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Oath Keepers founder is charged with organizing the January 6 riot


Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers, is seen in a photo released by Colin County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday

The founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy for allegedly organizing the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, during which he entered a restricted area and allegedly commanded those inside.

Stewart Rhodes, 56, the leader of the anti-government group, was taken into custody by federal officials in Little Elm, Texas, on Thursday, after a grand jury returned indictments against him and a core group of 10 Oath Keeper members.

They are accused of planning and carrying out the insurrection to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. 

The seditious conspiracy charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  

Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper, is known for his eye patch – worn since he was 28.

A former firearms instructor, he dropped a loaded handgun and it shot him in the face, blinding him in his left eye.  

Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group, was arrested on Thursday on federal charges of seditious conspiracy related to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol

Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group, was arrested on Thursday on federal charges of seditious conspiracy related to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol 

More than a dozen members and associates of the Oath Keepers have been indicted, making it the largest conspiracy case that has been brought so far over the riots

More than a dozen members and associates of the Oath Keepers have been indicted, making it the largest conspiracy case that has been brought so far over the riots 

THE 11 DEFENDANTS CHARGED WITH SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY

Stewart Rhodes, 56, from Granbury, Texas, founder of the Oath Keepers far-right group, is accused of planning the militia’s attack on the US Capitol.

Rhodes did not breach the building but was said to be in a restricted area of Capitol grounds, from where he coordinated the actions of the militiamen, who was seen marching in formation, dressed in tactical gear.  

 

 

Edward Vallejo, 63, from Phoenix, Arizona, is accused of coordinating quick reaction force teams during the January 6 Capitol attack. 

Vallejo was described in the indictment as standing at the ready near a hotel in Washington DC with guns and vehicles.

He was quoted as writing in a group chat on the encrypted messaging app Signal: ‘Vallejo back at the hotel and outfitted. Have two trucks available. Let me know how I can assist.’

Thomas Caldwell, 67, of Berryville, Virginia, on January 3 allegedly suggested in a text message getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River to their ‘waiting arms.’ 

During a search of Caldwell’s home, authorities said they found a ‘Death List’ that included the name of an elected official, and invoices for various weapons, including a gun shaped like a cellphone.

Caldwell has denied being a member of the Oath Keepers, and his lawyer filed documents alleging that he has had a top-security clearance since 1979 and previously worked for the FBI. 

 

 

Joseph Hackett, 51, of Sarasota, Florida, a chiropractor, is accused of leading the local chapter of the Oath Keepers coordinating training, planning, travel, and action with Rhodes.

According to the indictment, Hackett paid for a hotel room in DC from January 5-7, 2021. 

It alleges Hackett and others ‘prepared themselves for battle before heading to the Capitol by equipping themselves with communication devices and donning reinforced vests, helmets, and goggles.’ 

 

 

Kenneth Harrelson, 41, of Titusville, Florida, a US Army veteran, was photographed inside the Capitol Rotunda with members of Oath Keepers. 

He is accused of being among a group of rioters who were hunting for House Speaker Nancy during the insurrection. 

One of co-conspirators allegedly texted Harrelson and asked he make ‘Pelosi’s head [roll] down the steps of the Capitol.’

 

Joshua James34, of Arab, Alabama, owns a cleaning company. Photos from before the riot show him ‘providing security’ to speakers at the Stop the Steal rally. 

 

Kelly Meggs, 52, of Dunnellon, Florida, was arrested and charged with his wife Connie. 

The Meggses are accused of conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property, and other crimes. 

He is also accused of colluding with Proud Boys to storm the Capitol.

At the beginning of this year the Meggses sued the House select committee investigating the insurrection, saying their subpoena for their phone records was unlawful. 

 

 

Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, Texas, was part of the ‘guard’ for Roger Stone.

In response to a call for individuals to storm the Capitol after it had been breached, Minuta and Joshua James drove to the Capitol with others in a pair of golf carts.  

During this time, they swerved ‘around law enforcement vehicles’ with Minuta allegedly asserting: ‘Patriots are storming the Capitol… so we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now… it’s going down guys; it’s literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building…’

 

David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda, Florida, was seen in FBI images wheeling a long gun case in to a hotel in Arlington, Virginia.

He is seen on footage inside the Capitol next to Graydon Young, a man from Englewood who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the FBI. 

