In Plano, U.S. Judge Postpones Decision Over Whether to Release Oath Keepers Leader Stewart Rhodes

Stewart Rhodes is the founder of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia and anti-government group
Stewart Rhodes is the founder of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia and anti-government group Jacob Vaughn
Ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot last year, militia leader Elmer Stewart Rhodes warned his followers that “we aren’t getting out of this without a civil war.”

On Monday, Rhodes, who lives in Little Elm, appeared in a federal court in Plano. His lawyers argued that he should be released on bail. Prosecutors, however, made their case for Rhodes to remain behind bars, saying he rallied his followers to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.” Rhodes has entered a not-guilty plea.

Early Monday afternoon, a federal judge decided to postpone for an additional 24 to 48 hours the decision over whether to release Rhodes on bail.

Along with 10 other members and associates of the Oath Keepers militia, he’s facing several charges including seditious conspiracy over his alleged role in the U.S. Capitol riot that sought to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s November 2020 electoral victory over former President Donald Trump.

Federal prosecutors say Rhodes helped orchestrate a plot to “storm” the U.S. Capitol. He’s among more than 700 people around the country who have been charged in connection with the riot, during which hardline Trump supporters raided the building and caused an estimated $1.5 million of damage.

Speaking to reporters after Rhodes’ first hearing earlier this month, one of his lawyers, James Lee Bright, insisted that the militiaman had “no reason to flee.”

“He has no passport,” Bright said. “He has nowhere to go.”

"We will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them." - Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers

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Seditious conspiracy charges, though rarely used, can carry a sentence of up to two decades in prison. Prosecutors are banking on comments they say Rhodes made in the lead-up to the election certification last year.

Rhodes allegedly said that if Biden became president, “we will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them.”

Founded in 2009, the Oath Keepers claim a membership of tens of thousands that includes former and current law enforcement officers and members of the U.S. military. In recent years, the group has flocked to protests around the country to rally in Trump’s defense or against left-wing protesters or Black Lives Matter activists.

The Southern Poverty Law Center watchdog, which monitors hate groups, says the Oath Keepers is an armed anti-government outfit "based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy Americans’ liberties."

In December 2020, Rhodes wrote an open letter to Trump in which he urged the then president to remain in office and resist the “fraudulent election.”

“We are already in a fight,” Rhodes wrote in the letter. “It’s better to wage it with you as Commander-in-Chief than to have you comply with a fraudulent election, leave office, and leave the White House in the hands of illegitimate usurpers and Chinese puppets.”

In a court filing against one of the 11 militiamen facing seditious conspiracy charges, prosecutors allege the Oath Keepers stockpiled a cache of weapons including rifles, ammo and tactical gear, among other supplies, the news website Axios recently reported.

With Rhodes and other prominent Oath Keepers on trial, North Texas lawyer Kellye SoRelle has been appointed as the militia's interim leader. 
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.