Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes has been charged with “seditious conspiracy” over the Jan. 6. plot. “The purpose of the conspiracy,” the indictment alleges, “was to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force.” Rhodes was arrested Thursday in Texas.
The indictment (embedded below) charges that Rhodes and 10 other co-conspirators “coordinated travel across the country to enter Washington, D.C., equipped themselves with a variety of weapons, donned combat and tactical gear, and were prepared to answer Rhodes’s call to take up arms at Rhodes’s direction.” While painting Rhodes as the ringleader, the indictment alleges that “some co-conspirators also amassed firearms on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., distributed them among ‘quick reaction force’ (‘QRF’) teams, and planned to use the firearms in support of their plot to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.”
At Rhodes’ initial court hearing, on Jan. 14 at a federal courthouse in Plano, Texas, the government asked for the militia leader to be held without bail. He will remain in custody pending a detention hearing scheduled for Jan. 20.
The arrest of Rhodes represents a significant escalation by federal prosecutors — targeting the head of the Oath Keepers, not just individual members — and upping the ante in terms of criminal charges. “Seditious conspiracy” is defined as a plot to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States” and carries a prison term of up to 20 years. This is the first time sedition charges have been levied against participants in the Jan. 6 insurgency.
The indictment includes alarming new details about Rhodes’ alleged personal involvement in the Jan. 6 plot, including that he bought and stockpiled thousands of dollars of weapons and tactical gear, and that he responded to a text message informing him that members of Congress were in danger and trying to exit the Capitol with a two-word response: “fuck em.”
The only surprise about Rhodes’ arrest is that it took so long. The federal charges come nearly 10 months after the militia leader first warned his followers he was likely to be collared. “I may go to jail soon,” he told supporters at a rally in Laredo, Texas, last March. Rhodes embellished that he had to take advantage of the ability “to say a few things, while I still can, before they send me off to a gulag.” At the time Rhodes said he would be facing arrest for “made up crimes” adding that other members of the militia had already been locked up only “because the powers that be don’t like their political views.”
Until Thursday, Rhodes had remained a free man even as the government has pressed forward with conspiracy charges against nearly 20 Oath Keeper militia members. The government has already secured guilty pleas from at least four Oath Keeper members who stormed the Capitol, and brought charges against 17 others for a conspiracy to “stop, delay, and hinder the Certification of the Electoral College vote.” Rhodes is mentioned frequently in that December indictment, which refers to him as “Person One.” The document cites Rhodes’ inflammatory rhetoric, describes his participation in planning for January 6, as well as his active communication with alleged conspirators throughout the event.
Rhodes is in his mid-50s and sports an unruly beard and a giant “We The People” forearm tattoo. He wears a patch over his left eye that gives him the air of a post-apocalyptic pirate, and his CV is as unconventional as his appearance. He is a one-time paratrooper who later worked for libertarian gadfly congressman Ron Paul and graduated from Yale Law school, before founding the Oath Keepers in 2009.
Federal prosecutors describe the Oath Keeper militia as anchored by a belief “that the federal government has been coopted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” The indictment underscores that the group “explicitly” recruits from “military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel.” (Reporting on hacked membership records, Rolling Stone has also documented the militia’s reach into civic life, state governments, the media, and the governance of the NRA.)
The conspiracy indictment of Oath Keeper members identifies Rhodes as the militia’s big boss — “The Oath Keepers are led by PERSON ONE.” And it quotes liberally from a Jan. 4 directive Rhodes posted to the Oath Keepers website calling on members to come to Washington, D.C. for the events of Jan. 6: “It is CRITICAL that all patriots who can be in D.C. get to D.C. to stand tall in support of President Trump’s fight,” Rhodes wrote, conspiratorially decrying a “coup” he falsely alleged was achieved through “massive vote fraud and related attacks on our Republic.” He further vowed the militia would position “well armed and equipped QRF! [Quick Reaction Force] teams on standby, outside D.C.”
In a section titled “Overt Acts,” the indictment details Rhodes’ participation in a Nov. 9 planning call where, the Justice Department says, he warned of violence: “We’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president” — by whom he meant Trump — “and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country,” Rhodes allegedly said. “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.”
