A federal judge on Friday refused to release Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes as he awaits trial for conspiring with other members of his far-right militia to attack the U.S. Capitol to prevent Congress to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said federal prosecutors presented “compelling if not strong” evidence against Rhodes, who has been the leader of the group since its inception in 2009. Rhodes poses a “clear and compelling danger” to the public, the judge said during a remote hearing.
“His ability to communicate and organize are his greatest weapons,” Mehta said, calling Rhodes an “extremely sophisticated individual.”
Rhodes and 10 others linked to the Oath Keepers are the first to be charged with seditious conspiracy in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. Four other Oath Keepers defendants charged with seditious conspiracy remain jailed pending trial in July.
Their January 12 indictment also charged Rhodes with obstruction of justice. Prosecutors say he tried to destroy electronic evidence of the alleged conspiracy from his cellphone.
Rhodes, 56, has been held in federal custody since his arrest in Little Elm, Texas, a day after he was charged. On January 26, a federal magistrate in Plano, Texas ordered him to be jailed pending trial. Rhodes’ lawyers asked Mehta to overturn that decision, but the judge denied that request.
Prosecutors say Rhodes orchestrated the group’s assault on the Capitol with the support of an armed “quick reaction force” or “QRF,” stationed at a Comfort Inn just across the river in Arlington, in Virginia. The QRF was made up of Oath Keepers members from Arizona, Florida and North Carolina and remained in contact with Rhodes during the attack, prosecutors say.
“QRF teams kept an arsenal of firearms and related equipment and stood ready to get those weapons into the hands of co-conspirators on the ground in Washington under the direction of Rhodes or other conspiracy leaders “, wrote prosecutors in a court filing.
Rhodes’ attorneys described the QRF as a defensive force, “called upon if and only when necessary to defend members or those whom they have been tasked to protect,” they wrote in a filing.
The indictment also alleges that two teams of oath keepers formed military-style “stacks” when they stormed and entered the Capitol.
During a hearing on Wednesday, the judge asked a prosecutor why authorities believed the oath keepers had not activated a QRF team. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy said they didn’t need it because the group members entered the Capitol without it.
Rakoczy called Rhodes the “architect” of the plot. One of Rhodes’ lawyers, James Bright, said no such conspiracy existed.
“There was no plot to overthrow the government,” Bright told the judge. “There was definitely a tremendous amount of pompous language that was involved.”
Rhodes spent more than $15,000 on guns and related gear the week before the Capitol riot and purchased more than $17,000 in additional gun-related gear between Jan. 6 and Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021, according to prosecutors. Mehta said the amount and timing of these gun purchases are not consistent with someone buying them for self-defense.
Rhodes’ attorneys said he posed no threat to the public or a flight risk. He voluntarily met with FBI agents several times after Jan. 6 and gave them his phone, they noted.
Lawyers for Rhodes said Oath Keepers believed then-President Donald Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act on Jan. 6, “requiring militias and other groups to defend that statement.”
“When that didn’t happen, Rhodes and others did nothing. They left the Capitol and went to dinner,” the defense attorneys wrote.
Oath keepers also provided security for longtime supporters of Trump, Roger Stone, and others in Washington that day, according to lawyers for Rhodes.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurgency requested Rhodes’ testimony when he appeared before the panel remotely from jail earlier this month.
Rhodes is a graduate of Yale Law School and a veteran. He lived in Granbury, Texas after the Capitol Riot and has been held in a Bonham County, Texas jail since his arrest.
“Rhodes used his legal and military training to lead an attack on our fundamental democratic traditions and deliberately recruited others with similar military and law enforcement experience to join the fight,” prosecutors wrote.