 

Brian Ulrich, 44, of Guyton, Georgia, had been previously charged in the investigation.

He began planning for the riot a week prior and had joined an online group to discuss arrangements.

On the day of the attack, Ulrich allegedly formed a ‘stack’ formation and breached the Capitol grounds with other Oath Keepers and affiliates.

 

Jessica Watkins, 39, a bartender from Woodstock, Ohio, said that she was in DC to help with security for speakers at the Trump rally that took place right before the Capitol storming.

She is also claiming the United States Secret Service was aware of her assisting in security efforts near the White House that day. 

 

 

He is the highest-ranking member of an extremist group to be arrested in the deadly siege and it is the first time the Justice Department has brought a seditious conspiracy charge in connection with the Capitol riots.

The bar for proving sedition is not as high as it is for the related charge of treason. Still, sedition charges have been rare and are difficult to win. 

In all, 19 members of associates of the Oath Keepers faces charges of corruptly obstructing an official proceeding by traveling to Washington intent on stopping lawmakers from declaring Biden the election winner. 

Rhodes and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, were arrested on Thursday. 

The others who were charged were already facing criminal charges related to the attack. 

Those include Thomas Caldwell, 67, of Berryville, Virginia; Joseph Hackett, 51, of Sarasota, Florida; Kenneth Harrelson, 41, of Titusville, Florida; Joshua James, 34, of Arab, Alabama; Kelly Meggs, 52, of Dunnellon, Florida; Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda, Florida; Brian Ulrich, 44, of Guyton, Georgia and Jessica Watkins, 39, of Woodstock, Ohio.

Prosecutors said Caldwell sent a text message to someone believed to be affiliated with the Three Percenters, an anti-government movement, on January 3 about the possibility of sending weapons across the river.

‘How many people either in the militia or not (who are still supportive of our efforts to save the Republic) have a boat on a trailer that could handle a Potomac crossing?’ Caldwell wrote, according to prosecutors. 

‘If we had someone standing by at a dock ramp (one near the Pentagon for sure) we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms.’

Hackett’s wife Deena hosts the ‘Battle Cry’ podcast, which includes mentions of far-right conspiracy theories, including the unproven QAnon belief that Democrats are engaged in child sex trafficking and stands by the insurrection.

In the since-deleted podcast, Deena complained that former president Donald Trump and ‘the so-called Republicans’ were not working hard enough to help those arrested in connection to the attack on the Capitol.

‘The Americans who have fought for this country … we are now terrorists,’ Deena said. 

She did make an exception for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene saying, ‘love her,’ according to The Washington Post. 

Aside from her part-time gig as a podcast co-host, Deena is a Florida Licensed Acupuncture Physician and the owner of 941 Wellness, a holistic body alignment center.

According to the indictment, Hackett paid for a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Washington, DC, from January 5-7, 2021. 

It alleges Hackett and several others ‘prepared themselves for battle before heading to the Capitol by equipping themselves with communication devices and donning reinforced vests, helmets, and goggles.’

The group reportedly broke into the Capitol building at 2:28 pm with Hackett leaving at 2:54 pm, according to ABC 7. 

Another Florida man, Kenneth Harrelson, 41, was first indicted in February last year by a grand jury and arrested in Florida in March. 

The probable cause affidavit for charging Harrelson at the time named him as a co-conspirator along with other members seen in a ‘stack’ formation near the Capitol, dressed in tan and camouflage tactical gear adorned with Oath Keeper insignia. 

Alabama-based Joshua James, who owns cleaning company America Pro Hydro Services, and was in Washington wearing an Oath Keepers baseball cap and a black long-sleeve top with an Oath Keepers patch on the sleeve.

Photos of the pre-riot rally showed James and other Oath Keepers providing security ‘to a speaker at the ‘Stop the Steal’ events planned for that day,’ according to the criminal complaint. 

Kelly Meggs attended the riot with his wife, Connie, and he was found to have coordinated in advance with members of the Proud Boys. 

In a December 22 Facebook message, Meggs discussed the Oath Keepers having 50 to 100 members in Washington, D.C., on January 6.

‘Plus we have made contact with PB and they always have a big group. Force multiplier,’ Meggs wrote

Three days later, on Christmas, Meggs messaged again with a person he urged to come to Washington, providing what prosecutors call a ‘provisions list’ of armor and non-gun weapons to bring.

