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Presence of militia-style group in Ferguson questioned

Last Updated Aug 11, 2015 2:13 PM EDT

FERGUSON, Missouri - In the midst of a spasm of tension in Ferguson, Missouri, on the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, several heavily armed men carrying assault rifles and flak jackets appeared, and they weren't cops.

Instead, they said they were members of the Oath Keepers. The group, led by a man identified only as John, told reporters they were in Ferguson to protect a journalist for InfoWars.com, a conservative website run by radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

"There were problems here, there were people who got hurt.We needed to be prepared for that," John told Reuters.

An Infowars representative told Reuters that it had not asked them for security.

"We happen to be in some of the same circumstances as theyare on occasion and ideologically we may share the same views,"said the representative, who asked not to be named citing security concerns. "They are there of their own volition and secondarily they are there to protect anyone who is innocent. Of course, we fall under that because our reporters are reporting."

One member of the militia-style group described the Oath Keepers as constitutionalists. On their website, they say they are "a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to 'defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic."'

In a statement, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar called their presence "both unnecessary and inflammatory." St. Louis County police and prosecutors told CBS News said they would consult about the legality of openly displaying the weapons during a state of emergency, which had been declared Monday after violence rocked Ferguson during protests the previous evening.

Jones' website is well known for hosting inflammatory conservative rhetoric, and posting items that take an extreme view of current events. One of the headlines produced about the recent Ferguson unrest screams: "PROTESTERS DECLARE THEY ARE READY FOR WAR AS AMERICA'S IMPOVERISHED INNER CITIES THREATEN TO ERUPT."

A separate video claiming to be from an Oath Keepers' award banquet shows one of them imploring members to "assume the worst" and "prepare for economic collapse."

Oath Keepers is a national group best known as supporters of the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy during a 2014 dispute with the Bureau of Land Management. The Idaho group gets its name from the 3 percent of Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War.

They come from what was a general rise in sometimes-violent anti-government activity in the Inland Northwest. After a lull following the demise of the Idaho-based neo-Nazi Aryan Nations in 2000, anti-government and white supremacist groups and individuals saw a dramatic uptick in activity and organization.

The Oath Keepers appear to still be active in multiple parts of the country. Last week, they were among several similar groups involved in a dispute in Montana over a mining claim.

The groups were there in support of a mine owner who is in contention with the U.S. Forest Service over his claim. Members of Oath Keepers, Pacific Patriot Network and 3% of Idaho said they came to Lincoln - the former hometown of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski - at White Hope Mine owner George Kornec's request.

In 2011, a member of the Georgia Oath Keepers, Darren Huff, was convicted in Tennessee on a federal firearms charge in what police said was a plot to take over a Tennessee courthouse and force President Barack Obama out of office.

Oath Keepers

Members of the Oath Keepers walk with their personal weapons on the street during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 11, 2015.

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson