Weapon enthusiast, former paratrooper and loved by the far right: Now the militia leader and ten other members have been charged with planning the congressional storm.
14. jan. 2022 09:15
Last updated today 11:35
Two groups have emerged as the most active during the storming of Congress last year: Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.
On Thursday, he became the leader of the Oath Keepers and ten other members accused of having planned the storming by Congress January 6 last year. But who is the leader, and what kind of group are the Oath Keepers?
Founder arrested and charged
– I’m Stewart Rhodes. And I’m the founder of Oath Keepers.
During a rally in honor of the American Revolutionary War, the existence of the militia group Oath Keepers was announced for the first time in 2009.
Thirteen years later, Rhodes and several members have been indicted for their role in the storming of Congress on January 6 last year. The indictment is the first to be directed at people the authorities believe were behind the planning of the attack, writes The New York Times.
From Yale to militia leader
Rhodes himself has said that he enlisted in the army after he finished high school. There he is said to have served as a paratrooper. This, however, has never been confirmed or denied by the military. An injury must have led him to leave the army.
Then the road went on to the University of Nevada, followed by studies at the elite university Yale. There he trained as a lawyer, according to the website Buzzfeed News.
In 2008, Rhodes published a blog post. This has remained as one of the Oath Keepers’ most important documents.
In the post, Rhodes describes how Hillary Clinton, whom he calls “Hitlerly”, would react in the aftermath of a mass shooting or a terrorist attack committed by an American. He wondered if Clinton would ban guns and militia groups and then use the military and police to arrest members of the militia group.
The post got a lot of attention in right-wing extremist circles. Overnight, Rhodes went from being anonymous to becoming a sought-after speaker during far-right rallies. It was after this, in April 2009, that Oath Keepers was founded.
Militia against the authorities in the desert
The militia advocates that members of the military and the police should not follow orders that they believe violate the constitution. Among other things, to seize weapons.
The rules are regularly published on the group’s website. A reminder that the group is loyal to the constitution, not to the president.
From the beginning, the group has tried to recruit members from the military and the police, writes NPR. They even claim to have tens of thousands of members. In fact, they have around 5,000, according to researchers. This makes them one of the largest paramilitary militias in the United States.
Gradually, the group has attracted more and more radical members. Rhodes, on the other hand, has stayed in the background during violent clashes with other groups.
Perhaps the most dramatic thing happened in April 2014, he writes The Atlantic. A rancher in Nevada refused to pay taxes the authorities claimed he had not paid. Then came Rhodes and other Oath Keepers members to support the rancher.
It all culminated in an armed, deadlocked situation between the militia and the federal government. Members from across the country flocked to the ranch after Rhodes had asked them to come. Several gave donations to the group, writes Buzzfeed News.
“Just like in any military battle situation, supply lines are extremely important,” Rhodes said.
The media lined up manfully. Rhodes held several press conferences and appeared regularly in the news. In the end, the authorities gave up.
After this, the number of members in Oath Keepers increased sharply. The gifts fell in. But in retrospect, several of the members who took part in the armed action in Nevada have been arrested and sentenced to longer prison terms. Rhodes, who encouraged people to travel, has not been prosecuted.
Stored weapons outside Washington DC
In recent times, Rhodes has become very popular among right-wing media sites. Among other things, he is frequently seen on Infowars, a website and a radio channel that spreads conspiracy theories.
The members are notoriously known for being heavily armed. But they have also been praised for their humanitarian efforts. When Hurricanes Harvey and Maria hit Houston and Puerto Rico, respectively, the militia collected large sums. But during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, they worsened the situation, according to authorities. They then claimed to be there to ensure peace and order in the streets.
During the Trump administration, Rhodes stopped talking about the threats from the federal government.
Then came the election defeat. It was not accepted by Rhodes and Oath Keepers.
One week after the election, Rhodes told Infowars that he had people outside of Washington DC. They were ready to act if Trump asked them to.
Two days before the storming of Congress, Rhodes called on “all patriots” to support Trump in the fight against his enemies. There were enemies trying to carry out a coup, according to Rhodes.
During the storm, several members of the Oath Keepers are said to have been very active. Several photos from inside and outside of Congress show members of the militia.
The Ministry of Justice now believes that Rhodes and several other members planned to oppose the change of president by force, among other things by storming the Congress on 6 January last year. Among other things, they are said to have collected large quantities of weapons and placed them on the outskirts of Washington DC, according to the indictment.
According to court documents, Rhodes was in direct contact with several of the members during the storm, writes The New York Times.
He himself stood outside, but it is unknown if he entered the building. He himself has denied that the militia planned to storm Congress.
– We were there to protect Trump supporters from antifa, he said.