Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, now accused of spearheading a seditious conspiracy against the United States, lost his opportunity to show off his Yale Law School training on Wednesday, when a federal judge and his lawyer tamped down on his bid to testify his way out of jail.
Leaving the arguing to Rhodes’s counsel, the judge reserved decision on his lawyer’s motion to release his client.
Rhodes, 56, is now disbarred and fighting for his freedom after a different federal judge deemed him a “credible threat” based on his reported spending spree on weaponry, alleged plotting with an extremist militia before the Jan. 6 attack, and his estranged wife’s accusations of domestic abuse. It was not entirely surprising that he would want to put his Ivy education to use in the very court hearing that will determine whether he stays behind bars for the foreseeable future.
“Your Honor, I’m ready to testify to clear this up,” Rhodes, appearing via video, said, interrupting a back-and-forth between his attorney and U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta about a three-way phone call on Jan. 6 between Rhodes and two fellow militia members at the Capitol that could prove to be crucial to the prosecution’s case.
Mehta, a Barack Obama appointee, told Rhodes that testifying at Wednesday’s hearing could open him up to potential cross-examination from prosecutors.
Rhodes’ lawyers agreed with Mehta, and the hearing moved forward.
“Broad Network of Followers”
Among other alleged crimes, Rhodes is charged with seditious conspiracy, the most serious charge yet in the federal government’s wide-ranging prosecution of the violent attack on the Capitol. He is also charged with conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties, and tampering with documents or proceedings. He’s named with 10 other co-defendants in a 17-count indictment alleging that Rhodes was the leader of at least two Oath Keepers groups who planned to bring years of military experience and a variety of weapons to support the mob of Donald Trump supporters looking to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden‘s win in the 2020 presidential election.
He has been in custody since his arrest in January, although that wasn’t always guaranteed; when it appeared that a judge in Texas was on the verge of releasing him, Rhodes’ estranged wife, Tasha Adams, stepped in, calling the courtroom directly and sparking an inquiry that appears to have swayed the judge to change course.
At Wednesday’s hearing in D.C., federal prosecutors argued that Rhodes is an ongoing danger as well as a flight risk.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy said that Rhodes saw the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol as “an initial skirmish or battle in a larger war,” and that the conspiracy to block Biden from taking office extended beyond Jan. 6.
She also said that Rhodes has access to weapons and storage units unknown to the government. If Rhodes wanted to flee, Rakoczy said, he has a “broad network of followers he could rely upon if he were so inclined.”
Emphasizing Rhodes’ leadership role, Rakoczy said that given the number of Oath Keepers who are ex-military and ex-law enforcement, it’s unlikely that the group of Oath Keepers at the Capitol would have taken the tactical approach toward the building without an order.
The phone call in which that order was allegedly given, and the timeline of when it took place in relation to a group of Oath Keepers’ military-style “stack” formation approach to the Capitol building, is a key focus of the government’s case against Rhodes.
Rhodes’ lawyer, James Bright, was unequivocal about the government’s allegations against Rhodes, saying: “There certainly was not a conspiracy to overthrow the government.”
Bright said that the opposite was true, that the Oath Keepers are “meticulous” about following the law. When asked to explain why the group had a so-called “Quick Reaction Force,” or QRF, apparently at the ready on Jan. 6—allegedly standing by to ferry a trove of firearms and other weapons across the Potomac to support the Oath Keepers outside of the Capitol—Bright said that it was a defensive position.
Bright told Mehta that the Oath Keepers have provided “protection” from “left wing” forces at various political protests, and that “protection” would be necessary—in the form of a QRF—if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act and groups like “Antifa, BLM” went “kinetic.”
Rhodes has argued that the Insurrection Act would have given Trump the right to call up private militias like the Oath Keepers, although Mehta seemed skeptical of this argument, peppering the lawyer with questions about whether he really believed the statute an envisioned that a U.S. president could deploy a personal private militia.
“As Strict as It Gets”
In addressing where Rhodes would stay if he were released, Bright said that Rhodes’ potential third-party custodians were at the hearing and available to answer any questions. They were described as cousins of Rhodes who live in California; Rhodes would be staying a “back house” on the property with his cousin’s parents.
That back house, Bright noted, doesn’t get internet access, which would meet a condition that would likely be placed on Rhodes if he were released.
Mehta said that he wanted to hear more from the would-be custodians before making a decision. He emphasized that he wanted to be sure they understand the risks they would be taking if they accepted responsibility for Rhodes complying with his release conditions.
Rhodes again tried to interject himself into the discussion, offering to stay under the same roof as his cousin instead of in the back house with her parents, if Mehta preferred.
“That’s a different arrangement, Mr. Rhodes,” Mehta said. “I’ll leave it to you and your counsel to tell me what [you propose]. The defendant’s obligation is to propose the arrangement you want me to consider,” adding that wherever Rhodes stayed, the people under the same roof would need to be vetted by pretrial services.
Adams, who was listening to Wednesday’s hearing, told Law&Crime that she’s “very nervous” that Rhodes may be released.
“His potential custodians are avid Trump supporters,” she said in a text message. “The cousin live streamed Oath Keeper events. The parents are insane [R]epublicans who fully support Stewart in all his activities.”
Mehta said that if he does grant release, Rhodes would be under strict conditions, including 24-hour house arrest. He wouldn’t be allowed to access the internet, or leave the house to work at a job.
It would be, Mehta said, “about as strict as it gets without being behind bars … nothing that would resemble somebody having his ordinary freedoms.”
Mehta declined to issue a ruling Wednesday, saying that he wanted time to consider the arguments and third-party custodians.
He set a hearing for Friday at 1:00 p.m., where he will presumably announce his decision.
Adam Klasfeld contributed to this report.
[Images via FBI court filings.]
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