Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco was a dues-paying member of the Oath Keepers in 2014, an affiliation he acknowledges and makes no apologies for despite the group’s reputation as a militia of anti-government extremists.
Members of the Oath Keepers allegedly were behind the storming of the nation’s Capitol during the “Stop the Steal” rally in January. Bianco, however, defended the group as a pro-Constitution, pro-freedom organization mislabeled by the FBI and mainstream media.
Bianco’s one-time membership — along with the membership of roughly 40,000 current and former law enforcement and military personnel nationwide — was exposed after hackers breached the Oath Keepers’ website and mined its data.
The information has been made available to the media by Distributed Denial of Secrets, also known as DDoSecrets, a subversive whistleblower group founded in 2018. Its members use cloak-and-dagger monikers such as The Lorax and The Architect and secure web browsers so information can be disseminated anonymously. The group has been described as an offshoot of Wikileaks.
Bianco’s involvement was first made public Monday in a Tweet by JJ MacNab, an expert on extremist organizations at George Washington University.
Political lightning rod
Bianco, who was elected sheriff of Riverside County in 2018, has earned fierce criticism from the left and high praise from his conservative supporters for his strident positions. He has been an outspoken critic of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, mask mandates, and business restrictions since the pandemic forced statewide business closures in March 2020.
Last month, he said he would not require Sheriff’s Department employees or job applicants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 despite a state public health order mandating vaccinations or regular coronavirus testing for those working in jails.
In a telephone interview with the Southern California News Group, Bianco said he forgot all about his affiliation with Oath Keepers until the data breach of its website and publicity surrounding his involvement with the organization jarred his memory.
“I found an email from 2014 where I joined for a year. I don’t even remember it. It was an email saying, ‘Thank you for joining.’ I paid for a year’s membership,” he said in the interview.
Bianco believes he was made aware of Oath Keepers by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, another organization he was affiliated with at the time and signed on as a member.
“I’m not ashamed of what I did in 2014,” Bianco said, adding that he had nothing to do with the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. “I have been vocally against what happened there. What they did — the few that went into the building — was completely wrong and against the law and they should be held accountable for it.”
He said the misguided and illegal actions of several individual members several Oath Keepers does not justify the mainstream media and FBI painting the whole group as an “anti-government militia.” He said members of far-left militant organizations like antifa and Black Lives Matter have committed acts of violence and vandalism, with far less attention paid by the media and the FBI.
“Why was this not done with antifa and Black Lives Matter?” Bianco said. “I lost faith in the FBI a long time ago. The line workers are first rate. Their administration has no business carrying a badge. They strayed from nonbiased law enforcement a long time ago.”
‘Of monumental significance’
Brian Levin, a criminal justice professor and director of Cal State San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, called Bianco’s affiliation with Oath Keepers of “monumental significance.”
“This is the highest ranking law enforcement executive among the largest agencies to be tied to this militant insurrectionist group,” Levin said.
As for Bianco’s comments about antifa and Black Lives Matter, Levin said that while the violent hard left has indeed become increasingly active in recent years, the overwhelming majority of extremist plots and homicides in the United States over the last decade have come from far-right, anti-government extremists.
And as to Bianco’s comments about the FBI, he said, “Someone who leads a department that serves the 10th largest county in the nation, yet reported no hate crimes in 2020, the worst year nationally since 2001, would perhaps do better with assessing the efficiency of his own agency, rather than firing imaginary barbs at my colleagues in the bureau.”
Anaheim sergeant listed
Another name appearing on the leaked Oath Keepers membership list is that of Anaheim police Sgt. Michael Lynch, a nearly 30-year veteran of the department. Lynch’s LinkedIn profile says he is a supervisor in the agency’s Investigations Division.
“I have experience in vice and narcotics enforcement and was a supervisor in community policing, patrol and SWAT,” his profile says. “From 1992-2006 I had assignments in patrol, field training officer, gang detail, crime task force and tourist oriented policing. I was promoted to sergeant in 2006.”
Lynch declined to comment Wednesday whether he remains affiliated with the Oath Keepers. However, he told USA Today last week that he joined the Oath Keepers many years ago, but he didn’t renew his membership when he learned more about the group.
“I didn’t get anything out of it,” he said in an interview with the newspaper. “There was no local chapter or anything, so when it came time to renew, I was like, I’m not sending another $40.”
An internal affairs investigation has been launched to look into Lynch’s Oath Keepers membership, said Sgt. Shane Carringer, a spokesman for the Anaheim Police Department.
“We have policies that address off-duty conduct and behavior, but at the same time officers have constitutional rights the same as any citizen,” he said Wednesday. “All we have right now are allegations of membership in the Oath Keepers. Information also conflicts about the purpose from then (when Lynch joined) until now.”
Oath Keepers arrested in siege
In the nine months since since the siege at the U.S. Capitol, more than 600 people nationwide have been arrested for crimes related to the breach, including at least 185 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement. Roughly 20 people identified as members of Oath Keepers were involved.
Last month, Oath Keepers member Jason Dolan, 45, of Wellington, Florida, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of obstruction of an official for his role in the breach, making him the third Oath Keeper to have pleaded guilty to charges in the federal prosecution.
Dolan, according to the FBI, conspired with fellow members to bring firearms to the event, including an M4 rifle, which Donland dropped off with at least one of his co-conspirators at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia.
Bianco said that, to him, Oath Keepers is a group that supports and stands by the oath he took as a peace officer and sheriff — to defend the constitutions of the United States and California and to protect against all enemies foreign and domestic.
“In today’s politically toxic environment, if you support the Constitution of the United States of America you are evil — you’re branded as some evil, right-wing conspirator,” he said.
Officials at Oath Keepers did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.
Staff writers Tony Saavedra and Nikie Johnson contributed to this report.