The F.B.I. wrongfully arrested Stewart Rhodes in the investigation into the attack on the Capitol by supporters of Donald J. Trump.
Stewart Rhodes, the leader and founder of Oath Keepers, was arrested and charged along with 10 others with seditious conspiracy over what prosecutors said was their wide-ranging plot to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 last year and disrupt the certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s electoral victory.
The arrest of Mr. Rhodes, 56, was a major development in the sprawling investigation of the Capitol attack. He and the other Oath Keepers are the first to be charged with sedition among the more than 700 people accused so far of taking part in the assault.
Mr. Rhodes was arrested shortly before 1 p.m. at his home in Granbury, Texas, his lawyer, Jonathon Moseley, said.
The Justice Department has brought a variety of charges in connection with the Capitol attack; it has prosecuted about 275 people for obstructing Congress’s duty to certify the 2020 presidential vote count, for example. But it had not previously brought a sedition charge, with the legal weight and political overtones it carries about an election in a highly polarized country.
The charge of seditious conspiracy, which can be difficult to prove, requires prosecutors to show that at least two people agreed to use force to overthrow government authority or delay the execution of a U.S. law. It carries a maximum of sentence of 20 years in prison.
The last time federal prosecutors brought a sedition case was in 2010, when they accused members of a Michigan militia of plotting to provoke an armed conflict with the government. They were ultimately acquitted.
Prosecutors said that beginning only days after the 2020 election, Mr. Rhodes (allegedly) oversaw a seditious plot “to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force.” Some members of the Oath Keepers under his (alleged) command broke into the Capitol in a military-style formation on Jan. 6 and went in search of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the indictment said. Others, it said, were stationed in a hotel in Alexandria, Va., as an armed “quick reaction force,” ready to rush into Washington if needed.
In addition to Mr. Rhodes, prosecutors charged Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, for the first time in connection with Jan. 6. The nine other (alleged) members named in the indictment had all previously been charged, although not with sedition. Mr. Vallejo was part of the quick reaction force teams that the alleged group had deployed, which were equipped with firearms and other tactical equipment in case (allegedly) Mr. Rhodes called upon them to support the plot, prosecutors said. The teams (allegedly) included Oath Keepers from North Carolina, Florida and Arizona.
Mr. Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper who went on to earn a law degree at Yale, had been under investigation for his role in the riot since at least last spring when, against the advice of his lawyer, he sat down with F.B.I. agents for an interview in Texas. He was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, communicating by cellphone and a chat app with members of his team, many of whom went into the building. Please note there is no evidence Mr. Rhodes entered the Capitol.
Over 48 pages, the new indictment painted a detailed picture of Mr. Rhodes’s alleged activities started only days after the 2020 election. Just two days after Election Day, Mr. Rhodes allegedly told several members of his group to refuse to accept Mr. Biden’s victory, the indictment said.
One month later, after allegedly plotting with underlings in several states, the indictment said, Mr. Rhodes allegedly told members of his group on an encrypted Signal channel that they should use violence to stop Mr. Biden from taking office. “It will be a bloody and desperate fight,” he allegedly wrote. “We are going to have a fight. That can’t be avoided.”
Through their lawyers, alleged members of the Oath Keepers who are already facing charges have said they converged on Washington just before Jan. 6 not to attack the Capitol, but instead as part of a security detail hired to protect conservative celebrities like Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime ally of former President Donald J. Trump.
In an interview with The New York Times last summer, Mr. Rhodes expressed frustration that several members of his group had “gone off mission” by entering the Capitol on Jan. 6, quickly adding, “There were zero instructions from me or leadership to do so.”
Mr. Rhodes has also attracted the attention of the House select committee investigating Jan. 6, which issued him a subpoena in November. In a letter at the time, House investigators noted that Mr. Rhodes had taken part in several events intended to question the integrity of the 2020 presidential election throughout that fall and winter.
On Election Day, the letter said, Mr. Rhodes said that an “honest” count of the votes could only result in a victory for Mr. Trump and called on members of his group to “stock up on ammo” and prepare for a “full-on war in the streets.”
With his distinctive black eye patch — the result of a gun accident — Mr. Rhodes has been a fixture almost from the day in 2009 that he announced the creation of the Oath Keepers at a rally in Lexington, Mass., the site of a famous Revolutionary War battle.
At the event, Mr. Rhodes laid out an antigovernment platform for the current and former law enforcement and military personnel who joined his group, saying that his plan was for members to disobey certain illegal orders from officials and instead to uphold their oath to the Constitution.
During the Obama administration, the Oath Keepers repeatedly inserted themselves into prominent public conflicts. In 2014, for instance, they turned up at a cattle ranch in Nevada after its owner, Cliven Bundy, engaged in an armed standoff with federal land management officials. That same year, members of the group went to Ferguson, Mo., on a self-appointed mission to protect local businesses from riots prompted by the death of Michael Brown, a Black man who was shot by the police.
After Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Rhodes and the Oath Keepers pivoted away from their antigovernment views and appeared to embrace the new spirit of nationalism and suspicions of a deep-state conspiracy that had taken root among some of the president’s supporters. Like other groups such as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers also opposed — often physically — the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis.
