The leader of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group has asked the federal judge overseeing his case to delay his Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy trial, saying that he has had a “complete, or near-complete breakdown” of communication with his lawyers, and signaling that he plans to sever his case from his co-defendants.
Stewart Rhodes, who is charged with seditious conspiracy, witness tampering, and conspiring to impede or injure law enforcement in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, says that he now needs more time to prepare for trial due to a split with his lawyers. He essentially claims they’ve abandoned him.
Rhodes, along with co-defendants Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell, is set to start trial in Washington on Sept. 27. The group is collectively accused of preparing to unleash a “Quick Reaction Force” at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, when scores of Donald Trump supporters, angry over the result of the 2020 presidential election and Joe Biden’s win, swarmed the Capitol building, overwhelming police and forcing lawmakers and Capitol staffers to either evacuate or shelter in place. Four additional co-defendants — Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel, and Edward Vallejo — are scheduled for trial in November.
The indicted members of the Oath Keepers are alleged to have stored a cache of weapons at an area hotel, with some co-defendants prepared to ferry the weapons across the Potomac in order to reach the Capitol.
Rhodes filed his motion on Tuesday.
“Defendant Rhodes has had a complete, or near-complete breakdown of communication between himself and his prior counselors, Mr. Linder and Mr. Bright,” the motion says, noting that Rhodes has since hired Louisiana lawyer Edward L. Tarpley as counsel. According to the motion, neither Linder nor Bright oppose Rhodes’ motion to substitute attorneys.
“Rhodes has not heard from his attorneys in over three weeks,” the motion says. “Rhodes has not been visited by his attorneys in almost two months. Rhodes has called his prior attorneys repeatedly but they do not answer.”
Rhodes, through Tarpley, says that Linder and Bright missed deadlines to file appeals to motions that U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta had denied, and have largely been absent due to taking personal vacations.
“Rhodes has been denied information, including even the court filings in his case, except on rare occasions when Linder and Bright visit Rhodes in his Virginia jail,” the motion says. “Rhodes doesn’t know what motions the government (or even his own attorneys) have filed and hears about government arguments for the first time at hearings. Rhodes gets no mailings from his attorneys and has had no visits in almost two months.”
Bright, in an email to Law&Crime, denied one of Rhodes’ allegations.
“No deadlines have been missed,” Bright wrote. He declined to comment further on Rhodes’ motion.
Noting that Rhodes is a graduate of Yale Law School, the motion signals that Tarpley intends to file several motions on Rhodes’ behalf, including a motion for discovery of Rhodes’ codefendants who have reached plea deals with the government, which Rhodes alleges may contain exculpatory evidence; a motion for discovery regarding Ray Epps (presumably James Ray Epps), the figure at the center of the baseless conspiracy theory that an FBI plant riled up the pro-Trump crowd ahead of Jan. 6; and a motion to compel the House committee investigating Jan. 6 to provide interviews of “key Oathkeepers and witnesses in this case.”
Rhodes also indicates that he may want to interview former top White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who memorably testified before the Jan. 6 committee that she had heard the phrases “Proud Boys” and “Oath Keepers” during meetings between Trump and attorney Rudy Giuliani ahead of the fateful day.
Tarpley, who filed the motion, has asked for 90 days in order to “prepare for trial, inclusive of time to file necessary motions, discover necessary evidence, and identify and locate witnesses including expert witnesses.”
Tarpley also says that he “needs this time to read and research the court filings and supporting and related case law and discovery, as well as to acquaint himself with necessary witnesses, exhibits and evidence.”
Rhodes’ motion also indicated that he wants to be tried separately from his co-defendants.
“Rhodes expects to file a motion to sever his case and trial from the codefendants in this case,” the motion says. “Codefendants have had almost a year more than Rhodes with which to prepare for trial. Rhodes is not prepared for trial on September 26; and neither Rhodes’ prior counselors nor the attorneys for codefendants are prepared for trial.”
Indeed, Rhodes was indicted on Jan. 6-related offenses in January of 2022, well after his co-defendants were first charged. Those co-defendants, however, have not had more time to prepare a defense to the seditious conspiracy charges, which were part of the superseding indictment issued when Rhodes was added to the case.
Rhodes would be the second defendant to try to have his own trial; co-defendant Kenneth Harrelson has also filed a motion to sever.
Tarpley also alleges that his client will be tried by a “hostile jury pool.” That language echoes what several Jan. 6 defense lawyers have already argued in court: that a jury based in Washington D.C. — the very city where the Capitol attack took place — couldn’t possibly be fair in a trial of those accused of perpetrating that attack. Multiple judges overseeing Jan. 6 cases — including Judge Mehta, the judge in Rhodes’ case — have rejected this notion, citing the voir dire process as sufficient for weeding out potentially biased jurors.
Mehta has, so far, openly resisted arguments to continue the trial.
“I’m not going to move this trial,” Mehta, a Barack Obama appointee, said in August during a hearing in which lawyers for the defendants asked — again — to move the case back.
The DOJ declined to comment.
Read Rhodes’ motion, below.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a denial from Bright regarding Rhodes’ allegation that his lawyers missed filing deadlines.
[Image via Collin County (Tex.) Jail.]
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