A member of the “Oathkeepers” keeps watch over a store in Ferguson, Missouri, as protesters march by below.

The looting and arson in Ferguson, Missouri, was horrific, but it might have been far worse if it weren’t for two very different groups of armed citizens that sought to protect area lives and businesses, even if it meant putting their own lives at risk.

One is an organized group of more than 35,000 law enforcement officers, military veterans, and first responders who have pledged to uphold the Constitution.  A number of them answered the call to protect life, liberty, and property in Ferguson.

They call themselves Oathkeepers.

Yale Law School graduate and libertarian Stewart Rhodes said by telephone from Montana that he founded the group in 2009 to protect constitutional rights, including those of protesters confronted by what he described as overly militarized police.

But Rhodes, who said he is Mexican-American, was quick to assure that Oath Keepers is not anti-government. He said those pulling rooftop security in Ferguson are current or former government employees and first responders, many who have intense military, police and EMS training.

“We thought they were going to do it right this time,” Rhodes said of government response to the grand jury decision released Monday night in the Darren Wilson case. “But when Monday rolled around and they didn’t park the National Guard at these businesses, that’s when we said we have got to do something.

“Historically, the government almost always fails to protect people,” he added.

They won’t say how many people are part of the effort or exactly where they are placed. But they seem to be mainly focused on a strip of South Florissant Road two blocks north of the police station that includes a Chinese restaurant, dentist office, bakery and the apartments.

“We were sick in our gut we couldn’t be here sooner,” said John Karriman of Joplin, Mo., a state leader of Oath Keepers who teaches police tactics. “We are here to volunteer our time and make sure everybody stays safe.”

Another leader, who would only give his first name, Sam, described himself as a weapons engineer from the St. Louis area who has done security contracting for the U.S. government. He said he was motivated to help after seeing a CNN story featuring extensive damage to Natalie’s Cakes & More,which also helped generate thousands of dollars in donations for the small business.

Sam said he contacted owner Natalie Dubose and told her he was going to secure her store and others.

“She started crying,” Sam said.

Oath Keepers boarded up a bunch of the storefronts and started night rotations on several rooftops. Sam said he vetted volunteers to ensure there weren’t any “racists” or “people with an ax to grind.” He said he picked volunteers who “have seen the elephant and are calm under fire.”

Fearing more arsonists, Oath Keeper volunteers have buckets of water, fire extinguishers and other nonlethal weapons on the rooftops. Some are also armed with rifles that aren’t available at Walmart and Cabela’s.

The other group of guardians in Ferguson didn’t have as far to go, and had even more reason to show resolve.

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