Brett Wynkoop embodies many of the traits that have made his neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, a stereotype of a liberal enclave. He lives in a century-old brownstone on a leafy street, used to run a local community opera, and is a member of the Park Slope Food Coop, whose far-left political infighting has become the subject of frequent parody.
So his campaign to represent his neighborhood, along with similarly gentrified Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, in New York’s City Council might seem like a natural progression.
But Wynkoop, 62, has one attribute that puts him at odds with other inhabitants of the district, which voted 98.5% Democrat the last time the 39th District seat was open: He’s a longtime member of the Oath Keepers, the right-wing extremist group now closely identified with the Jan. 6 assault on the nation’s Capitol.
“You have not seen isolated until you have been an Oath Keeper in NYC!” he wrote in a message to another member in March. “Feel like a one man French Underground!”
Wynkoop, a systems engineer who is running on the Conservative Party ticket, does not appear to campaign on his Oath Keepers affiliation. He hung up on a BuzzFeed News reporter who called to ask about it and did not respond to subsequent emails or a knock on his door.
But a review of roughly 5 gigabytes of the Oath Keepers’ internal data and communications that were hacked and leaked last week reveals that he is one of a number of Oath Keepers who have campaigned for — and in some cases, won — elected offices around the country, including for county sheriff, state legislature, and even US Congress.
The group, which takes its name from the oath to uphold the Constitution that members of law enforcement and the military swear, is not a political party and does not publish its membership rolls or reveal which of its members have run for or won elected office. Although some members proudly wear Oath Keepers insignia in public, others keep their affiliation a secret and refrain from using their full names even within the organization. By comparing the leaked Oath Keepers data — which includes lists of members, chat logs, and tens of thousands of emails — to public records, news reports, and internet registry information, BuzzFeed News was able to verify the identity of a number of political candidates.
In New Jersey, Edward Durfee Jr., an IT contractor who since January has teamed up with Wynkoop to keep the Oath Keepers’ online infrastructure afloat, is running as a Republican in next month’s election for state general assembly. And in Wyoming, Michael Ray Williams, a rank-and-file Oath Keeper, recently declared his candidacy for state Senate, also with the GOP, in 2022.
Durfee acknowledged his role with the Oath Keepers but told BuzzFeed News his run had nothing to do with the group. Williams said, “I am an Oath Keeper, absolutely” in a brief phone exchange.
All three seek to duplicate the electoral success of current or former Oath Keepers including Chad Bianco, the sheriff of Riverside County in California, the nation’s 10th most populous county, and Wendy Rogers, who was elected to Arizona’s state Senate last year.
Another Oath Keeper, Jeremy Brown, ran for Congress as a Republican in Florida last year but withdrew prior to the primary. Last week, he was arrested for his role in the Jan. 6 assault. Joining a list of more than 20 Oath Keepers or associates who have been charged to date, he is accused of, among other things, organizing transport to the Capitol building. A federal judge ordered Brown to remain in detention while awaiting trial on Tuesday.
Kellye SoRelle, the Oath Keepers’ general counsel, ran for Texas’s House of Representatives in 2020 but lost in the Republican primary. Although she has been closely associated with the organization since Jan. 6, it is not clear whether she was affiliated with the group at the time of her campaign; she did not respond to requests for comment.
The hacked Oath Keeper communications that came into public view last week also included names of numerous individuals in law enforcement and the military, including Bianco, the Riverside County sheriff. On Tuesday, Bianco acknowledged his Oath Keeper association, saying he had paid for a one-year membership in 2014, when he was a sheriff’s deputy and prior to his 2018 election.
Others who have sought elected office have been more open about their association with the Oath Keepers. Rogers, who did not respond to a request for comment, has defended her membership in the group in the past. John Shirley, who is currently serving as an elected constable in Texas’s Hood County, has written about his longtime involvement in the Oath Keepers, where he served for a time as a director. Shirley did not respond to a request for comment.
Williams, who is running as a Republican for Wyoming’s 11th Senate district, said he joined the Oath Keepers over a year ago. In a brief interview, he declined to state what he does for a living but said the organization is misunderstood.
“It’s not an anti-government group, it’s not a militia at all. They’re pro-law enforcement, pro-liberty, pro-military, pro-family,” he said. According to Williams, the Oath Keepers “had nothing to do with” the events of Jan. 6, which he said was a “false flag operation” perpetrated by Black Lives Matter and antifa. He faces a primary next August.
Durfee, who joined the Oath Keepers soon after the group was founded by Stewart Rhodes in 2009, advanced from the Republican primary for the New Jersey General Assembly’s 37th District in June and will be on the ballot in the general election next month. He said he’s been helping with Oath Keeper IT issues for years and played a big role in getting the organization’s membership operations back online after it was deplatformed and lost its online payment processor following the Capitol riot.
Durfee said his candidacy “has nothing to do with being an Oath Keeper,” and instead that his “intent is to bring the Republican party back to its roots,” which he said should be about politicians serving the public and not their parties. He also sought to remind people that the US Constitution is “what gives our government power.”
The hacked Oath Keeper files show that Wynkoop, the candidate in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has been an Oath Keeper member since 2013.
In internal communications, he does not use his real name and identifies himself only as JPJ, which he said in the Oath Keepers chat is a reference to John Paul Jones, the naval commander who was a hero of the Revolutionary War. “I have to hide my identity because it could be a problem for me if it was known in professional circles,” Wynkoop wrote in a message on March 15.
Wynkoop’s name and address do appear in Oath Keeper membership rolls, however. In chats, the JPJ account frequently provides links to websites created or maintained by Wynkoop, some of which feature his name and photograph. The Oath Keeper email address assigned to that account, meanwhile, was used to send test emails to accounts on domains created or maintained by Wynkoop, including one called Oathkeepers NYC. One of those accounts was used to communicate with Durfee about Oath Keeper technical issues and was also copied on receipts sent to the Oath Keepers from its internet domain registrar.
The link between the JPJ handle and Wynkoop was first spotted by the Capitol Terrorists Exposers, a group of online sleuths investigating the events of Jan. 6.
A Navy veteran and a ham radio enthusiast, Wynkoop has also served as executive director of the Brooklyn Repertory Opera, which no longer appears to be in operation. Online records show that he also created a number of websites, including one called Brooklyn Online, which describes itself as “New York’s Home on the World Wide Web.”
On Thursday afternoon, one of Wynkoop’s neighbors, who asked not to be identified, seemed unaware of his political ambitions. The neighbor added that he had a sense that Wynkoop’s politics lean to the right, but avoided discussing such subjects with him and otherwise had a cordial relationship. A few blocks away at the Park Slope Food Coop, where battles have been waged over the politics of sourcing hummus, patrons waiting in line didn’t seem to find Wynkoop’s affiliation remarkable enough to comment on.
Starting a week or two after the Capitol riot, the data shows, Wynkoop was occupied with migrating the Oath Keepers’ website to new servers, rebooting its internal chat functionalities, and communicating important messages from Rhodes to membership. But he still found time to contemplate the group’s public image.
“I am mustering a small army to work on the wikipedia article about Oath Keepers,” he wrote in March. “There is an army of leftists and propaganda folk that put disinformation on wikipedia. We need to combat that.”
Then, noting a concern that his neighbors back in brownstone Brooklyn might appreciate, he added, “We also need to show that we are multiracial and not white supremacists.”
Jeremy Singer-Vine contributed additional reporting.