Stewart Rhodes is the founder and leader of the far-right paramilitary group Oath Keepers, which has essentially disbanded in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. In May 2023, he was sentenced to 18 years In prison for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government.
A former Army paratrooper, Rhodes first got into politics as a staff member supervising interns for then-Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) . He is a lawyer educated at Yale Law School who previously practiced in Montana and also served as a former judicial clerk for the Arizona Supreme Court. However, he was disbarred in Montana after the state Supreme Court held that he had abandoned clients in Arizona.
Rhodes founded Oath Keepers in 2009 for former military and law enforcement officers to protect their communities against “government tyranny,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which lists the organization as an anti-government extremist group. Before founding the group, he was highly critical of government power, such as the Bush administration’s use of enemy combatant status to detain American terrorism suspects indefinitely.
Despite that earlier history, Rhodes advocated for Trump to use the power of the presidency to overturn the results of the 2020 election and deploy troops to suppress any “domestic enemies” who would oppose the power grab.
In a May 2022 interview with the SPLC, three of Rhodes’ adult children recounted examples of their father’s long history of domestic abuse. This included one child’s attempt to flee his home and a failed attempt to obtain a restraining order. Rhodes’ children also spoke about his path towards founding the Oath Keepers, which included support for former Rep. Paul, irrational fear of the Obama administration, and an obsession with the history of the American Revolutionary.
January 6, 2021
- Rhodes was arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. He was denied bail and awaited his fall 2022 trial in jail.
- The charges against Rhodes asserted that he and other members of the Oath Keepers under his leadership plotted to disrupt the electoral process and endangered former Vice President Pence.
- Federal prosecutors presented evidence that after the 2020 election, Rhodes said, “Prepare your mind, body, and spirit” because “we aren’t getting through this without a civil war.” In December, Rhodes promised a “bloody, massively bloody revolution” should a peaceful transfer of power occur, and in the lead-up to the Capitol riot he purchased thousands of dollars’ worth of weapons, ammunition, and tactical gear.
- In May 2022, another member of the Oath Keepers facing trial for seditious conspiracy revealed that Rhodes attempted to contact Trump on the evening of Jan. 6, 2021. According to court testimony by Oath Keepers member William Todd Wilson of North Carolina, Rhodes tried to call an individual close to Trump “to tell President Trump to call upon groups like the Oath Keepers to forcibly oppose the transfer of power.”
The Big Lie
- In February 2022, Rhodes told the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection that he still considered the 2020 election “illegitimate.” However, his attorney tried to downplay the significance of his statement, asserting that many other Republican leaders felt the same way.
- Rhodes claimed that Democrats stole the election for Biden “in multiple ways” and said he would resist enforcement of any law Biden passed as president.