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‘Does Trump Have Balls or Not?’: Encrypted Chats Show Stewart Rhodes Hoped Ex-President Would ‘Man Up’ on Jan. 6 and Militarize the Oath Keepers

Stewart Rhodes

In this still from a speech broadcast on the fringe Right Side Broadcasting Network, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes can be seen talking about a “bloody civil war.” (Image via DOJ)

In the days leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes grew increasingly frustrated that then-outgoing President Donald Trump didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act — a move that Rhodes believed would have militarized his extremist group.

A flood of private, encrypted messages introduced into evidence on Thursday appear to show that Rhodes taking it upon himself to disrupt the transfer of power.

Authenticated by ex-FBI agent Whitney Drew, the Signal messages show an impatient Rhodes pining for revolution.

“I’m tired of waiting for Trump to do his damn duty,” Rhodes groused in an email in December, referring to deputizing private paramilitaries.

In a later message, Rhodes said he would act on the assumption that Trump would not do that.

“They won’t fear us until we come with rifles in hand,” Rhodes said.

“Next comes our ‘Lexington.'” Rhodes also said.

“Nut Cuttin Time”

Such encrypted messages, sent in Oath Keepers leadership chats on the Signal app, could be crucial to proving that Rhodes and four other Oath Keepers members engaged in a seditious conspiracy against the U.S. government.

Prosecutors said that Rhodes and other Oath Keepers members planned to set up a so-called quick reaction force in a Comfort Inn in Alexandria, Va., poised to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory by moving weapons — either by boat or by vehicle — into Washington, D.C.

The QRF, as it’s abbreviated, never deployed, and the Oath Keepers argue that this was because they waited on an order from Trump that never came. The newly released messages undercut that defense, showing that the Oath Keepers — at the highest levels — did not expect Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and planned to advance their self-styled revolution either way.

Rhodes’s restlessness was palpable on Jan. 6, 2021, as another Oath Keepers leader alluded to a fateful outcome in the Georgia election.

“The lights went out in Georgia,” a user named Greg Smith wrote, apparently referring to the elections of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, giving the Democratic Party control of the Senate.

Without evidence, Rhodes immediately suspected foul play.

“As we predicted. I told my guys last night that at 3am it would be stolen,” Rhodes wrote. “And then it was.”

“Now it’s nut cuttin time,” Rhodes wrote in a subsequent message. “Does Trump have balls or not? We’re about to find out.”

“Like the Founding Fathers”

In one message in an Oath Keepers leadership chat, a user named “Chris” appeared to criticize the strategy of storming Congress.

“They dumb enough to act like ANTIFA,” the user wrote. “What they id [sic] going to happen if they get into [sic] Capitol[?]”

As the mob approached the Capitol at 1 p.m., the Oath Keepers’ purported general counsel Kellye SoRelle replied: “We are acting like the founding fathers — can’t stand down”

“Per Stewart and I concur,” she added.

Earlier this week, the government introduced evidence suggesting that Rhodes and SoRelle had a romantic, or at least sexual, relationship. SoRelle has denied that in the past and characterized their relationship as attorney-client — with the evidentiary protections that would entail. She declared herself the group’s acting president after Rhodes’ indictment, and then she faced a separate indictment in connection with Jan. 6.

Following the breach of the Capitol shortly after 2 p.m., Rhodes wrote in a message: “Trump has one last chance to man up and fulfill his oath. Will he?”

Trump, in fact, never invoked the Insurrection Act, and U.S. lawmakers who hid in fear of his supporters inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 expressed a different frustration about the former president’s inaction.

He didn’t call for his supporters to leave the building for 187 minutes, the Jan. 6 Committee noted in a point-by-point catalogue of the deadly day.

Drew continues to catalogue reams of messages and videos as her testimony continues.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."