UPDATE (November 29, 2022, 5:30 pm ET): In a mixed verdict, a jury found Tuesday Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, another member of the far-right organization, guilty of seditious conspiracy. in connection with riots at the United States Capitol. All five defendants were found guilty of other charges, including obstruction of an official proceeding.
Committee hearing on Tuesday, January 6 provided the most comprehensive road map to date of how domestic extremist groups, specifically the Oath Keepers, moved towards the US Capitol. Testimony and private messages published by the committee have supported the evidence presented during the ongoing prosecution of 32 Oath Keepers members and affiliates of his role in the insurrection. Taken together, a picture has emerged detailing how an anti-government organization originally formed to oppose a supposedly tyrannical federal government found itself poised to fight on behalf of a tyrannical US president.
Understanding this evolution is crucial to understanding the motivations of founder Stewart Rhodes and his organization.
Understanding this evolution is crucial to understanding the motivations of founder Stewart Rhodes and his organization. In the years since the founding of the Oath Keepers in 2009 and on January 6, 2021, Rhodes recognized the strategic advantage of embracing a wide range of right-wing conspiracies targeting perceived enemies and external groups. This worldview then leaked through the grassroots. In his testimony Tuesday, former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove described the group as a «dangerous militia, fueled by the ego and drive of Stewart Rhodes,» who saw himself as a «paramilitary leader.» .
This description is consistent by Tasha Adams, Rhodes’ estranged wife, who described to me in a series of direct messages the changes he’s noticed over time within Oath Keepers and Rhodes himself. Adams says the group evolved from one that clearly «harnessed the energy and politics of the Ron Paul movement that was so popular during 2008-2009» to focus more on «the politics of the much more right-wing Tea Party movement.» Later, during the events of the 2014 Bundy Ranch showdownAdams says he witnessed «the organization becoming more militant in rhetoric and actions.» By the 2016 election, Adams notes, «Stewart had completely transformed himself and his organization into a Republican militia group, one that had less to do with Rhodes’ anti-government ideology and more to do with gaining popularity» within the ecosystem. from right.
Indeed, throughout 2020 and culminating in his alleged role in the 2021 insurrection, Rhodes and the Oath Keepers increasingly assumed an openly hostile stance toward the political status quo in the United States, clinging to the “Stop the Steal” conspiracy in particular.
The January 6 committee presentation also highlighted Rhodes’ remarks at the Jericho March in Washington, DC on December 12, 2020. In DC, Oath Keepers provided security for VIPs and Rhodes delivered a speech to the crowd. calling trump invoke the Insurrection Act to stay in power. Rhodes threatened that if Trump did not invoke the act, the Oath Keepers would be forced into a «much more desperate action.» [and] much bloodier war to secure that result.”
Rhodes’ public comments mirrored his private exhortations when the plans for January 6 crystallized.
Rhodes’ public comments mirrored his private exhortations as plans for January 6. crystallized in the aftermath December 19, Trump’s ‘Be There. It will be wild! Cheep. At the time, Rhodes was tying the fate of his organization to an illegitimate and authoritarian takeover that he fervently hoped would give his group the fame and legitimacy he had long sought.
The Oath Keepers certainly accomplished the former, but the latter is a different story. Amy Cooter, military expert offers a valuable metaphor to understand the modern militia movement, describing it as «multiple trees on the same small plot of land…separate entities, but their roots grow in the same soil.» As such, regardless of what the future holds for the Oath Keepers as an organization, the mobilizing concepts that brought this violent militia to the Capitol continue to inspire a multitude of actors today, whether they belong to formal organizations or not.
And the danger posed by the right’s singular obsession with the “Stop the Steal” conspiracy did not end with the prosecution of the Oath Keepers, and it did not end with the events of January 6. Rhodes’ willingness to respond to the authoritarian call to arms in the hope of being used as modern “brownshirts” It further demonstrates what both Jason Van Tatenhove and Tasha Adams have claimed: that Rhodes was driven not simply by his anti-government convictions, but by a lust for power. Individually, both motivations have proven dangerous, but combined they are even worse.