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.
“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,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly C. Priest Johnson said in a 17-page detention order.
“On balance, the evidence in the record overall indicates Defendant’s release could endanger the safety and wellbeing of others. This factor weighs in favor of detention,” Johnson added, citing Rhodes’s alleged “authoritative role in the conspiracy, access to substantial weaponry, and ability to finance any future insurrection, combined with his continued advocacy for violence against the federal government.”
Rhodes has been detained since his Jan. 13 arrest by the FBI, and his lawyers vowed they would appeal the decision. Phillip A. Linder and James Lee Bright did not immediately respond to requests for comment after the judge released her order, but at a detention hearing Monday they argued for Rhodes release. They said he posed no risk of flight nor danger to the public during the hearing in which Rhodes sat before Johnson in a black and white jail jumpsuit with his hands shackled at his waist.
Rhodes has had the same address for two years, cooperated with the FBI since agents questioned him last May 3, 2021, and even allowed them access his phone’s contents, Linder said.
“You’ve seen what he looks like,” Bright said, referring to Rhodes’s trademark black eye patch and stocky build. “Everyone in America knows what he looks like. In terms of flight risks, there are none,” he said, with Linder adding, “There will be a second decision.”
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 predicted his arrest in March 2021, and FBI agents seized his phone in May, even as he repeatedly denied wrongdoing. Rhodes has pleaded not guilty.
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 jailing order against Rhodes came in the first case in which the Justice Department has leveled the historically rare charge of seditious conspiracy in the Capitol breach investigation, brought against Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers or associates.
The rioting at the Capitol followed a rally at the White House Ellipse, at which President Donald 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.
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 Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, transforming the Oath Keepers into a kind of shock-troop militia to keep Trump in power in the White House despite the 2020 election results.
In their defense, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers have argued that their mission was to provide personal protection for Republican VIPs, including longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. A number of the individuals charged as part of the alleged Oath Keeper conspiracy were involved in guarding Stone in the days and hours leading up to the attack on Congress.
Stone has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has consistently said he was not involved in the Capitol riot and did not have advance knowledge of the breach. Stone has said Oath Keepers members offered to provide him free security but that he did not know the faces or names of security guards he was photographed with in Washington before they were charged.
In her detention decision, Johnson said that while Rhodes had no criminal history, there was “some evidence of a propensity towards violence in Defendant’s personal relationship,” citing testimony by Rhodes’s estranged wife. Rhodes has said he not filed federal income tax since 2007, the judge noted.
Johnson also said Rhodes’s continued advocacy for violence against the federal government was reinforced by his “technical savvy, military training and familiarity with encrypted communications,” which she said are nearly impossible to monitor and that Rhodes was known to use.
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.