The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed pending trial on Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy charge

Rhodes poses a threat to the public and could evade authorities if he were to flee, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly C. Priest Johnson ruled

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, is charged with seditious conspiracy. (Aaron Davis/TWP)

A federal judge ordered Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday pending trial on a charge of seditious conspiracy, a major blow to the outspoken leader of the extremist group Oath Keepers and the highest-profile person charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Rhodes poses a threat to the public and could evade authorities if he were to flee, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly C. Priest Johnson ruled, citing testimony of his long advocacy of using force against the federal government, military training, familiarity with encrypted communications, and organizing of fighters and weapons leading up to the Capitol breach.

“The evidence shows Defendant orchestrated a large-scale attack on the federal government with the purpose of intimidating, by violence, federal officials and disrupting official governmental proceedings incident to the transfer of power in the Executive Branch following a national election,” Johnson, of Plano, Tex., said in a 17-page detention order.

While the FBI found weapons in a search of Rhode’s storage unit and alleged he purchased $40,000 of firearms and related gear in the days before and after Jan. 6, the judge said his First and Second Amendment rights to free speech and to purchase and transport firearms were not in question.

Instead, Johnson cited “the totality of the evidence” that Rhodes poses “a significant risk of harm to others,” including “his leadership and strategic involvement” in not only advocating but also executing a plan to carry out violence against U.S. authorities to prevent President Biden from being inaugurated. That combination “gives rise to a credible threat that Defendant’s release might endanger others by fostering the planning and execution of additional violent events,” the judge concluded.

Read the judge's detention order here

Rhodes has no criminal history, but allegations that he destroyed evidence and his history of “extreme defiance to federal authority” — including his claim that he has not filed federal income taxes since 2007 — raised doubt that he would comply with any release conditions, the judge ruled.

Johnson cited testimony by Rhodes’s estranged wife of 26 years, Tasha Adams, who came forward with “some evidence of a propensity towards violence in Defendant’s personal relationship.” Testifying to the court, Adams said that before Rhodes left the family home, he installed “elaborate escape tunnels” in his backyard, hid unregistered cars in the woods and purchased hundreds of dollars of razor wire “in case the feds ever came to his door,” Johnson wrote.

Lawyers for Rhodes, arrested Jan. 13 by the FBI and held at the Fannin County, Tex., jail, said they would appeal the decision.

Phillip A. Linder and James Lee Bright argued that Rhodes — who appeared at a detention hearing Monday in a black and white jail jumpsuit with his hands shackled at his waist — posed no risk of flight nor danger to the public. They said Rhodes has had the same address for two years, cooperated with the FBI since agents questioned him May 3, 2021, granted them access to his phone’s contents, and offered to turn himself in in D.C. upon indictment.

“We respect the decision [Judge Johnson] has made, but we do genuinely disagree with it,” Bright said in a telephone interview. “We don’t believe Mr. Rhodes is a future danger to anybody.” Bright said conditions could be crafted to release Rhodes to the custody of a third-party friend or relative, adding, “just know when the day is done we’re ending up in a full jury trial on July 11.”

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the District, which is prosecuting Capitol breach cases, declined to comment.

The order to incarcerate Rhodes is the latest turn in the government’s months-long pursuit of the former Army paratrooper and Yale Law graduate who has become one of the most visible figures of the far-right anti-government movement. Rhodes, who has pleaded not guilty, predicted his arrest in March 2021 and repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

The leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group, Stewart Rhodes, pleaded not guilty on Jan. 14 to seditious conspiracy charges for his alleged role in Jan. 6. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Karen Jacobi/Reuters)

Rhodes said he was communicating with members of his group on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to “keep them out of trouble,” and he asserted that Oath Keepers associates who did go into the Capitol “went totally off mission.” He also denied plans to bring and stage firearms near Washington that day.

The Justice Department leveled the historically rare charge of seditious conspiracy for the first time in the Capitol breach investigation against Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers or associates.

Justice Department alleges Capitol riot was seditious conspiracy

Rhodes and co-conspirators planned “multiple ways to deploy force” to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power by Inauguration Day 2021, the government alleged. The group organized into teams, underwent paramilitary training, coordinated travel, assembled and staged weapons, and donned combat and tactical gear, prosecutors alleged.

All “were prepared to answer Rhodes’ call to take up arms at Rhodes’ direction,” the indictment states. They were evidently drawn to Washington partly in the hope that President Donald Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, transforming the Oath Keepers into a kind of militia to keep Trump in power in the White House despite the 2020 election results.

The rioting at the Capitol followed a rally at the White House Ellipse, at which Trump urged his supporters to march to Congress. Pro-Trump rioters assaulted more than 100 officers and stormed Capitol offices, halting the proceedings as lawmakers were evacuated from the House floor.

In arguing for detention, the FBI and federal prosecutors said Rhodes could “leverage” his Oath Keepers and family contacts to go into hiding. Rhodes no longer lives with his family in Montana and has lived a somewhat transient life, the FBI said, since moving in mid-2020 to Texas and staying with Kellye SoRelle, with whom Rhodes said he is in a relationship.

Adams had testified that she feared for her and her six children’s safety, the judge wrote, and claimed Rhodes often brandished firearms at home to control her behavior and abused the children under the guise of “martial arts practice” when he was angry, on one occasion allegedly choking their daughter.

Bright called Adams “not credible,” and Adams admitted that she never filed a police report or reported the incidents to others. Her application for a temporary restraining order in 2018, the last time Rhodes saw his children, was denied, the judge added.

Still Johnson said the government has shown evidence of the breadth of Rhodes’s national Oath Keepers network and the ease with which he could evade capture if he were freed.