Stewart Rhodes: Oath Keeper leader charged over Jan 6 was disbarred in Arizona, Montana
Rhodes and 10 others become the first to be charged with seditious conspiracy and face 20 years if convicted for their role in the insurrection
To date, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has largely charged those involved in the January 6 insurrection with disorderly conduct and other minor charges. But, on January 13, a group of 11 people made history by becoming the first to be charged with seditious conspiracy over the event. All 11 of those charged are Oath Keepers and include the founder of the far-right extremist group Stewart Rhodes.
Ever since the insurrection, numerous reports have indicated the Oath Keepers have played a vital role in the day's events. In February 2021, we reported that the group had a "death list" of enemies, and were waiting for directions from Donald Trump. Then in May, we found out that the group planned to keep Trump in the White House by force as early as November 2020. It also appears the group had strong ties to Trump, with one of their members (Jessica Watkins) getting a VIP pass to Trump's January 6 speech in front of the White House, reportedly under direct instruction from Trump.
Rhodes' role in the insurrection has always been a bit of a question mark. Based on his past statements, we know he was involved extensively in the efforts to keep Trump in power, but now we know just how involved thanks to the charges against him being made public.
Stewart Rhodes' troubles with the law
A former paratrooper who was discharged honorably, Rhodes is well-known for his eyepatch that is a result of a firearm accident when he was 28. He's no stranger to the law, having had several close brushes with it in the past. After graduating from Yale Law School in 2004, Rhodes clerked for Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D Ryan. However, he was soon the subject of numerous complaints that ended with him being disbarred in 2015 from Montana for violating the rules of professional conduct.
The State Bar of Arizona also admonished Rhodes for practicing without a license in 2012. Over the years, he racked up numerous complaints but never bothered to respond to them or ever appear at hearings, instead of focusing on the Oath Keepers group he founded in March 2009. His arrest over the insurrection is his most high-profile one to date and comes after a long record of controversial comments. On January 30, 2021, he appeared on Infowars and declared "You gotta declare this regime to be illegitimate."
In fact, Rhodes has been at the forefront of the Oath Keepers' efforts over the years, and even more so ahead of the insurrection. "All Patriots who can get to DC need to be in DC. Now is the time to stand. It's not too late to go. Jump on a plane! Jump in your car! Just get there," he said on January 4.
Charges over January 6
For his role, Rhodes and 10 others have been slapped with seditious conspiracy, a charge that carries a 20-year prison sentence if found guilty. It's the first time the DoJ has brought such a charge against the capitol rioters, mainly because it is often quite hard to win a conviction on such charges. Others charged include Edward Vallejo and several others who were already charged over the insurrection like Thomas Caldwell, Joseph Hackett, and Jessica Watkins.
Prosecutors have laid out a strong case against the group, noting how they planned to cross the Potomac in boats and establish a "Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons." Rhodes reportedly did not breach the Capitol itself, but was in a restricted area of the grounds, from where he "coordinated actions" of the group. The indictment also notes he used Signal and other encrypted messaging apps to coordinate the attack in the days and weeks prior, which included extensive planning on weapons and gear. In fact, at the insurrection, the group was distinctly visible for their use of tactical gear including knives and batons.
He was arrested in Little Elm, Texas on January 13, 2021, by federal officials after a grand jury indicted him. The Daily Mail reported that Rhodes was due to testify before the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection, but it was "called off". It's unclear if he will ever testify before the committee, which could be vital given his group's supposed links with Trump.