A sheriff’s deputy in Orange County put an unauthorized patch on his uniform that references far-right paramilitary organizations.
Twitter/The Democratic Party of Orange County; Insider
A cop in Southern California who wore a patch on his uniform in June referencing far-right extremist groups will not be fired, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department announced.
“Although I cannot go into the specific details of the investigation, I can tell you that there is no evidence revealed that show that [the] deputy had extremist views or racial views,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said.
The patch, which images showed the officer wore on his uniform while policing a protest against the killing of George Floyd, referenced the “Three Percenters” and “Oath Keepers,” paramilitary organizations that have at times embraced vigilante violence.
Barnes said Orange County deputies would undergo training on the threat posed by such organizations.
“The training is being developed,” a department spokesperson told Business Insider. “We will be sharing more once it is finalized and being implemented.”
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At a June protest in Costa Mesa, California, activists opposed to the police killing of George Floyd captured video showing a member of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department with a patch associated with far-right paramilitary groups.
The story spurred an internal investigation, coming amid reports that fringe extremist groups have been increasingly successful at infiltrating law enforcement.
That investigation has now concluded, with the sheriff of Orange County announcing that the deputy will be keeping his job. He and his colleagues will also undergo training on the threat posed by the organizations explicitly honored on his uniform.
The patch in question displayed a logo for the Three Percenters — a movement whose followers, including a former sheriff’s deputy, bombed a Minnesota mosque in 2017 — above the term “Oathkeeper,” a reference to a paramilitary organization that recently declared the US to be in a state of “civil war.” The members of such vigilante groups often appear in public heavily armed, sometimes in uniforms that suggest an official capacity, purporting to uphold their interpretation of the law, sans oversight or legal sanction.
Speaking at a press conference in early August, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes asserted that the internal investigation into the matter failed to uncover any problematic views on the part of the deputy, whose identity has not been revealed.
“Although I cannot go into the specific details of the investigation, I can tell you that there is no evidence revealed that show that [the] deputy had extremist views or racial views,” Barnes said, while noting that the patch was unauthorized. “We are going to hold that deputy responsible for his actions for the policy violation.”
Barnes implied the patch was a product of ignorance that could be remedied with education, announcing that as a result of the incident the department “would train our staff on these groups, how they operate, [and] make sure that they are fully informed of the risk they present.”
A spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department declined to provide more details on those consequences or the department’s efforts to better educate its staff on the threat posed by right-wing extremist organizations.
“The training is being developed,” the spokesperson told Business Insider. “We will be sharing more once it is finalized and being implemented.”
Eugene Fields, communications manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ branch in Southern California, told Business Insider that his group — which flagged the initial story in a press release — welcomes “the announcement of additional training.” But “we would recommend that, in the future, if deputies see colleagues displaying patches like that, they ask about them.”
Who are these far-right groups?
Three Percenters, according to the Anti-Defamation League, “are anti-government extremists who are part of the militia movement,” the name referring to the claim that a “small revolutionary vanguard” — 3% of the US population — overthrew the British.
The Oath Keepers is a more hierarchical extremist group, per the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose members purport to be “guardians of the republic.” After the recent killing of a far-right activist in Portland, Oregon, the group declared that “[c]ivil war is here, right now.”
“We’ll give Trump one last chance to declare this a Marxist insurrection & suppress it as his duty demands,” it tweeted. “If he fails to do HIS duty we will do OURS.”
In an August 27 report noting the incident, the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan policy institute at the New York University Law School, described the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters as “far-right militant groups” that have successfully infiltrated law enforcement.
That report said most courts “have upheld dismissals of police officers who have affiliated with racist or militant groups,” while noting that “there will be cases where an officer’s behavior can be corrected with remedial measures short of termination.”
It is not clear what further repercussions there will be for the deputy in Orange County, who had been placed on administrative leave following initial news reports.
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