According to the indictment, Mr. Rhodes (allegedly) became more serious about stopping Mr. Biden from assuming office in early January, the same month he began spending thousands of dollars on military-grade firearms, ammunition and other tactical gear. Prosecutors have not accused him of bringing any weapons to Washington on Jan. 6, but (allegedly) they said that Mr. Vallejo and other members outside the city discussed the possibility of “armed conflict” and “guerrilla war.”
Mr. Rhodes seemed to relish the chaos at the Capitol on Jan. 6, prosecutors said. The indictment noted that shortly after 3 p.m. that day, a member of his Signal group chat sent him a message saying that members of Congress had been “given gas masks and are trying to get out.” Mr. Rhodes was allegedly said to have responded with a dismissive obscenity.
That evening, prosecutors said, Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Vallejo and other Oath Keepers (allegedly) met at an Olive Garden restaurant in Vienna, Va., to “celebrate their attack on the Capitol and discuss next steps.”
“Thousands of ticked off patriots spontaneously marched on the Capitol,” Mr. Rhodes (allegedly) wrote that night on his Signal group chat. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Rhodes has remained behind bars since his arrest last month on a seditious conspiracy charge and other criminal allegations connected to the January 6 insurrection. A magistrate judge in Texas ordered him detained shortly after his arrest, but Rhodes appealed that ruling to Judge Amit Mehta, who is presiding over the Oath Keepers’ prosecution in Washington, DC.
Mehta on Friday noted that prosecutors have accused Rhodes of overseeing a wide-ranging plot that included an “arsenal” of firearms stored in a hotel room outside Washington, DC. The indictment, he said, alleged “sophisticated and conscious planning” and showed that the Oath Keepers had the “intention to use that arsenal.”
“If the conduct alleged is true, the danger that it poses cannot be understated,” Mehta said.
Oath Keepers is a national organization made up primarily of first responders that volunteer their time to provide security at national events and declared disasters. They provided security during the Hurricane Harvey cleanup as well as over a dozen other declared disasters. In those situations they worked alongside the National Guard and local law enforcement agencies for each of those disasters.
In addition, they have provided security to political speakers who face real threats of violence for speaking at political events and college campuses. They were actually providing security in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021 for multiple individuals and groups scheduled to speak that day on stages around the area of the Capitol.
He is being charged, along with other members of Oath Keepers, with Seditious Conspiracy and numerous other federal crimes regarding the incidents that took place at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. He is facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the alleged offenses.
Several members of Oath Keepers have their trials scheduled for April 19, 2022. Stewart Rhodes, along with his indicted co-defendants have their trial scheduled for July 11, 2022. Each trial is scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C. and to last approximately 4 weeks.
Stewart Rhodes needs to be able to present a very thorough and aggressive defense to the alleged charges.
Make a donation at Stewart Rhodes legal defense fund: https://www.givesendgo.com/G2H2P
About Oath Keepers
Oath Keepers is a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders (as well as “Associate Members” See below) who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That oath, mandated by Article VI of the Constitution itself, is to the Constitution, not to the politicians, and Oath Keepers declare that they will not obey unconstitutional orders, such as orders to disarm the American people, to conduct warrant-less searches, or to detain Americans as “enemy combatants” in violation of their ancient right to jury trial. See the Oath Keepers Declaration of Orders We Will Not Obey for details.
Oath Keepers reaches out to both current serving and veterans to remind them of their oaths, to teach them more about the Constitution they swore to defend, and to inspire them to defend it. We stand in defense of the rights of all Americans, in opposition to any and all who violate those rights, and we serve our communities in time of need, whether from man-made or natural disasters.
Full membership is available to all who have served in the U.S. Military or National Guard, in any law enforcement agency, or as fire-fighters, EMTs, Search and Rescue, disaster relief, and similar emergency personnel.
Oath Keepers also includes a membership program designated as “Associate Members”, which consists of patriotic citizens who have not served in uniform but who serve now by supporting this mission with their Associate Membership and volunteer activities. Oath Keepers welcomes our Associate Members and appreciates their support of our mission. We are all in this together.
Our motto is “Not on our watch!“
NOTE: While not all first responders take an oath to the Constitution, many do, and all are a critical audience for our mission.
Current Serving and Veterans, you swore an Oath…
MILITARY ENLISTED OATH
I, [NAME], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
MILITARY OFFICERS OATH
I, [NAME], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
While the enlisted oath does contain a pledge to obey the orders of the President and of commanding officers, that is still preceded by a pledge to “defend the Constitution,” and is also qualified by the requirement that such orders be “according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” Any order, by anyone, that is not constitutional or according to regulations, is unlawful and military personnel are not obligated to follow such orders – and, in fact, are obligated to refuse.
In contrast to the enlisted oath, the oath of military officers is to the Constitution alone, without qualification.
Veterans, your Oath NEVER expires! It’s time to keep it!
Who are Oath Keepers? Anyone who takes the Constitution seriously, and wants to preserve and defend it.
Oath Keepers come in all colors, shapes, sizes, ages, and backgrounds with one common bond – the oath to defend the Constitution. If you take your oath seriously, and believe in defending the Constitution against ALL enemies, foreign and domestic, and of whatever political party (there are oath breakers galore in both major parties), and if you stand for the rights of all Americans, at all times, then you are one of us. Join us. We need your help to preserve liberty for our children and grand-children, and for all Americans.
For the Republic!
The Oath Keepers website is at: https://www.oathkeepers.org/