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OC Sheriff's Department Investigating Deputy Who Wore 'Unauthorized Insignia' On Uniform During Protest

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — An Orange County sheriff's deputy has been placed on administrative leave for wearing patches associated with extremist groups on his uniform at a Tuesday protest in Costa Mesa against police brutality and the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

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Sheriff's officials said they were made aware of the incident through video posted on Reddit and shared on Twitter and was conducting an internal investigation, according to an emailed statement from Sheriff Don Barnes.

The patches included images associated with the Three Percenters group, named after the false belief that 3% of colonialists revolted against Britain in the Revolutionary War. Another patch appeared to reference the Don't Tread On Me movement, which has also been linked to extremist militia groups.

Sheriff's officials said the symbols were not approved by the department and were prohibited.

"This deputy's decision to wear these patches, and the implication of his association with an extremist group, is unacceptable and deeply concerning to me," Barnes said. "Any symbol can have multiple meanings and is open to interpretation, which is why wearing of non-approved symbols and patches is strictly prohibited.

"Instances like this can forge a wedge separating law enforcement from the community we serve, especially during these turbulent times."

Rabbi Peter Levi, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Orange County-Long Beach, praised Barnes' swift action.

"I'm pleased with law enforcement's response, opening up an internal affairs investigation so they can get to the depths and understanding of this situation," Levi said.

Levi said it was important that the sheriff determine "the threat of this ideology in their ranks."

According to Levi, the Oath Keepers wing of the Three Percenters movement actively recruits law enforcement and military members and instructs members to disobey orders they do not believe conform to the group's interpretation of the United States Constitution.

Levi called the group anti-government and said there was often "cross fertilization" with white nationalist and other bigoted organizations - though the group disputes such allegations on its website.

"The Three Percenters - Original is a national organization made up of patriotic citizens who love their country, their freedoms, and their liberty. We are committed to standing against and exposing corruption and injustice," the site says. "We are NOT a militia. However, we do have meetings on local levels. These meetings are to help members network together and to learn from each other."

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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