The following narrative explores the role of an organization, the Oath Keepers, and its founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes, in the events of January 6th at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. But first, some history:
“How come Stewart isn’t in prison? He was there. He told everyone to come.”
These words were uttered back in April 2014 by Sue DeLemus, a Republican member of the House of Representatives. This was following the Bundy Ranch standoff, which was arranged by Stewart Rhodes and took place in Nevada. As a result of the event her husband, retired Marine sergeant Jerry DeLemus, spent seven years in prison. But Rhodes, who had promised to help her husband with the legal troubles he was suffering due to Rhode’s call-to-action, was nowhere to be found when Jerry was arrested. And that’s because by the time trouble rears its ugly head, when the house of cards comes tumbling down, Rhodes has a unique tendency to be long gone.
It seems that Sue DeLemus never got her question answered back in 2014 as to why her husband was in prison. Yet the man who arranged the entire standoff her husband was accused of participating in has faced not one legal charge. And today there are plenty of people asking the same question (all you have to do is type Stewart Rhodes’s name into a search engine whose algorithms aren’t skewed, such as DuckDuckgo.com).
Image credit: Thedailycoin.org
Fast Forward to 2021
But this time, it’s 2021 instead of 2014, and the questions are about the events that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, instead of the Bundy Ranch standoff. According to the court documents, Stewart Rhodes appears to have been the mastermind behind the Oath Keepers plot to “storm the capitol.” But it seems to be only the people that took his orders who are paying the price, not him.
Sure, there may have been a few answers given as to why Rhodes hasn’t been apprehended, but the answers are not based in fact and reason. For instance, it seems to be universally accepted that Rhodes’s lack of physical presence inside the Capitol during the time of the heavily publicized “insurrection” on January 6 is a sufficient explanation as to why he has gotten off scot-free so far. There was a recent Buzzfeed article published about the GoFundMe page Rhodes’s wife created to help pay for her divorce. In the article, when referring to January 6, the writer mentions quite casually that “Rhodes, 55, stayed outside the building and has not been charged, but prosecutors have revealed text messages and phone records that show he was in communication with the Oath Keepers just before and after they entered the Capitol.”
The Indictment for Events on January 6
The indictment, Oath Keepers Fourth Superseding Document, may be downloaded into a 38-page document directly from the Department of Justice website. In the document, excerpts of the conversations that Rhodes had with the other Oath Keepers are quoted throughout to explain why each specific charge was brought against these “conspirators.” The first count in the indictment is conspiracy, meaning conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding (Senate certification of the Presidential election). Since the conversations used in the indictment go all the way back to November 3, and Rhodes was the person that directed the plans throughout most or all of these messages, then they could have at least nailed him with conspiracy charges.
Months ago, there was also talk that Rhodes hasn’t been indicted yet because the government is waiting to bring him up on higher charges of sedition. The Revolver put out an excellent piece recently, Federal Protection of “Oath Keepers” Kingpin Stewart Rhodes Breaks the Entire Capitol “Insurrection” Lie Wide Open, which does an in-depth analysis of all these details. “If the DOJ wanted to go for sedition charges, it would have been far more advantageous to indict Rhodes five months ago, because Rhodes would be in a much weaker legal and financial position,” the Revolver reasoned. “He’d be fighting sedition charges while he’s already breaking down under the weight of conspiracy charges.”
At this point you may be asking yourself why Rhodes’s central role in initiating and developing the Oath Keepers’ plot to offer assistance to President Trump on January 6 went so largely unnoticed. The key is that Stewart Rhodes’s name was never mentioned in the hearing, and instead he was repeatedly referred to by attorneys as “Person One.” When recounting the January 6 timeline of the Oath Keepers’ movement around and through the Capitol, here is an excerpt from the indictment that mentions Person One aka Stewart Rhodes:
“At 1:25 p.m., PERSON ONE messaged the Leadership Signal Chat, ‘Pence is doing nothing. As I predicted.’ About 15 minutes later, he sent another message, stating, ‘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.’”
There were, of course, more text messages and communications involving Person One as the instigator and central figure of any violent plans that the Oath Keepers had in the works for January 6. Many of these messages contained fiery rhetoric, talk of weapons and violence, panic over government corruption and an election possibly stolen from Donald Trump. But the above excerpt from the Oath Keepers’ communication points out another important fact as well. It shows that President Trump himself was not in any way involved in the January 6 Capitol siege. Which raises the question: Why didn’t anyone from the government that possessed this information that Trump wasn’t involved in the events on January 6 present it to the authorities trying to impeach Trump? It would have saved not only Trump and his lawyers, but the overall American population a lot of headaches.
Who is Stewart Rhodes?
So, the prosecution seems to identify Stewart Rhodes as “Person One.” All over the Internet, citizens refer to Rhodes as “controlled opposition.” In reality, maybe he’s nobody. Who really is Stewart Rhodes, and who are the Oath Keepers?
