On 5 July 2017, the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune newspaper in Ohio published a letter from a Bowling Green woman named Amanda Sharp, who described what she said was “insulting, unnecessary” behavior on the part of a local group, the Ohio Black Swamp Oath Keepers:
Disgusted with Oath Keepers at Woodland Mall. I took my 4-year-old son to the mall for the arcade and a movie with his father. Upon leaving the theater Oath Keepers “security” stopped us and said they needed to radio for approval for us to walk from the theater to the main entrance. When my child’s father stated that we were leaving and did not require anyone’s permission to do so, we were followed across the food court by “security” the entire time, and he was giving our descriptions over his radio.
The letter alluded to an event hosted by the Ohio-based Black Swamp Oath Keepers group between 23 June and 25 June 2017 catering to a local community of “preppers” (survivalists preparing for a coming apocalypse or other setback).
While Sharp’s account was circulated online. Nick Getzinger, the executive director for the Ohio Oath Keepers, posted a comment in response to the letter calling it “completely and utterly false, despicable and misleading.” He also sent us his own account of the encounter on 8 July 2017:
Contrary to what Mrs Sharp claims, she was initially allowed to walk through the venue unattended at no fee for her or her husband to go through, however Mrs. Sharp and her husband was later seen inside the venue rented space without an armband where she was directed politely toward the service area to pay for her entry fee as all of the other attendees had done. This was a closed charity venue paid for by the Black Swamp Oath Keepers, it was not an open event. Mrs. Sharp declined the fee for her and her husband to stay and stated she was going to the movies. Instead of walking around, our volunteer offered to escort her and her husband through the venue so they wouldn’t have to walk around since they had their child with them. The volunteer announced that he was walking them through the venue not to embarrass her but to let the next gate area of the cordoned area know that he was voluntarily escorting them to their respected destination unobstructed. I suppose that if you were caught red handed a second time, you might be a bit embarrassed and upset. I suppose we should have summonsed [sic] the police officer only 50 feet away, but where would that have gotten us.
Getzinger has also accused Sharp of initiating a “smear campaign” on Facebook against his organization using another alias, “Manna Jo.” He repeated the claim in his own letter to the newspaper, which was published on 10 July 2017. We could not find posts using that name that mentioned either the Oath Keepers or the Woodland Mall.
Michelle Barton, the mall’s manager, told us that she could not confirm the encounter but did receive one call “about them trying to charge mall customers and escorting them around.” She told us that she offered Sharp an apology and free movie tickets “to try and mend the hard feelings.”
Getzinger and his wife operate a store in the mall that sells “Oath Keeper gear.” However, Getzinger has said that his group is not affiliated with other Oath Keeper organizations. In April 2016, just before the store opened, he specifically distanced his group from the Oath Keepers who converged on Ferguson, Missouri in 2015 amid protests against extrajudicial killings by police. He said at the time:
We have no affiliation with what happened in Ferguson. We are nonpartisan — we are very clear about that. We are Constitutionalists. … We are independent completely from the Oath Keepers that were in Missouri.
Oath Keeper groups are typically comprised of former police and military service members. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described the group overall as anti-government extremists who came together “based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans.”
Sentinel-Tribune editor Victoria Dugger told us on 11 July 2017 that her newspaper was working on its own story about the dispute.