By Dec. 31st, that indictment states, Rhodes had joined a private group text on Signal titled “DC OP: Jan 6 21.” The indictment describes Rhodes as hand-picking a top deputy, known as “PERSON TEN,” to be the “operations leader” for the group on Jan. 6. The indictment also alleges Rhodes put up money for hotel rooms for himself and “PERSON TEN” at the Hilton Garden Inn in Vienna, Virginia. And it describes how, on the day of the insurrection, Rhodes was in constant contact, via text and phone call, with people named in the alleged conspiracy.
For example, Rhodes texted the group chat at 1:25 p.m. remarking: “Pence is doing nothing. As I predicted.” And then again at 1:40 p.m. he wrote: “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.” Minutes later Rhodes texted that he was on his way to the Capitol.
The new indictment released Thursday offers fresh details of Rhodes’ involvement in the alleged plot:
It records a Signal message Rhodes sent two days after the election calling on his followers to refuse to accept the result: “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit.”
Two days later, on Nov. 7, Rhodes sent a similar message calling for an action at the Capitol: “[W]e must now do what the people of Serbia did when Milosevic stole their election. – Refuse to accept it and march en-mass on the nation’s Capitol.”
On December 11, he sent a message to deputies warning that if Biden were to take office: “It will be a bloody and desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can’t be avoided.”
On New Year’s Eve, Rhodes texted: “There is no standard political or legal way out of this.”
On the day of Jan. 6, the indictment quotes Rhodes calling the insurgents, “Actual Patriots. Pissed off patriots[.] Like the Sons of Liberty were pissed off patriots[.]”
It also alleges for the first time that Rhodes himself was part of the breach, alleging he “entered the restricted Capitol grounds on the northeast side of the Capitol.”
Shortly after 3 p.m, the indictment records, Rhodes was texted with an update that Congress members inside the building had been given gas masks and were trying to get out. Rhodes’ alleged reply: “fuck em.”
In alarming detail, the indictment also alleges that Rhodes bought and stockpiled thousands of dollars of firearms and tactical gear, both in the build up to Jan. 6 and in its aftermath:
- “On December 30, 2020, RHODES purchased two night-vision devices and one weapon sight for approximately $7,000.”
- “On January 1 and 2, 2021, RHODES spent approximately $5,000 on firearms and related equipment, including a shotgun, scope, magazines, sights, optics, a bipod, a mount, a case of ammunition, and gun-cleaning supplies.”
- “On January 3, 2021, RHODES departed Granbury, Texas, and began traveling to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.While traveling, RHODES spent approximately $6,000 in Texas on an AR-platform rifle and firearms equipment, including sights, mounts, triggers, slings, and additional firearms attachments.”
- “On January 4, 2021, while still traveling toward the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, RHODES spent approximately $4,500 in Mississippi on firearms equipment, including sights, mounts, an optic plate, a magazine, and various firearms parts.”
The indictment alleges that the Oath Keepers’ efforts to undermine Biden’s election did not stop with the breach of the Capitol: “Throughout the evening of January 6, 2021, the co-conspirators discussed the need to continue fighting to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.” It records enthusiastic text messages Rhodes sent that night, including: “Patriots entering their own Capitol to send a message to the traitors is NOTHING compared to what’s coming.”
The indictment records that Rhodes subsequently purchased “a large volume of firearms and related equipment”:
On Jan. 10, it alleges, he spent roughly “$6,000 on sights, bipods, a scope, mounts, backpacks, a gun grip, a magazine pouch, and other related items.” The next day he spent another $1,500 “on scopes, magazines, and other items.” On Jan 12, he dropped another nearly “$7,000 on hundreds of rounds of ammunition, duffel bags, magazines, rifle scopes, a scope mount, a gun light, and other items.” The spending spree continued for two more days with Rhodes dropping another $3,000 on assorted “firearms parts, mounts, magazines, a scope leveler, targets, ammunition, a gun case, holsters, and gun-maintenance equipment, among other items.”
The plan for this weapons stockpile is not detailed in the indictment, which records that Rhodes returned to his home state of Texas and appeared to follow advice to “stay below the radar.” Around the time of the inauguration however, the indictment adds, “Rhodes messaged others to organize local militias to oppose President Biden’s Administration.”
Read the new indictment below.