In our first installment on the Oath Keepers data dump, we met Ed Durfee Jr and Brett Wynkoop, respectively the membership director and system administrator for the Oath Keepers. When the organization was abruptly deplatformed in the wake of the Capitol riots on January 6, they worked night and day to get the website back online and restore the Oath Keepers' command and control network. Since then the Oath Keepers chat server has been taken offline, leaving many of them back where they were at the beginning of the year - isolated, angry, and alone.
Founder Stewart Rhodes liked to boast that the Oath Keepers' membership numbered over 30,000. Yet only a few rallied to the call last spring. Out of 4500 granted access to their private chat by Wynkoop - or his more dashing online persona, John Paul Jones - fewer than 300 took up the invitation. And for those who did, it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
Today, we examine what happened when Stewart Rhodes replaced the Florida state chapter leader a day after the Capitol riots. John Odell was supposed to bring stability to an organization in crisis, but instead he amassed a trove of social security numbers and concealed carry permits, and granted fully vetted membership status to a 17 year old boy.
FLAGLER COUNTY SOLID: SNAKE EATER
In the aftermath of J6, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes faced an uncomfortable fact: among the many Oath Keepers who had participated, the Florida contingent was a problem. Just a day before members had been photographed providing security for Roger Stone, and on January 6 itself members from Florida were in the thick of the action.
Florida was the Oath Keepers' second-largest state chapter after Texas, but arrests might decapitate the command structure there and leave the members adrift. (Rhodes' fears were well-founded; 9 of the 20 Oath Keepers indicted so far hail from the sunshine state.) There was no time to lose.
Rhodes decided to make a clean sweep. On January 7, he appointed a new state leader, someone he could trust to hold the chapter together, strictly vet new members, and weather the coming legal and political storms. His name was John Odell.
Palm Coast is a small city in northeast Florida, midway between Jacksonville and Daytona. It’s population of 80,000 makes it the only city in Flagler County and one of America’s fastest growing communities, doubling in size over the last 20 years. Remarkably, it’s also home to no less than 28 current or former Oath Keepers, among the densest concentrations in the state. Odell lives a few miles north of town, on a half acre of densely wooded land a stone’s throw form the Matanzas river.
We know little about Odell beyond the bare facts of his identity: he takes opsec seriously and has left few digital footprints. Like other senior Oath Keepers, he uses Signal for day-to-day communications. Otherwise he maintains a low profile, using a VPN for most internet access and maintaining a relatively bland social media presence that gives little away. He does not even appear in the main membership database that Ed Durfee had backed up in 2020.
For two months after J6 he remained in the shadows, his only electronic trace in the data leak being a $50 donation to the Oath Keepers ‘Disaster Relief Fund’ made with his Visa card on February 3rd.
But when Oath Keepers system administrator Brett Wynkoop - or his more dashing online persona, ‘John Paul Jones’ - sent out a mass email from the Oathkeepers.org website to tell members that they had a secure chat server up and running, Odell rushed to plug in. At first he had problems establishing an account on the new server, writing to Wynkoop on the morning of March 9 from his personal email account:
Subject: Re: \[Oath Keepers Chat\] Account Approved Date: 03-09021 09:27 From: zhtod@****_._** To: firstname.lastname@example.org
I am Florida state leader (since Jan 7), but cannot access the Rocket Chat.
Please advise how we can make possible. Thanks!
Wynkoop hurried to assist and advised him that he could take over the email@example.com account. By the following day, Odell’s chat and email accounts on oathkeepers.org were both working. His chat alias was ‘zhtod’, the same as his personal email - a small but puzzling lapse in security. He immediately joined the Florida chatroom, where 8 other Oath Keepers had already shown up.
2021-03-10 22:17:39 zhtod Hello Patiots! Greeting from Flagler county! ATTN -- All that are actually living in Florida!!! Send me email to get plugged into State chapter --- FL@OATHKEEPERS.ORG
From then on, Odell was all business in the Florida channel, as befit his status. He followed up with every existing member and any new entrants to the chat would get a request within hours for an email to begin the vetting process.