A good person to turn to for insight is Richard Mack, one of the group’s members known for his legislative victory. Mack won a successful lawsuit he filed against the federal court during the Clinton administration, which alleged that the Brady Handgun Violence Act violated the Constitution. In a recent article from Buzzfeed, Mack said that Oath Keepers members had expressed concerns about the group’s engagement in violent protests, and that the board voted down Rhode’s proposal for the Oath Keepers to offer security at the 2016 National Convention.
Oath Keepers Vice President Jim Arroyo also had a few interesting things to say when he was interviewed by 60 Minutes back in April. He vouched for the professionalism and advanced training of the Oath Keepers, thanks to their military backgrounds and training they have received from active-duty law-enforcement officers. He also said that himself along with many chapters of the Oath Keepers distanced themselves from Rhodes following the events at the Capitol on January 6. Arroyo said that what Rhodes and his ten accomplices did at the Capitol “goes against everything we have ever taught, everything we believe in.”
The problem is, Stewart started the Oath Keepers, but he was never voted to be their decisionmaker and/or spokesperson. So this means that nothing Rhodes says or does is indicative of the rest of the Oath Keepers’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. However, the so-called “board” of the Oath Keepers doesn’t seem to be much more than a formality. “He is the Oath Keepers,” says Mack regarding Rhodes. “It’s his organization, and he can do what he wants.”
And if you go backwards in history and look through his life, Stewart Rhodes seems to have done just that: exactly what he wants. According to Buzzfeed, Rhodes has said he joined the army after high school and served as a paratrooper until an injury ended his military career with an honorable discharge. The Atlantic reported that after that Rhodes, having to give up his dream of being a Green Beret, worked as a car valet and firearms instructor. He was about 28 years old, and during this time he also had an incident where he dropped a loaded handgun and accidentally shot himself in the eye (which explains why he can often be seen with an eye patch). He then attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, then went on to get his JD from Yale Law School. When he was at Yale he won a prize for a paper he wrote that exposed how President George W. Bush’s enemy-combatant doctrine falls short in its constitutionality.
Right from the get-go there seems to be a lot of uncertainty around the story Rhodes gives of his early life. Buzzfeed reported it was unable to verify Rhodes’s military service after contacting the Army and the National Archives. In a Freedom of Information Act document from January 2014, the FBI states that “Rhodes is allegedly a former paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate.” Then when you look through the rest of the file that they have on him, you can see that most of the information is blocked out, meaning it is not suitable for the public to have access to.
Following his graduation from Yale, Rhodes began practicing law, got involved with Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, and started taking actions that are part of what eventually created the Oath Keepers. His first blog post imagined that Hillary Clinton became president, and that she banned guns and militias in the aftermath of a mass shooting or domestic terror event. The Oath Keepers were founded based on the pledge that soldiers and law-enforcement officers take to uphold and defend the Constitution. Rhodes insisted on his blog that these groups can refuse any orders from the government that would enable tyranny, and fight back to the tyrants themselves if they found it necessary.
Who are the Oath Keepers?
The Militia Act of 1903 (also known as the Dick Act and the Efficiency in Militia Act of 1903), was legislation enacted by the United States Congress to form the early National Guard. So basically, the state militias became federalized, which allowed the government to have better and more reliable access to these militias.
The first true public appearance of Stewart Rhodes and the Oath Keepers took place on April 19, 2009, at the Lexington Green in Massachusetts. The event was a rally held by Committees of Safety that celebrated the 234th anniversary of the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord. On a taped conversation, one of the attendees from the Lexington event, who was also outside the Capitol on January 6th of this year, started:
“Look, I would love to expose Stuart Rhodes as part of what clearly appears now to be “controlled opposition” [meaning he was setting up all the other members of the Oath Keepers]. Most of the guys in the Oath Keepers are honest Patriots, but something does not add up when it comes to Stewart Rhodes.”
The anonymous source then explains how a Constitutional expert he is familiar with has mentored Rhodes, and as a result Rhodes should know better than what he is allowing everyone to believe:
“Edwin Vieira, Jr. got his JD from Harvard Law School, graduating first in his class and is considered by many to be the pre-eminent Constitutional expert when it comes to the ‘Militia.’ Stewart Rhodes got his JD from Yale. He clearly understands the fundamental difference between a ‘militia’ (a private group of guys with guns deciding to call themselves a ‘militia’) and the ‘Militia of the several States’ (Art. II), ‘Militia’ (Art. I), and ‘A well-regulated militia…’ (Amendment II) as the Constitution refers to them.”
