Sheriff Chad Bianco, of Riverside County, California, has admitted he was a dues-paying member of the extremist Oath Keeper militia in 2014 when he served as a lieutenant in the department. “I’m not ashamed,” he told reporters with the Southern California News Group.
Bianco — a bombastic figure who recently billed himself as “the last line of defense from tyrannical government overreach” — was elected Sheriff in 2018 and is the top law enforcement officer in the fourth most populous county in California and 10th most populous in the country. The county extends east from Los Angeles, encompassing the city of Riverside, as well as Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park. The mayor of Palm Springs has called on Bianco to resign: “The Sheriff’s association with this group is offensive to all those who believe in American democracy,” tweeted Christy Gilbert Holstege. “He should resign immediately. The people of Riverside County deserve better.”
Bianco’s past membership in the Oath Keepers was made public by JJ MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, in a tweet on Tuesday. MacNab discovered Bianco’s affiliation in a massive trove of hacked Oath Keeper data, including membership rolls and email correspondence, posted by the nonprofit transparency group Distributed Denial of Secrets or DDoSecrets. The Oath Keepers are described as “one of the largest far-right anti-government groups” in the country, with “a long history of engaging in and promoting their own form of vigilante justice,” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Read Rolling Stone‘s explainer on the group, which recruits from law enforcement and the military, and whose members were active in storming the Capitol on January 6th.
The Oath Keepers were officially launched at a rally in 2009 following the election of the country’s first Black president, Barack Obama, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its members have a long history of vigilante justice as armed militias showing up at protests against police brutality and patrolling polling locations for alleged voter fraud, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.
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