Between January and March, Odell only had to deal with existing members. Fully vetted members in each state chapter had access to a private Signal group and had already been screened before Odell took over. Odell recognized some, like ‘Reverend’ Michael McKay, a registered nurse and Liberty tree member from Seminole. But there were several new members, who had automatic access to the chat server. Odell began checking them one by one.
The vetting process began simply enough and grew in complexity as it went on. At first Odell just solicited a few personal details - name, address, contact details, social media links, and whether the member was retired or working. Members were asked to submit a photocopy of their driver’s license or state ID for verification. Those who had a valid Concealed Carry (CCW) permit could submit it and be fast-tracked; otherwise, Odell asked them to provide their Social Security Number for a background check.
Although Oath Keepers were making the news on weekly basis due to members getting arrested - many on serious charges - potential applicants were undaunted and willingly handed over their personal information, with several providing very high quality copies of their identity documents.
From there, Odell would follow up with questions about whether they had served in the military or law enforcement, and if so with which branch, and what experience and skills they had. He was also eager to hear about Continuing Professional Training (CPT) in areas like communications, engineering, intelligence, and security, as well as more conventional disaster preparedness like fire and medical response.
A third set of questions, reproduced in full below, asked members to affirm a commitment to civil society and reject illegality. We can’t say when this was added to the Oath Keepers' vetting procedure, but first appears in March 2021 and is not present in older recruitment emails that LCRW has reviewed. Its bland and vague tone seem at odds with the fiery rhetoric from Rhodes himself about the revolutionary power of a militia as documented in part I of our series.
- Oath Keepers support the U.S. Constitution and honor our oaths to it. We support Constitutional law and order. Do you agree with those principles?
- . We are not an anti-government or a hate group of any kind. Would you agree to and uphold that sentiment?
- Our primary mission is the furtherance of Citizen Civil Preparedness. We train ourselves and other members of the community. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, gender or religion. Do you agree with this statement?
- Sometimes Oath Keepers are tasked with armed security details. Oath Keepers maintain a defensive posture on these missions, while adhering to the laws of the jurisdiction. Do you agree with that position?
In any case, every member who submitted a vetting application answered yes to all four questions. Once Odell had reviewed their application, he would contact them for a 5 or 10 minute chat, and if he was satisfied grant them admission to a Signal group.
ENTER THE VIPER
In most cases the process went smoothly - but not all. On March 16, a new member joined the Florida chat, calling himself ‘Viper Strike.’ Odell dispatched an email in the usual fashion and received a prompt response. But though ‘Viper Strike’ had a valid CCW as requested and had been on the Oath Keepers' mailing list since 2019, he had no military or law enforcement background. After several days of deliberation, Odell decided to perform a background check. He had another prospective member who would need one, and decided he might as well check both at the same time.
Instead of signing up with a commercial service, Odell emailed a man named ‘Chad’ recommended by Stewart Rhodes - meaning he probably performs this task for many other Oath Keeper chapter leaders around the country. Odell was confident enough to include ‘Viper Strike’s identity documents as an attachment to the email, even though he had never contacted Chad before.
Subject: Re: \[NAME REDACTED\] Background check Date: 03/24/21 15:43 From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com
SR gave me your email. Can you help with background check on this new applicant? If so, I have two others. (No CCW, and not prior LEO/Military — I use documents to vet those).
John - Flagler
FL/OK state chapter
Chad/‘Intelstream’ responded within hours, inviting Odell to send over whatever information he had available. Just seven minutes later, though, Chad sent another email, this one distinctly more pessimistic. He had missed the attachment in Odell’s first message, but once he noticed it he worked quickly.
Date: 03/24/21 17:27 From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com
Sure thing, send me over what you have on them. All PII is helpful.
Not good, need to find out why all the criminal complaints are against him out of Orange County California.
The mere mention of criminal charges was enough for Odell: the Oath Keepers couldn’t afford any more legal or publicity problems, and he made his decision on the spot.