He also described a more detailed attack plan with the Proud Boys, who call themselves a fraternal group promoting ‘anti-political correctness’ and ‘anti-white guilt.’ 

‘You can hang with us we will probably be guarding [redacted] or someone during the day but then at night we have orchestrated a plan with the proud boys,’ Meggs wrote, an excerpt from the Facebook messages said.

‘I’ve been communicating with [redacted] the leader. We are going to march with them for awhile then fall back to the back of the crowd and turn off,’ Meggs wrote. 

‘Then we will have the proud boys get in front of them … we will come in behind antifa and beat the hell out of them.’

On January 4, the couple sued the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, saying that the subpoena issued by the committee for cell phone records will prejudice the Jan. 6-related criminal conspiracy case against them. 

‘The Select Committee’s Subpoena invades the privacy of a U.S. citizen, worse than what occurred under the British Crown, Congress itself abrogated those rights and shielded telecommunications users like the Plaintiff from the piercing of the privacy of their communications by its own statutes,’ the lawsuit says.

‘Allowing an entirely partisan select committee of Congress to subpoena the personal mobile phone data of Mrs. Meggs and her husband, alleged members of the Oath Keepers, an organization that was merely a supporter of President Trump’s and not listed ‘terrorist’ seeks to work a massive chilling of current and future activists’ associational and free speech rights,’ the complaint says. 

‘What if the opposite were to happen to ‘Black Lives Matter’ activists during a Republican majority? Without limit to date range or geography or persons? 

‘There would be no one to challenge power, and the First Amendment would effectively be speech sponsored by the government and major corporations.’

Robert Minuta was, along with Joshua James, seen acting as a ‘boddyguard’ for Trump ally Roger Stone.

In response to a call for individuals to storm the Capitol after it had been breached, Minuta and James drove to the Capitol with others in a pair of golf carts.  

During this time, they swerved ‘around law enforcement vehicles’ with Minuta allegedly asserting: ‘Patriots are storming the Capitol… so we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now… it’s going down guys; it’s literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building…’

Once at the Capitol, Minuta aggressively berated and taunted officers who were guarding the perimeter of the Capitol near the East side of the building, the indictment states. 

The pair forcibly entered the building through the east side Rotunda doors at around 3.15pm, which is the same access point their co-conspirators had entered from. 

According to the indictment, Minuta wore hard-knuckle tactical gloves, ballistic goggles, a radio with an earpiece and bear spray. 

As Minuta exited the building at 3.19pm, he was seen on video yelling at an officer: ‘All that’s left is the Second Amendment.’  

David Moerschel was caught on camera before the riot wheeling a cart with at least one long gun case onto an elevator at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia. 

The FBI also says it secured encrypted messages, an account linked to Moerschel attending 17 Oath Keeper-affiliated meetings. 

Another image identifies Moerschel inside the Capitol next to Graydon Young, a man from Englewood who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the FBI. 

Brian Ulrich, from Georgia, also joined in planning the attack.

He too has been previously indicted. 

The only woman among the group was Jessica Watkins, a 39-year-old bartender from Ohio.

Watkins, a transgender woman, has been detained since mid-January 2021.

Court filings revealed that Watkins is claiming she was only in D.C. on January 6 to help with security for speakers at the Trump rally that took place right before the Capitol storming.

She is also claiming the United States Secret Service was aware of her assisting in security efforts near the White House that day.

Prosecutors allege Watkins, an Afghanistan war veteran, entered the Capitol building illegally.

Her attorney appears to acknowledge this fact in a petition filed Saturday claiming that ‘Ms. Watkins did not engage in any violence or force at the Capitol grounds or in the Capitol.’ 

Jonathan Moseley, an attorney representing Rhodes, described his client’s indictment and arrest as ‘an unusual situation.’ 

Moseley said Rhodes was supposed to testify before the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection in a deposition but it got called off. 

He was talking to Rhodes on the phone about the committee when Rhodes was contacted by the FBI. 

Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building on January 6 but is accused of helping put into motion the violence that disrupted the certification of the vote. 

The Oath Keepers case is the largest conspiracy case federal authorities have brought so far over January 6, when thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed past police barriers and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and sending lawmakers running.

The indictment alleges that, after the election, Rhodes conspired with his co-defendants and others ‘to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power by Jan. 20, 2021.’

