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‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’: Oath Keepers Leader Recited Slogan of Lincoln’s Assassin, Appeared to Direct Members Involved in Jan. 6 Breach

Stewart Rhodes

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes is seen in a still frame of a video played during his seditious conspiracy trial. (Image via DOJ)

On the west side of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes appeared to gloat on tape about the prospect of lawmakers quaking in fear about the breach of Congress by the pro-Trump mob.

“They need to shit their fucking pants,” Rhodes could be heard saying in footage entered into evidence at his seditious conspiracy trial on Thursday.

Sic semper tyrannis,” he added.

Latin for “thus always to tyrants,” the phrase has a long and sordid history with U.S. extremists and the radical right. President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth said he shouted those words when firing his fatal shots at the Ford Theater. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh wore a T-shirt with that message and Lincoln’s face on the day of his arrest. Though the Latin phrase is also Virginia’s state motto, Rhodes hails from Granbury, Texas — and made his statement on the ground in Washington, D.C.

The statements came from a video authenticated on Thurday by ex-FBI agent Whitney Drew, through whom the government introduced a torrent of evidence that Rhodes coordinated the group’s movements on Jan. 6.

“They started spraying pepper spray,” Rhodes said in one message, before adding that he moved Kellye SoRelle.

Facing a separate indictment, SoRelle — the Oath Keepers’ purported attorney and Rhodes’ alleged paramour — recorded a Facebook live video showing herself apparently gloating at the Capitol’s breach.

“We’ll see what’s happening. The storm. The storm arrived,” SoRelle could be heard saying. “It’s pretty balmy and blistery here in D.C. but the storm showed up.”

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler asked about the significance of that phrase, Drew replied that she encountered it as an FBI agent in the context of “QAnon conspiracy theories.” QAnon adherents believe “the storm” is the day that Trump’s supposed enemies will be arrested en masse, and potentially executed, in military tribunals.

Other messages Rhodes sent on Jan. 6 to the Oath Keepers Signal chat forum “DC OP” appear to simply be landmarks and locations on or about the U.S. Capitol.

Prosecutors say that one facet of the Oath Keepers’ plan to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s victory involved a “quick reaction force” of members of the group staying just outside of Washington, D.C., at a Comfort Inn in Alexandria, Va. That crew allegedly took advantage of Virginia’s permissive gun laws by stashing copious firearms inside the hotel, ready to be brought into D.C., if needed. The so-called QRF never deployed, but evidence showed that the group was hardly idle.

According to the witness, alleged QRF member Paul Stamey sent a text message to the “DC OP” chat from the Comfort Inn, apprising the rest of the group of the goings-on at the Capitol from afar. Stamey, from North Carolina, was never indicted, but his message appeared to show coordination between the QRF and the Oath Keepers who went to the U.S. Capitol.

The top charge of seditious conspiracy does not require a completed or successful plan to overthrow a function of government, only an attempted one.

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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."