Date: 03/24/21 17:39 From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com
Gonna ice this one — leave him on Rocket Chat.
Only seconds afterward, Chad replied again - with a screenshot taken from the Orange County Court website. It detailed an arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia, two failures to turn up for a hearing, and worst of all: fugitive status. Chad followed up with one more email, but Odell was already moving on.
Date: 03/24/21 17:41 From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com
Drug charges. Can’t own a firearm.
I have one more - but gotta send from my proton mail (93FLHS@PROTONMAIL.COM)
Odell had reason to be cautious. The other person he wanted to check up on had joined a few days after ‘Viper Strike,’ and confusingly had chosen the username ‘Viper141’. (He later changed it to something closer to his real name, but to maintain privacy LCRW is sticking with the original username.)
But Odell’s elevated concern for privacy had nothing to do with that: it was because ‘Viper141’ was only 17.
‘Viper141’ lived in Jacksonville, not far from Odell. He had joined Oath Keepers just after January 6, and then waited two months for someone to contact him while the organizations struggled with server problems. When he finally got an email invite to the new chat server, he was elated, immediately posting a shoutout to ‘fellow patriots’.
2021-03-19 23:20:33 Viper141 2021-03-19 23:20:33 Viper141
[…] I’m especially happy to be in comms with my fellow patriots after all this time. I joined up only about a day after everything was taken down, which I was quite unhappy to find out about!
During that time I had no comms with any members, today is my first time being able to speak with anyone [and] I was unable to get patches to identify myself due to the shop apparently being closed down…
He replied promptly to Odell’s standard new member inquiry, filling out the forms and emailing a copy of his state ID card as well as his SSN. The ID card clearly show his birth date in 2003 and states prominently that he would not be over 21 until 2024. Although ‘Viper141’ has turned 18 since the events described here, LCRW is not sharing any details of his identity.
Florida strictly forbids anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a firearm of any kind, under a law passed in 2018. That law was put in place following the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school, in which a 19 year old white supremacist murdered 17 people and injured 17 more, the deadliest school shooting in US history.
Although an 18 year old may legally possess a firearms if they inherit or receive one as a gift, ‘Viper141’ was many months short of his 18th birthday when he joined the Oath Keepers - and when he sent a copy of his state ID to Odell. The 2018 law received extensive media coverage and it seems impossible that Odell would have been unaware of it. Rather than asking himself why a minor would join a militant patriot organization with dire legal problems, Odell chose instead to share all the boy’s personal information with his intelligence source. And he did so using the most secure email address he had, to ensure that it would not originate from the oathkeepers.org mail server.
THE SNAKE PIT
Meanwhile, ‘Viper Strike’ had waited over a week after emailing copies of his driver’s license and CCW permit to Odell. Unaware that Odell had decided to ‘ice him’ two days earlier, in late March he sent a direct message to Odell to ask how things were going. After some confusion about ‘Viper Strike’s identity, they spoke on the phone.
Odell explained that ‘Viper Strike’ had failed a background check due to the drug charges and fugitive status in California; ‘Viper Strike’ denied the allegations, but believed the rejection was probably just a mixup. Odell agreed to take another look, suggesting that if ‘Viper Strike’ were to share his Social Security Number it might speed things up.
2021-03-26 19:15:55 zhtod Have time for short phone call?
2021-03-26 19:16:04 Viper-Strike
2021-03-26 19:22:54 zhtod
ok - send SSN here or email
2021-03-26 19:24:53 Viper-Strike
If he runs me again and has an issue, I would feel comfortable giving it to you then if that is ok. I really try to keep things like that under lock & key. But if he has any further issues, let me know.
Although ‘Viper Strike’ must have been disappointed to find his application delayed, he seemed to take it in his stride. A diffident man in his late 30s who does maintenance for a property management firm in Port Charlotte in western Florida, he was content to wait for the process to work itself out - though he did have misgivings about the lack of communication and logistic support. So when ‘Viper141’ wondered aloud in the Florida chat how his own vetting application was going, ‘Viper Strike’ advised, based on his own experience, that it could take a while.