Authorities say Rhodes held a GoToMeeting call days after the election, telling his followers to go to Washington and let Trump know ‘that the people are behind him.’ 

Rhodes told members they should be prepared to fight Antifa and that some Oath Keepers should ‘stay on the outside’ and be ‘prepared to go in armed’ if necessary.

‘We’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country. 

‘Because if you don’t, guys, you’re going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody – you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or fight,’ Rhodes said, according to court documents.

Authorities have said Rhodes was part of an encrypted Signal chat with Oath Keepers from multiple states leading up to January 6 called ‘DC OP: Jan 6 21’ and it showed the group was ‘activating a plan to use force’ that day. 

Beginning in December 2020, Rhodes and his fellow militiamen allegedly used encrypted and private communications apps to coordinate and plan to travel to Washington DC on January 6, the date of the certification of the electoral college vote. 

Federal authorities claimed that Rhodes and several others planned to bring weapons and ammunition with them. 

According to the indictment, the defendants carried out the conspiracy by organizing into teams, recruiting additional members, hosting training sessions to teach paramilitary combat tactics, bringing tactical gear and weapons, including knives and batons, to the Capitol grounds. 

Days before the attack, one defendant suggested in a text message getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River to their ‘waiting arms,’ prosecutors say.  

The suspects’ efforts culminated with them ‘breaching and attempting to take control of the Capitol grounds and building on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to prevent, hinder and delay the certification of the electoral college vote,’ according to the US Department of Justice.  

The indictment alleges that after the failed insurrection, the Oath Keepers and their affiliates continued the thwarted plot by using social media, text messaging and encrypted apps to communicate with co-conspirators. 

Rhodes has said in interviews with right-wing hosts that there was no plan to storm the Capitol and that the members who did so went rogue. 

But he has continued to push the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, while posts on the Oath Keepers website have depicted the group as a victim of political persecution. 

On January 6, a large crowd began to gather outside the Capitol perimeter as the Joint Session of Congress got under way at 1pm following a fiery speech by then-President Donald Trump. 

That afternoon, authorities say Rhodes told the group over Signal: ‘All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. 

‘So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. 

‘They’ve had enough.’ 

Crowd members eventually forced their way through, up and over US Capitol Police barricades and advanced to the building’s exterior façade, according to the Justice Department. 

Shortly after 2pm, rioters forced their way inside the Capitol by breaking windows, ramming open doors, and assaulting Capitol police and other law enforcement officers. 

Around 2.30pm, Rhodes had a 97-second phone call with Kelly Meggs, the reputed leader of the group’s Florida chapter, who was part of the military-style stack, authorities say. 

About 10 minutes later, Rhodes sent a photo to the group showing the southeast side of the Capitol with the caption, ‘South side of US Capitol. 

‘Patriots pounding on doors.’ 

Around that same time, those in the stack formation forcibly entered the Capitol, prosecutors say.  

Several accused Oath Keeper rioters are seen in this picture released by the Department of Justice taken on January 6

Several accused Oath Keeper rioters are seen in this picture released by the Department of Justice taken on January 6

A federal indictment that was unsealed on Thursday alleges that Oath Keepers and their affiliates breached the US Capitol after planning to travel to Washington DC with weapons and tactical gear to 'delay the certification of the electoral college vote'

A federal indictment that was unsealed on Thursday alleges that Oath Keepers and their affiliates breached the US Capitol after planning to travel to Washington DC with weapons and tactical gear to ‘delay the certification of the electoral college vote’

Donovan Ray Crowl, who has since been indicted by federal authorities for his role in the siege on the US Capitol, marches down the east front steps of the Capitol with members of the Oath Keepers militia

Donovan Ray Crowl, who has since been indicted by federal authorities for his role in the siege on the US Capitol, marches down the east front steps of the Capitol with members of the Oath Keepers militia

OATH KEEPERS: THE FAR-RIGHT MILITIA GROUP THAT BELIEVES THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PLANS TO IMPOSE MARTIAL LAW

Rhodes, a Yale Law graduate and Army paratrooper, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009

Rhodes, a Yale Law graduate and Army paratrooper, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009

Elmer Stewart Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate from Texas, started the Oath Keepers in 2009, and the group has grown into one of the nation’s largest anti-government militias. 

Many supporters – two thirds – are former members of the military or law enforcement, who see the far-right group as upholding the constitution. Around 10 per cent are active duty, The Atlantic reported in November 2020.

