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Vt. Group Joins National Effort, Plans Armed Presence At Recruitment Centers, Schools

Andrew Welsh-Huggins
AP File
Two men stood guard outside a recruitment center in Columbus, Ohio on July 21, 2015. A group of Vermonters is planning similar activities.

A group of civilians is planning armed security details at military recruitment centers and possibly schools and malls in Vermont with or without the blessing of local law enforcement, according to an email to group members.

The Oath Keepers of Vermont are part of the national group that’s launched “Operation Protect the Protectors” which is “an operation to provide security for recruitment centers and other ‘soft targets,’” according to the email. Armed civilians have been standing guard outside recruitment centers around the nation since a gunman killed four Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee last month

The group held a meeting in Barton on July 26 and voted to participate in Operation Protect the Protectors, according to Adam Boyle, an Army veteran who said in an interview that he served twice in Iraq.

“What I decided I wanted to do to make it official was to have a good discussion and also allow everyone to have a vote if we should go forward or not, taking into consideration all the reports of what’s been addressed across the nation as far as reports that certain officers in Washington D.C. and others are trying to enforce on the recruiting stations that they should not allow people to be out there protecting these offices,” he said.

Some local law enforcement officials in other states have asked armed civilians standing guard not to do so, but the Vermont group decided to go ahead.

“So under all that consideration we did decide that it would be most beneficial and that we should in fact do what we can to protect those who are sacrificing their safety in order to protect us,” Boyle said in an interview.

Boyle refused to share many details of the group’s activities, citing safety concerns.

“In the military, it’s called operational security,” he said. “The less information the better. The main reason we’re doing this is that we want to keep people safe in Vermont and the more information that I give out could leave that possibility for harm.”

For that reason, Boyle wouldn’t say if there are already armed civilians outside schools, malls or recruitment stations in Vermont. In his email, though, Boyle made it clear that he thinks security is needed.

“They [recruitment centers, malls and schools] are at serious risk of being overwhelmed by a coordinated attack by terrorist teams on multiple soft targets. We can help,” the email said.

It also asked members to be discrete.

“Also remember OPSEC,” Boyle’s email to the group said, referring to operational security. “Specific details of time, location, and personnel should not be advertised to the public.”

Boyle said in an interview that the main goal of the security operations is to prevent civilian harm in the event of a shooting. Who, specifically, are the Oath Keepers protecting against?

"It's been reported that there are ISIS cells within all 50 states. If that information is accurate or not I can't say. I don't have intelligence in front of me. I don't know. But the threat is still there." - Adam Boyle, Oath Keepers of Vermont

“Anyone who wishes any harm,” Boyle said. “Of course our main threat that we’re knowledgeable about is ISIS. It’s been reported that there are ISIS cells within all 50 states. If that information is accurate or not I can’t say. I don’t have intelligence in front of me. I don’t know. But the threat is still there. The Chattanooga shooting definitely is a huge eye opener, and others.”

Armed civilians standing guard outside recruitment stations elsewhere in the country drew a response from the Pentagon, which asked them to stop.

"While we greatly appreciate the outpouring of support for our recruiters from the American public, we ask that individuals not stand guard at recruiting offices as it could adversely impact our mission, and potentially create unintended security risks," spokesman Peter Cook reportedly said in a statement. "We continue to partner with and rely on first responders for the safety of the communities where our service members live and work."

Major Christopher Gookin, a spokesman for the Vermont National Guard, said the Oath Keepers approached the Guard to offer security.

“They graciously offered their services,” he said, “and we graciously declined.”

Gookin said the Vermont Guard takes security very seriously, and Guard officials are confident that all members are well-protected.

Boyle, though, thinks a decision by Gov. Peter Shumlin and others not to allow Guard members to carry weapons at recruitment centers or on base at Camp Johnson in Colchester leaves them in danger.

“It’s beyond belief, as a former service member myself, that we’re entrusted to carry hundreds and thousands and in some cases millions of dollars worth of armament over to a foreign nation, but then we’re not entrusted to have a pistol at our side to defend ourselves here in our own country, when in fact we know that there’s a very real threat. It’s an absolute shock, it’s an absolute atrocity, and it needs to change,” Boyle said.

Boyle said that if anyone the group is trying to protect asks them to leave, the Oath Keepers “will honor that request.” In his email to the group, Boyle said that the armed guard details could persist even if local law enforcement officials don’t want them there.

"So, if the local police are not supportive, or even hostile, deal with it and work around it to be sure the recruiters are protected." - Adam Boyle Email to Oath Keepers
It is best that you also notify the local police and coordinate with them, if possible. That will depend on whether you have friendly local police or not. Some of our chapters that have already been standing guard have excellent relationships with local police and have coordinated directly, including letting the police know exactly who will be on guard, when, where, and what they are wearing. Other chapters are in locales where local police are not supportive and they are unfortunately not able to coordinate like that. The more coordination you can do, the better, to avoid being mistaken for a threat, and to avoid a blue-on-blue tragedy. But protecting the recruiters comes first. So, if the local police are not supportive, or even hostile, deal with it and work around it to be sure the recruiters are protected (but be sure to at least notify the recruiters that you are out there).

The email suggests using “covertly armed” teams in places where relations with the community or police aren’t good enough for an overt armed security detail.

Boyle wouldn’t say if any security details were already active in the state and wouldn’t say which, if any, Vermont locations the group is protecting.

Boyle insists the security makes Vermonters safer, and the email advises volunteers – who were instructed to work four to eight hour shifts – to have a “courteous and professional disposition to all except Islamic jihadists.”

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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