2021-03-31 13:16:43 Viper141 morning! I have a question if you don't mind me asking @zhtod is there any way to check on how the backround investigation is going? been waiting a bit so I'm a little curious as to how it's going
2021-04-06 20:34:55 Viper-Strike
V141, all good things take time. Being through does not happen overnight. I have been waiting as well. I’m good with waiting so he can be sure he knows who we are.
The following day, ‘Viper141’ - still only 17 at the time - revealed that he had already passed the vetting process while ‘Viper Strike’ remained frozen out. Their conversation wandered into increasingly awkward territory as the teen militiaman alternated between swagger, emotional support, and uncertainty. Interested readers can get a flavor of the conversation in the sidebar below.
2021-04-07 18:56:38 Viper141 haha ive already gotten that done a long while ago \[...\]
you spoke to john [Odell] already and submitted your info for the backround investigation?
2021-04-08 19:41:27 Viper-Strike
But it appears as if I am not able to be vetted, so I think I will be deleting the OK chat profile.
I have not heard back in a good while
I see you have been vetted, right?
2021-04-08 19:42:40 Viper141
yeah, I am. have you not asked him for an update?
2021-04-08 19:43:13 Viper-Strike
No, If it was coming through, he would of told me.
2021-04-08 19:43:29 Viper141
people aren’t perfect you know bud, sometimes we make mistake
everyone here is volunteer, not always do we have time to get things done brother
STARRING VIPER-STRIKE AS FROZEN PUNISHED SNAKE
By mid-April, ‘Viper Strike’ was despondent and concluded that he was not going to be vetted, although he had no idea why. He wrote Odell to express his disappointment. Odell responded some days later with the offer of another phone call to straighten out the matter, but it appears the two men were unable to connect.
2021-04-16 20:37:55 Viper-Strike Z, I guess I am not able to be vetted. I will remove myself from the organization & chat room. I don't want anyone to think I am an intruder looking for information. I wish you and the org. all the best and God be guiding us all.
2021-04-20 14:27:38 zhtod
Viper — sorry for no reply for so long – If you’re still on here please reply so we can arrange quick call and then should be able to get you plugged in.
On May 3, ‘Viper Strike’ approached system administrator Brett Wynkoop aka ‘jpj’, saying he had a question about another member and communication which had passed between them. It’s unclear who or what ‘Viper-Strike’ was referring to, and in any event Wynkoop never bothered to reply. Though he still performed housekeeping tasks on the server, he rarely participated in any discussions and sometimes weeks passed between his appearances.
After months of humbly waiting for admission to anything resembling active membership status, ‘Viper Strike’ eventually abandoned his membership question, signing off with one last plaintive bid for consideration. It, too, was ignored. Six days later, ‘Viper-Strike’ logged out for the last time.
2021-05-12 20:54:27 Viper-Strike If you still have my number, you can call at anytime. If you don't, let me know.
The truth was much simpler. During the initial background check, Chad had been in such a hurry that he misread the identity documents Odell had sent him. The California man on the run from the law (who has since been arrested and is currently serving a short jail term) had the same last name as ‘Viper Strike,’ but his first name matched ‘Viper Strike’s middle name, and vice versa. Stewart Rhodes’ intelligence expert ignored the order of words on official documents, and never bothered to validate his allegations even though he had abundant personal information at his disposal.
Odell took a false accusation at face value, while throwing open the door to a teenager years away from being able to legally purchase a gun. That was not mere carelessness: Odell knew he had to take precautions in handling the minor’s personal information but somehow thought it appropriate to recruit a boy into inner circle a armed militia already awash in legal trouble. We can only guess why.
When we began researching this story, we were fascinated by how easily people would give up their private information on the command of an authority figure. But if many of the members are fools for throwing their privacy to the wind, what of the ‘leaders’ they have chosen to follow? There are 2700 current and former Oath Keepers in Florida alone, organized by men whose decision-making is, increasingly, detached from reality. What form will their next delusion take, and who will find themselves on the wrong side of it?