They follow a list of 10 ‘Orders We Will Not Obey’ including forcing Americans into concentration camps, confiscating their guns and cooperating with foreign troops in the United States. 

The list is derived from the idea that the federal government intends on imposing martial law and turning the country into a one-world socialistic government known as the ‘New World Order.’ 

By 2011, Rhodes claimed he had members in every state. 

The Atlantic obtained a database of members, reporting: ‘There was a sheriff in Colorado, a SWAT-team member in Indiana, a police patrolman in Miami, the chief of a small police department in Illinois. 

‘There were members of the Special Forces, private military contractors, an Army psyops sergeant major, a cavalry scout instructor in Texas, a grunt in Afghanistan. 

‘There were Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, a 20-year special agent in the Secret Service, and two people who said they were in the FBI.’ 

In 2013, the group announced the planned formation of ‘Citizen Preservation’ militias meant to defend Americans against the New World Order.  

In 2014, Oath Keeper members joined an armed standoff between federal officials and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over grazing rights on government land.

Later that year and in 2015, members patrolled the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, amid protests over the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. They wore camouflage body armor and openly carried rifles. 

Rhodes had his group patrol the polls in an activity they called Operation Sabot during the 2016 Presidential election. 

Rhodes and Oath Keepers supported Trump during his presidency. 

During this time, Rhodes became increasingly conspiratorial, adopting and peddling a number of fringe right-wing conspiracy theories with the assistance of his friend Alex Jones. 

These ideas included false claims that a large illegal voting operation was coordinated ahead of the 2016 general election, and that migrants from Central and South America were being encouraged to move to the United States to change the demographics.  

Federal officials argue that Rhodes and his cohorts came to Washington DC intent on stopping lawmakers from certifying President Joe Biden's election victory

Federal officials argue that Rhodes and his cohorts came to Washington DC intent on stopping lawmakers from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory 

SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY: THE CHARGE USED BY PRESIDENT ADAMS TO TAKE ON ‘TREASONOUS’ JOURNALISTS 

The offense of seditious conspiracy is federal crime that involves two or more people in any state or territory conspiring to ‘overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them.’

Those found guilty of seditious conspiracy could face a fine, or a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, or both. 

For veterans, the penalty is even more harsh.

Under Title 38 of the U.S. Code, Section 6105, veterans convicted of ‘subversive activities’ forfeit their benefits: health care, disability compensation, education and burial benefits, plus pensions. Their dependents also lose benefits. 

The last time federal prosecutors filed seditious conspiracy charges was in 2010 against members of the Michigan-based Hutaree Christian militia, who were accused of inciting a revolt against the government. 

But a judge dismissed the seditious conspiracy counts at trial, ruling that prosecutors failed to demonstrate that the alleged militia members ever had detailed plans for an anti-government insurrection. 

One of the last successful convictions for the crime of seditious conspiracy stemmed from an incident that took place in 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists stormed into the US Capitol and opened fire on the House floor, injuring five Congress members. 

At about this time, according to the indictment, Rhodes entered the restricted area of the Capitol grounds and directed his followers to meet him at the Capitol.

Some 30 minutes later, as detailed in the indictment, a group of Oath Keepers – many wearing paramilitary clothing and patches with the militia’s name, logo, and insignia – were photographed marching in a ‘stack’ formation up the east steps of the Capitol, joining a mob, and making their way inside. 

Later, another detachment of Oath Keepers formed a second ‘stack’ and breached the Capitol grounds, marching from the west side to the east side of the Capitol building and up the east stairs and into the building, documents alleged.

While some Oath Keepers stormed the building, others remained stationed just outside of the city in quick reaction force, which, according to the indictment, ‘were prepared to rapidly transport firearms and other weapons into Washington, D.C., in support of operations aimed at using force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.’ 

Oath Keeper defendants have argued in court that the only plan was to provide security at the rally before the riot or protect themselves against possible attacks from far-left Antifa activists. 

Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate, started the Oath Keepers in 2009, and the group has grown into one of the nation’s largest anti-government militias, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In 2014, Oath Keeper members joined an armed standoff between federal officials and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over grazing rights on government land.

Later that year and in 2015, members patrolled the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, amid protests over the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. They wore camouflage body armor and openly carried rifles. 

The Oath Keepers and members of other extremist groups, such as the Proud Boys, make up just part of the more than 580 people who have been charged in the January 6 riot. 

