WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- A group of volunteer militia was ordered by police to stop standing guard at Ferguson businesses Saturday, and returned to join the protesters.
A volunteer group Oath Keepers, a organization made up of 35,000 mostly current or former military and law enforcement, traveled to the St. Louis suburb after a grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of teen Michael Brown and the renewed protests damaged numerous businesses.
Sam Andrews, an Oath Keeper and former Defense Department contractor who works as a weapons engineer in St. Louis, said he organized "more than five, less than 500" volunteers to travel to Ferguson and take up positions on rooftops as private security in the protest area.
"I think in most of them, there's probably something that they probably don't even recognize: that we have a moral obligation to protect the weakest among us," Andrews said. "When we see these violent people, these arsonists and anarchists, attacking, it just pokes at you in a deep place."
Andrews said he vetted volunteers to ensure they weren't "racists" or "people with an ax to grind" who had experience under fire. They carried buckets of water and fire extinguishers, along with non-lethal weapons, to combat arsonists and others intent on wreaking havoc.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, police spoke with Oath Keepers earlier in the week and allowed them to stay on. But after heightened media interest in the mysterious guardsmen, on Saturday, St. Louis County Police told them to stop.
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes told the Post-Dispatch the police threatened to accuse them of operating without a license.
After they were ordered off rooftops, Rhodes said, they decided to return and join the protesters.
"We thought they were going to do it right this time," Rhodes said, of the police response to demonstrations. "But when Monday rolled around and they didn't park the National Guard at these businesses, that's when we said we have got to do something. Historically, the government almost always fails to protect people."