Oath Keepers Leader Detained on Capitol Riot Sedition Charges

  • The leader of the Oath Keepers will remain jailed ahead of his tentative July trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.
  • Prosecutors allege Stewart Rhodes helmed a sweeping plot to lay siege to the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
  • Rhodes’ estranged wife told the FBI that she feared for her and her children’s lives if he was released.

The leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group will remain jailed on seditious conspiracy charges connected to the January 6 Capitol attack after a judge ruled him a flight risk, partially due to his estranged wife’s testimony that he maintained elaborate escape tunnels in his backyard.

Elmer Stewart Rhodes, 56, faces some of the most serious Capitol riot charges yet and was one of 11 defendants charged with conspiracy earlier this month. Prosecutors have charged more than 760 people in the siege, but the Oath Keepers’ case marks the first sedition charges filed.

Prosecutors say Rhodes helmed a strategic plot to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.” In a 48-page indictment, investigators allege Rhodes, along with other Oath Keepers, planned the siege in advance of the actual riot in an attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. 

Members of the far-right group, which is primarily comprised of current and former law enforcement officers and military members, breached the Capitol on January 6, 2021, using a military-style formation and set out looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to the indictment. Meanwhile, other members of the group were holed up in a Virginia hotel, armed with a cache of weapons and ready to send backup to Washington, DC, if necessary, prosecutors said. 

Rhodes is accused by prosecutors of buying nearly $40,000 of firearms, ammunition, and paraphernalia ahead of the siege to contribute to the “quick reaction force.”

At a Monday detention hearing, prosecutors argued that Rhodes should be detained while pending trial because of the danger he posed to the community and the possibility that he might flee. The government also cited the potential risk his release might pose for his co-defendants and other Oath Keepers charged in the attack. 

On Wednesday, Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson of Texas denied Rhodes bail.

In a 17-page ruling, Johnson said Rhodes’ estranged wife, Tasha Adams, contacted the FBI after his bail hearing to tell prosecutors that she feared for her life, as well as the lives of her six children with Rhodes, should he be released. Adams said that Rhodes would frequently brandish firearms in the family home and would physically abuse his children under the guise of inviting them to practice martial arts when he was angry.

She told investigators that Rhodes’ anger became more intense starting in 2016 and her greatest fear was that he would kill her and the children before committing suicide.

Adams also told the FBI that Rhodes had a longtime fear of being “picked up by the feds,” leading him to install elaborate escape tunnels in the backyard of the couple’s Montana home. She said Rhodes also hid unregistered cars in the woods and bought hundreds of dollars worth of razor wire which he planned to install around his property, “in case the feds ever came to his door.” 

She testified that she filed for divorce in 2018 but proceedings are still pending. 

In her Wednesday ruling, Johnson said that despite having no prior criminal history, Rhodes’ alleged actions leading up to and on January 6 compounded with the danger posed by his release were enough to keep him jailed indefinitely.

Johnson did make provisions in the ruling to allow Rhodes to testify before the January 6 Congressional committee in the coming weeks. The panel issued him a subpoena in November.

Ahead of the judge’s decision, Rhodes’ legal team said they would likely appeal their client’s pretrial detention, according to CBS News. Earlier this week, a federal judge in Washington set a tentative trial date for July. 

Attorneys for Rhodes did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

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