Saturday, January 22

Stewart Rhodes: How his arrest marks a new chapter in the January 6 investigation | the far right

TThe arrest this week of Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers militia, marks one of the most significant moments yet in the federal investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill.

Rhodes, along with 10 other associates, is charged with seditious conspiracy for conspiring to violently overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, the first sedition charges brought by prosecutors related to the insurrection.

Rhodes is one of the most high-profile arrests so far in the year-long investigation into the insurgency, which has charged more than 700 people and counts crimes related to the attack. Many of these cases involved minor charges and most of the suspects received light sentences, but the sedition charges faced by the militants could carry up to 20 years in prison and signal a shift towards more complex cases targeting organized extremist groups.

The conspiracy charges against Rhodes and other Oath Keepers members, as well as the separate conspiracy to obstruct congressional cases involving Oath Keepers and Proud Boys extremists, are also significant because they may reveal the extent of the planning of the attack. What level of prior coordination and conspiracy by pro-Trump groups carried out before January 6 remains a key question, and will become a focal point of trials in the coming months.

A man dressed in a black shirt and baseball cap speaks to a crowd through a microphone.
Stewart Rhodes, founder and leader of Oath Keepers, speaks during a gun rights rally in Hartford, Connecticut, in 2013. Photograph: Jared Ramsdell/AP

“We had such a good development and narrative of what people on the ground were doing, but we haven’t yet had a definitive narrative about the people in power behind it and who was organizing it,” said Melissa Ryan, executive director. . from CARD Strategies, a consulting firm that investigates extremism and disinformation online.

“Between what we see in the coming months from the justice department and what comes out of the select investigation by Congress, hopefully a story will start to emerge.”

Who are Rhodes and the Oathkeepers?

Rhodes has been a leading figure on the far right for more than a decade. Easily distinguishable by his dark eye patch, the result of dropping a loaded pistol and shooting himself in the left eye when he was 20, according to an atlantic investigation – Rhodes placed himself at the forefront of the anti-government militia movement amid its resurgence after the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

A former Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate, Rhodes announced the creation of Oath Keepers at a 2009 rally at the site of a Revolutionary War battle. The group, which Rhodes marketed to former and current police and military personnel, claimed to uphold the constitution and advocate disobeying certain laws, such as gun control legislation. Rhodes was careful to create a broad appeal for the organization, initially trying to distance it from more overtly violent extremism and claiming that it was not officially a militia.

A man dressed in military attire and a black baseball cap speaks on a radio as he surveys a crowd.
The Oath Keepers became ardent supporters of Donald Trump, seen here acting as security for those leaving a Trump rally in Minneapolis in 2019. Photograph: Jim Urquhart / Reuters

But the Oath Keepers soon became a leading group in the extremist anti-government militia movement, with thousands of members across the country. He became a visible presence at anti-government and anti-gun control demonstrations, while promoting far-right conspiracies about a totalitarian New World Order. Rhodes frequently told his followers that the United States was enter a state of civil war and arm yourself, a call that became more prevalent during the national protests against racism and police killings in 2020. The Oath Keepers also became ardent supporters of Donald Trump and gained a foothold in the modern Republican party, including providing security for longtime Trump ally Roger Stone a day before the attack on Capitol Hill.

In September 2021, the pirates published a list of members for the Oath Keepers that revealed the extent to which the group had become embedded in state institutions. Its members included dozens of members of law enforcement, members of the military, and elected officials, some of whom used their government emails when they signed up for the militia.

“The Oath Keepers just built more and more political power within the Republican Party, taking positions at the local level, running for office,” Ryan said. “There are state senators who proudly identify themselves as Oath Keepers. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a member of Congress in the next two cycles.”

A twist in the investigation

The charges against the Oathkeepers are some of the most serious to date in the investigation, alleging a well-armed plot to undermine democratic elections. The researchers also present a series of events that contradict the dominant narrative of January 6 among right-wing media figures and many Republican politicians, who have claimed the attack was a largely peaceful political protest and promoted conspiracy theories of that leftists or government agents were behind any violence.

The cargo documents involving Rhodes and ten associates charged with seditious conspiracy portray a group trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and willing to use violence to achieve their goals. Prosecutors allege that the Oath Keepers undertook extensive planning and coordination, with encrypted messages between members discussing the overthrow of the government before the attack and making plans to form “rapid reaction force” teams to enter the Capitol area. with firearms.

Men dressed in military garb and black face masks stand guard over a man wearing a gray hat and pinstripe suit inside a white tent.
Members of the Oath Keepers provided security for Roger Stone on January 5. Photograph: Jim Urquhart / Reuters

“They coordinated trips across the country to enter Washington DC, equipped themselves with a variety of weapons, dressed in combat and tactical gear, and were prepared to respond to Rhodes’ call to take up arms,” the court documents state.

In the weeks leading up to the attack, Rhodes allegedly spent more than $20,000 on weapons and tactical gear, including night vision goggles, a shotgun and boxes of ammunition. Court documents indicate that on the morning of the insurrection, Rhodes suggested to other Oath Keepers in an encrypted group chat that armed quick reaction force teams were waiting. (As part of a agreement with the prosecution last year, an Oath Keeper admitted to hiding an M4 rifle in a Comfort Inn hotel outside the Capitol).

“We’ll have several well-equipped QRFs out of DC,” Rhodes texted the Oath Keepers group chat.

Federal investigators had been circling Rhodes for some time, filing court documents in March alleging he was in direct communication with Oath Keepers involved in the Capitol attack and then several months later using a warrant to seize his cellphone. Rhodes declared last year that, against the advice of his legal counsel, he sat down for a three-hour interview with federal agents to discuss the role he and the Oathkeepers played in the attack. He continually claimed that he had done nothing wrong.

A group of people in military attire stand on the steps in front of the United States Capitol.
Members of the Oath Keepers militia group stand on the east front steps of the US Capitol in Washington DC on January 6. Photograph: Jim Bourg/Reuters

“I may be going to jail soon, not for anything I’ve done, but for fabricated crimes,” Rhodes said in a March speech in Texas last year.

None of the government conspiracy cases related to the Capitol attack have yet gone to trial, and investigators say sedition charges may be difficult to prove. The government charged several members of the militia with seditious conspiracy in the past only to have those defendants go free after the cases went to trial. In the late 1980s, a acquitted by the jury 13 white supremacists that prosecutors had charged with seditious conspiracy involving a plot to kill a federal judge and overthrow the government. More recently, nine members of the Michigan militia were acquitted in 2012 after authorities accused them of plotting to start an armed uprising against the government.

It’s also unclear what Rhodes’ arrest and the charges numerous Oath Keepers face mean for the extremist organization as a whole. Since the insurrection, some members of the group they have defended for greater participation in local government and political activism. Meanwhile, investigators say they have benefited from a Republican cover-up of the Capitol attack that has allowed them to continue to operate with a degree of impunity.

“A lot of us assumed they would weaken on January 6,” Ryan said. “It seems the opposite has happened.”

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