Extremism in the Ranks

Extremism in the Ranks

An investigation by the Sun-Times, WBEZ and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project that looks into the records of Chicago cops on a leaked roster of an anti-government group and the efforts to hold those officers accountable.

Investigation

Months after the Oath Keepers played a major role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a list of about 38,000 people from across the country who had joined the anti-government extremist group emerged publicly. But little was done to investigate the Chicago police officers on those rolls.

The Sun-Times and WBEZ filed more than 200 open-records requests with the Chicago Police Department and other law enforcement agencies across Illinois. Those requests sought the personnel files for dozens of current and retired cops around the state whose names appeared in the leaked list.

In this monthslong investigation, we found troubling allegations against some of these officers and spoke to people who filed official complaints.

This investigation is in partnership with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

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At least 27 Chicago police officials appeared in leaked rosters for the Oath Keepers, an anti-government extremist group. At least nine are still with the department.
Officer shoulders-oath keepers investigation
A new civilian oversight panel is working with Chicago police on a policy that would bar officers from joining hate and extremist groups.
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The Oath Keepers’ membership rolls included an Illinois state trooper, a campus cop for the University of Illinois Chicago and an officer in a village known as “America’s First Black Town.”
Additional reporting
Chicago Inspector General Deborah Witzburg cited “deficiencies” in the investigation and asked for another look. She was rebuffed by the police department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs.
Inspector General Deborah Witzburg said officers tied to extremist groups “are dishonoring the badge.”
The inspector general’s office urged Johnson to create a task force aimed at “preventing, identifying, and eliminating extremist and anti-government activities and associations within CPD.”
The document includes 675 gang factions department members are forbidden from joining – but no hate or extremist groups. A police spokesperson indicated such groups will be identified on a case-by-case basis.
The Southern Poverty Law Center urged Mayor Brandon Johnson and Police Supt. Larry Snelling to reconsider the decision not to take disciplinary action against eight officers connected to the Oath Keepers, six of whom admitted to joining the group.
No offense to Supt. Larry Snelling, but we’re looking forward to a review by City Hall’s independent inspector general, Deborah Witzburg.
“Every time Chicagoans demand police accountability, nothing happens,” said Jeff Tischauser, a Chicago-based senior researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Mayor Brandon Johnson and CPD Supt. Larry Snelling had earlier vowed to rid the department of officers listed on the anti-government group Oath Keepers’ rolls.
The officer continued to work for the state university despite acknowledging he signed up years ago with the anti-government Oath Keepers, which played a key role in the riot at the U.S. Capitol in 2021.
We wanted to find out what records these officers are leaving. And we wanted to hear from civilians about their own experiences with these sworn law-enforcement officers on the streets of Chicago and in other parts of Illinois.
Coverage
Leaked chat logs appear to show Officer Robert Bakker communicating and organizing meetups last summer with members of the Proud Boys, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The city’s inspector general on Friday questioned the thoroughness of an internal investigation into the officer after it was reported he was a member of the Oath Keepers.
Chicago City Council members repeatedly expressed frustration Wednesday as police officials gave conflicting, sometimes puzzling reasons why they have not moved more aggressively against officers tied to far-right groups implicated in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Officer Robert Bakker has been the subject of four internal investigations that were all opened last year, according to records obtained by the Sun-Times.
CPD Supt. David Brown said CPD has “zero tolerance” for sworn officers joining or associating with hate groups. But given what can be proved, he said, a 120-day suspension is as far as he legally can go.
“The injection of white nationalists in this conversation, for me, I will tell you personally, I was afraid,” State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said.