But several of their leaders, members and associates have become the central targets of the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation as authorities work to determine to what extent the attack was plotted in advance.

The last time U.S. prosecutors brought a seditious conspiracy case was in 2010 in an alleged Michigan plot by members of the Hutaree militia to incite an uprising against the government. 

But a judge ordered acquittals on the sedition conspiracy charges at a 2012 trial, saying prosecutors relied too much on hateful diatribes protected by the First Amendment and didn’t, as required, prove the accused ever had detailed plans for a rebellion.

Among the last successful convictions for seditious conspiracy stemmed from another, now largely forgotten storming of the Capitol in 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the House floor, wounding five representatives. 

HOW YALE LAW GRAD-TURNED-PARATROOPER STEWART RHODES TOOK A HARD-RIGHT TURN AND FOUNDED OATH KEEPERS 

Stewart Rhodes grew up in the Southwest and joined the Army after finishing high school. 

He became a paratrooper, receiving an honorable discharge due to an injury in a night parachuting accident. 

He attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, graduating in 1998. 

During his time there, Rhodes claims he taught rape prevention at the college women’s center, and it was also during that period that he bounced around a number of other jobs including working as a certified concealed-carry firearms instructor and a valet driver.

In 1993, he lost his eye when he dropped a loaded handgun which shot him in the face. He has worn his hallmark eyepatch ever since. 

That year, the Waco siege deeply affected him. Ending in the deaths of more than 70 members of an armed Christian sect, he saw it as illustrative of the danger of government power. 

After college, his first politically oriented job was supervising interns in Washington, D.C., for Libertarian Ron Paul, then a Republican congressman from Texas. 

Rhodes subsequently attended Yale Law School, graduating in 2004, and clerked for Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan. He later volunteered on Paul’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.

Following his experience with the Paul campaign, Rhodes published one of his first political diatribes. Appearing on his blog in January 2008, the post blasted political opponents’ charges that Paul was linked to hate groups and racists. (The congressman’s Ron Paul Report, in fact, did contain many racist statements over the years, but Paul has claimed that he did not write or read them). Using the fevered language that would become his trademark, Rhodes railed against the ‘full-blown smear campaign.’ Calling it a ‘lame attempt at guilt by association’ and ‘stupid,’ he added, ‘This only tells me that Ron Paul is a real threat to the political establishment, and they are pulling out all the stops in an attempt to stop the Ron Paul Revolution.’ 

Rhodes went on to disclose that his maternal ancestors were Hispanic and ‘American-Indian,’ and made the argument that because he was ‘mixed-race’ and saw no indication of racism, the claims against Paul had no merit.

Rhodes then took a hard-right turn away from electoral politics in 2009, forming the Oath Keepers, a Nevada nonprofit organization. 

He began recruiting current and former military officers, veterans and police officers, and started the Oath Keepers blog. 

At a rally in Lexington, Massachusetts on April 19, 2009, Rhodes officially launched the Oath Keepers before a large crowd of first responders.

Rhodes moved from Nevada to Montana, relocating his law practice and joining a growing movement presence in the Big Sky state. He registered the group as a non-profit and created a board of directors, in a bid to give his group legitimacy – carefully avoiding the word ‘militia’, condemning racism, and stating on the blog that members were only to fight as a last resort.

‘Our would-be slave masters are greatly underestimating the resolve and military capability of the people,’ Rhodes wrote on his blog. 

By 2011, the Oath Keepers had members in every state, Rhodes said, the group was claiming to have more than 30,000 people on its membership rolls, although that is an unverifiable and highly unlikely number.

Rhodes’ fervent call to resist perceived government overreach has been amplified with frequent media appearances on platforms offered by megaphone-wielding demagogues such as radio conspiracy-monger Alex Jones, and through alliances with right-wing groups, including extreme Tea Party factions. 

He embraced Donald Trump, seeing him as a president who, at last, aligned with their ‘patriotic’ interests. 

Rhodes was quick to defend Kenosha gunman Kyle Rittenhouse after he shot and killed two BLM protesters in August 2020, calling him ‘a Hero, a Patriot’ on Twitter. 

When a Trump supporter was killed later that week in Portland, Oregon, Rhodes declared: ‘Civil war is here, right now.’

He was then banned from the platform for inciting violence. 

 

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