Wyoming Republican Party Chairman William “Frank” Eathorne is one of the nearly 200 Wyoming citizens listed by a whistleblower group as members of the far-right anti-government Oath Keepers group.
The FBI has described the Oath Keepers as a “paramilitary organization.” Founded in 2009, the Oath Keepers philosophy is based on a set of conspiracy theories positing that the federal government is working to destroy American liberties, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group’s name refers to the oath taken by military and police to support and defend the U.S. Constitution.
Members of the extremist group have made headlines in recent years for showing up heavily armed at Black Lives Matter protests, polling places and other events. More than 20 suspected members of the Oath Keepers have been arrested in relation to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The leader of the extremist group, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, has encouraged members not to recognize Biden as president or comply with any of his legislation.
The Oath Keepers claim tens of thousands of present and former law enforcement officials and military veterans as members, according to the SPLC.
Distributed Denial of Secrets, a whistleblower group, obtained a cache of Oath Keepers-related data this fall, including the membership list and chat logs.
DDOS published 5 gigabytes of redacted data related to the hack in September.
The membership list, which WyoFile obtained, features more than 38,000 names, including 191 Wyoming citizens. Media outlets nationwide have identified Oath Keepers members within their own states who are in law enforcement or elected office, prompting internal investigations and calls to step down.
A short-lived ‘fairy tale’
Boone Tidwell, a long-time Cody resident, became a member of Oath Keepers in 2009. He nearly took on the title of Wyoming Chapter President for the group, he said.
Initially, he said, there were 200-300 Wyoming people active online in the Oath Keepers. Folks were waking up to constitutional issues, Tidwell said, and he liked the idea of its “Reach, Teach, and Inspire” mission.
The group’s presence was short-lived in Wyoming, Tidwell said. Engagement dropped off quickly and in-person gatherings typically only attracted a handful of people. It’s difficult to organize in a state where members are all geographically so far apart, he said.
Following the group’s involvement in high-profile national stand-offs with law enforcement — including at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada and at the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon — “then anyone with a brain bailed out,” Tidwell said
“Oath Keepers is a fairy tale here,” he said. “There was a presence in a computer 12 years ago.”
In 2020, Tidwell organized a “Protect Against Racism” rally in Cody with the goal of protecting businesses against destruction. That event had nothing to do with the Oath Keepers, he said.
Eathorne is perhaps the most prominent Wyoming resident to appear on the leaked Oath Keepers membership list. The Wyoming native and former law enforcement employee became the chairman of the state GOP in 2019. He had previously served as vice chairman. He also campaigned against Republican Eric Barlow in the Wyoming House of Representatives District 3 — Campbell and Converse counties — primary election, losing by more than 21 points.
Eathorne did not respond to several requests for comment.
Eathorne’s alleged membership is significant, according to Brian Levin, director of the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“It is disturbing that someone of such a high political position would be affiliated with the Oath Keepers, who have about 20 members facing charges out of the Capitol insurrection and who promote the idea of Second Amendment “insurrectionism” — which means they can revolt when they subjectively believe that the government has become tyrannical,” Levin said.
Eathorne traveled to D.C. and attended the Trump rally on Jan. 6 that preceded the attack on the Capitol. He said in a Jan 7. statement that he participated in peaceful protests near the White House and did not witness any violence or property destruction.
While no active state legislators appeared in the leaked documents, Ken Pendergraft, who sought political office in 2020, was listed as an enrolled member.
Pendergraft ran for the District 29 seat from Sheridan County in the Wyoming House of Representatives. Mark Kinner, a Republican, has held the seat since 2015.
Pendergraft’s campaign Facebook page cited the Wyoming Constitution, and argued “gun free zones” are unconstitutional. He referred to Kinner as “liberal” and laid out his own platform.
“After the November Presidential election results should be final, they won’t be,” one Facebook post read. “There’ll be law suits on both sides, challenging the validity of any result. Chaos is coming. We need strong principled leadership in Cheyenne to help build that firewall against this chaos. We need people who understand what’s going on and see it coming; people who are planning and have planned ahead. I appreciate your vote on Aug 18 to help stop the madness. Thank you.”
Ultimately voters cast 932 votes for Kinner and 716 for Pendergraft.
When asked about his alleged Oath Keepers membership, Pendergraft had no comment, saying he didn’t want to talk “because it’s WyoFile.” He worried whatever he said would come out “twisted,” he said.
Dr. Taylor Haynes, a former gubernatorial candidate, is also listed as an Oath Keepers member.
On his campaign Facebook page, Haynes describes himself as “a statesman, a rancher, and a constitutional scholar with a vision for Wyoming that is founded on Constitutional-based government.”
In 2018, the state attorney general determined that Haynes was ineligible to serve as governor because he was a Colorado resident. (Haynes’ property straddles the border between the states.) On the Oath Keepers membership form reviewed by WyoFile, Wyoming is listed as his state of residence.
Haynes challenged the Secretary of State’s ruling in court and the case was ultimately dropped.
Haynes did not respond to several requests for comment.
Of the Wyoming residents listed as Oath Keepers members, nine are identified as veterans and five are affiliated with law enforcement.
— Andrew Graham contributed to this report.