The anonymous attendee goes on to describe the education that Vieira gave to Rhodes:
“Edwin Vieira has spent many hours on the phone with Stewart Rhodes regarding this vital difference. And yet, Stewart has continued to deceive not only his own members but the public at large, and of course the media is happy to go along with this deception to demonize the word ‘militia.’ For almost four hundred years, (1607 to 1903), we had a properly organized and functional Militia system, first by colonial statutes, then from 1776 to 1903 by state statutes. There is no historical or constitutional precedent in America to what the media and Stewart [Rhodes] are speaking about in regard to a ‘militia.’ “
The anonymous source says, however, that there are two possible ways to fix this crucial mistake. The first way that he provides is that “Congress could amend the Militia Act of 1903 by stating ‘The Army’s Nation Guard troops will no longer be called the ‘organized State Militia.’ “ And second, “The state legislators and governors [can choose to] organize and revitalize their State Militias by state statute.‘’
The anonymous attendee paints a detailed picture of what he refers to as the “bastardization of the militia” that has taken place in America, saying that militias “are not some yahoos out in the woods with camo and ammunition.” Indeed, if you begin reading and doing research about the Oath Keepers online, the word “militia” comes up quite often. Supposedly, in the beginning Rhodes didn’t want the group to be a militia, but now all you hear is that it’s the “nation’s largest militia.” And it seems that when people are referring to the Oath Keepers as a militia, they are usually trying to imply that the group promotes extremist, anti-government and radical views. This appears to be yet another attempt by the political establishment and mainstream media to mislead the public – in this case, regarding the origin of the word “militia”.
Rhodes created an official list of 10 types of orders that Oath Keeper members vow to resist. These include gun control laws, warrantless search and seizure, and foreign troops on U.S. soil. The group’s purpose was to set the stage for the militia to be prepared to fight back against globalism and a tyrannical federal government. That sounds like a justifiable purpose, one that’s even more relevant today.
The Oath Keepers started out with the image of a respectable non-profit, providing relief after the devastating hurricanes that took place in Houston and Puerto Rico, or attending meet and greets and giving speeches at local Republican events. But things changed over the years; more violence seemed to creep in and by 2014 the group had taken a dramatic turn.
And along the way as the Oath Keepers made themselves into what they are today, or as Rhodes continued to make them into what he wanted them to be, another red flag appeared. In June 2011 Rhodes offered legal counsel to two people involved in an Arizona case involving violation of constitutional rights, following a protest that Rhodes also participated in. And then he completely vanished, and never responded to court orders or showed up for important depositions. Court filings showed that he had done something similar to a client in Colorado. This situation led a federal judge to file an ethics grievance and by December 8, 2015, Rhodes was disbarred from practicing law in the state of Montana.
The Bundy Ranch Standoff
And it was around this time, in April 2014, that the federal government threatened to take away Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada, claiming he owed over $1 million in grazing fees. Bundy’s stance was that the federal government has no authority over a sovereign state like Nevada, and he therefore refused to give them any of his money.
So Rhodes encouraged Oath Keepers to give donations and arranged an armed stand-off to help the Bundy family avoid losing their ranch. Then several days later Rhodes suddenly pulled out the Oath Keepers, deserting the other militant groups, and caused panic with his rants about a supposed drone strike he claimed Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General at the time, was preparing. And, as per usual, Rhodes broke another couple of promises. Despite the generous funds that the Bundy standoff produced for the Oath Keepers, Rhodes never followed through with their pledges to give financial support to other militant groups involved. And, Sue and Jerry DeLemus, who are mentioned in the very beginning of this article, never got the help they desperately needed and were told they would get from Rhodes when Jerry was facing legal charges and prison time as a result of the event. This echoes what happened with legal clients in Arizona and the events leading up to and on January 6: Rhodes shows up and promises everything, then conveniently disappears and leaves everyone else to pick up the pieces. Do we see a pattern here?
These are the words used to describe who the Oath Keepers are from the Department of Justice, though they do not specify the person that said it: “The Oath Keepers are a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias. Some members of the Oath Keepers believe that the federal government has been co-opted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” Compare this to the description of the group on the Oath Keepers’ website: “Oath Keepers is a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police officers, and first responders, who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ “ The DOJ seems determined to villainize this group, by punishing everyone except the one leading it.
The question is this: Is a group that charges $50 a year to support the state militias really capable of more damage than a group such as Black Lives Matter, who raked in $90 million last year, and enjoys endorsements from celebrities like Beyonce and Jay-Z, and companies like Facebook, Google and Coca-Cola? From the facts that have been analyzed here, many would agree there seems to be more going on than meets the eye. Since 2009, it seems that Stewart Rhodes, rather than the Oath Keepers, has been causing quite a commotion in society. The anonymous source referenced above pretty much sums it up with the following statement: “What I should have done was yank him [Stewart Rhodes] off the stage [back in 2009].”
Sheila Gallo contributed to this article.