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Oath Keepers threat is talk topic

Homegrown extremist, anti-government militias like the Oath Keepers have been active in the United States for decades.

Increasingly, however, their rhetoric has resulted in violence aimed at the federal government structures that help shape the American way of life.

“The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, caught many Americans off guard,” said Sam Jackson, an assistant professor in the University at Albany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity.

“Certainly, the sight of a large angry crowd breaking down doors of government buildings is not one we are accustomed to seeing,” said Jackson, a frequent media panelist, public lecturer and conference presenter on political extremism topics. “But perhaps we should not have been so surprised.”

Jackson will discuss that trend on Wednesday, April 6, at SUNY Cortland in a presentation titled “From Extreme Beliefs to Extreme Actions: The Oath Keepers.”

His seminar, which will take place at 4:30 p.m. in Moffett Center, Room 115, concludes the 2021-22 Rozanne M. Brooks Lecture Series at SUNY Cortland, which this academic year focuses on the theme of “The Culture of Extremes.”

Sam Jackson

The series addresses how in the last couple years, America and the rest of the world have been wracked by extremes that include political brinksmanship, apocalyptic weather events, deadly pandemic, economic collapse and social upheaval.

The Brooks Museum lectures and receptions are free. Due to continued health and safety concerns surrounding the pandemic, members of the public are not invited. Seating will be limited and cannot be exceeded. In light of recent New York State Health Department guidelines, SUNY Cortland strongly recommends that attendees wear face coverings.

A reception to welcome Jackson will precede the lecture at 4 p.m. in the Brooks Museum located across from the lecture room.

Jackson, who developed tools and processes to better research this topic using online data, examines political conflict, broadly understood, following two primary lines. The first focuses on antigovernment extremism in the U.S., especially when activists anticipate or prepare for violence. The second focuses on studying online politics and culture that makes conflict more likely.

According to him, over the past few years, a notable number of Americans have engaged with conspiracy theories, become more open in advocating for white supremacy, or have more plainly depicted those with whom they disagree as existential threats to their way of life.

Some of these Americans have also become more explicit in preparing for violent conflict to prevent what they see as a threat from criminals, terrorists and the federal government.

“A group called Oath Keepers exemplifies this trend: perceiving threats from government, preparing for conflict with government and leaving the door open for individual Americans to take action into their own hands,” Jackson said.

“By examining this group, we can begin to understand how Americans who believe themselves to be patriots might storm the Capitol and attempt to disrupt American democracy.”

He is the author of a 2020 book, Oath Keepers: Patriotism and the Edge of Violence in a Right-Wing Antigovernment Group, Columbia University Press. He’s the author or co-author of peer-reviewed journal articles, including “From National Identity to State Legitimacy: Mobilizing Digitally Networked Publics in Eastern Ukraine.”

Jackson joined the University at Albany in 2018. He previously served as a research fellow with the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, Dublin City University.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from University of Tennessee. Jackson has two master’s degrees, one in political science from Syracuse University and the other in religion and political life from University of Manchester, England. Jackson was honored by Syracuse University in 2016 as an Outstanding Teaching Assistant while working on his Ph.D. dissertation about extremist groups.

The 2021-22 Brooks Lecture Series is sponsored by a grant from the Cortland College Foundation, the Sociology/Anthropology Department and the President’s Office. For more information, contact Brooks Museum director and SUNY Distinguished Professor Sharon Steadman at 607-753-2308.