- A federal prosecutor argued Oath Keepers leader Elmer Stewart Rhodes poses a “grave” threat.
- Rhodes wants to be released from jail as he awaits trial on charges linked to the Capitol attack.
- His defense lawyers argued “there was no conspiracy” to overthrow the government.
When the FBI arrested Stewart Rhodes last month on charges tied to the Capitol leader, federal prosecutors alleged that the founder and the far-right Oath Keepers militia presided over a plot for January 6, 2021, that involved “quick reaction forces” and
of weapons in a hotel room outside Washington, DC.
But the Justice Department did not accuse the Oath Keepers founder with sending that quick reaction force into action on January 6. On Wednesday, a federal prosecutor gave the Justice Department’s theory as to why: There was no need given the sheer size of the pro- Trump mob and the violence that was already unfolding that day.
“With respect to that day, it wasn’t necessary,” said federal prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy.
Rakoczy’s remark came during a court hearing Wednesday in which a federal judge appeared reluctant to release Rhodes as he awaits trial on seditious conspiracy charges stemming from the January 6 insurrection. A magistrate judge ordered Rhodes to remain behind bars following his arrest in Texas last month, but the Oath Keeper leader appealed the ruling to Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, DC.
Mehta said he expected to rule by Friday on whether to keep Rhodes or allow his release under stringent conditions.
During the nearly 2-hour hearing, Rakoczy underscored that the alleged conspiracy involved differents and a readiness to use them. Calling Rhodes a “grave” threat, she also argued that the Oath Keepers’ plot went beyond the attack on the Capitol.
“This was one battle in a larger war,” Rakoczy said.
In a group chat with his alleged co-conspirators, she said, Rhodes asserted that January 6 “could be the final nail in the coffin of this republic.” In another message, Rhodes said former President Donald Trump “must know that if he fails to act, we will. He has to understand that we have no choice.”
Rhodes also told his alleged co-conspirators to be “prepared for a major letdown” on January 6 and to “get ready to do it ourselves.”
A Yale-educated military veteran, Rhodes was among the first January 6 defendants to be charged with seditious conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. His indictment marked a significant development in the ongoing investigation into the January 6 attack, an investigation that has given rise to more than 700 criminal prosecutions.
Among the 10 others charged was Edward Vallejo, who was arrested the same day as Rhodes and accused of overseeing a stash of weapons the Oath Keepers kept in a Comfort Inn in Arlington, Virginia, for a so-called “quick reaction force.”
A federal judge previously ordered Vallejo to remain behind bars as he awaits trial. The nine others charged with seditious conspiracy were already facing other claims connected to the January 6 insurrection.
Rhodes’ lawyer James Bright conceded Wednesday that there was “bombastic language” in messages leading up to January 6 but argued, “There was no conspiracy to overthrow the government.” Asked why there was a need for quick reactions forces to begin with, Bright said Rhodes and the others believed they would be able to use the firearms if Trump invoked the Insurrection act to respond to groups such as Antifa or Black Lives Matter.
Mehta questioned whether the “self-designated” authority would have that authority.
“This is not an area I’m an expert on, your honor,” Bright said.
In court papers ahead of the hearing, Rhodes’ lawyers argued that he does not pose a flight risk and that there “is a severe lack of compelling evidence of Rhodes’ leadership of any alleged conspiracy.” His lawyers noted that for more than a year after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, “the government knew of Rhodes’ location at his residence in North Texas and yet failed to detain him at any time.”
“If he was the danger or threat that the Government is falsely attempting to cast him as, he would have been charged and taken into custody within the days and weeks after the events of January 6, 2021, as many others were,” the lawyers wrote.
Rakoczy dismissed the claim that the year-long gap between January 2021 and Rhodes’ arrests suggests he does not pose an ongoing threat. She suggested that Rhodes has laid low in the months since the Capitol attack and pointed to messages from late January 2021 — after the arrests of his alleged co-conspirators — showing that he was aware Signal messages could be used against them.
According to court papers, Rhodes wrote to Vallejo on January 24, 2021, with a caution: “Ed, keep in mind that is NOT a secure chat. Contains at least one turn-coat snitch. Keep that in mind. Please confirm you got this.”