Oath Keepers founder Rhodes makes first court appearance after Capitol riot arrest


Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes at a 2017 rally in Washington, D.C. Rhodes said for weeks before the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot that his group was preparing for a civil war and was “armed, prepared to go in if the president calls us up.”


Prosecutors asked a judge on Friday to detain Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, and grant a continuance during the man’s first court appearance since he was arrested Thursday in connection to the January 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol riot.

Rhodes appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson in United States District Court, Eastern District of Texas, in Plano on Friday.

Rhodes was one of 11 people indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of seditious conspiracy and other charges. An indictment is used to press charges and is not a conviction.

Rhodes, who was represented in court by attorney James Lee Bright, will appear in court again at 10 a.m. Jan. 20 for a detention hearing. He was arrested in Little Elm on Thursday morning, according to a Justice Department news release.

According to the indictments, the Oath Keepers are a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some who are associated with militias. The indictments allege Oath Keepers discussed for weeks attempting to overthrow the election results and prepared for such by buying weapons and setting up plans.

“Though the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as members, they explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel,” the release said.

While hundreds of charges have already been brought against people accused of storming the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop the Jan. 6, 2021, certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, the 11 people indicted by the federal grand jury are the first to face seditious conspiracy charges. They repeatedly wrote in chats about the prospect of violence and the need, as Rhodes allegedly wrote in one text, “to scare the s—-out of” Congress.

And on Jan. 6, the indictment alleges, they entered the Capitol building with the large crowds of rioters who stormed past police barriers and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and sending lawmakers running.

The indictment marked a serious escalation in the largest investigation in the Justice Department’s history — more than 700 people have been arrested and charged with federal crimes — and highlighted the work that has gone in to piecing together the most complicated cases.

While Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6, he is accused of helping start the violence. Jonathan Moseley, an attorney who said he represented Rhodes, told The Associated Press that Rhodes was supposed to testify before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection in a deposition but it got called off.

“He has been subject to a lot of suspicion to why he wasn’t indicted,” so far in the Jan. 6 riot, Moseley said. “I don’t know if this is in response to those discussions, but we do think it’s unfortunate. It’s an unusual situation.”

A 63-year-old Arizona man, Edward Vallejo, was arrested Thursday as well.

The others named in the indictment are nine previously charged defendants and include one other North Texas man. They are Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, Texas; Thomas Caldwell, 67, of Berryville, Virginia; Joseph Hackett, 51, of Sarasota, Florida; Kenneth Harrelson, 41, of Titusville, Florida; Joshua James, 34, of Arab, Alabama; Kelly Meggs, 52, of Dunnellon, Florida; David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda, Florida; Brian Ulrich, 44, of Guyton, Georgia; and Jessica Watkins, 39, of Woodstock, Ohio. In addition to earlier charges filed against them, they now face additional counts of seditious conspiracy and other offenses, federal authorities said in the release.

“Eight other individuals affiliated with the Oath Keepers, all previously charged in the investigation, remain as defendants in two related cases. All defendants — except Rhodes and Vallejo — previously were charged in a superseding indictment,” the news release from the Department of Justice said. “The superseding indictment has now effectively been split into three parts: the 11-defendant seditious conspiracy case, a seven-defendant original case, and a third case against one of the previously charged defendants.”

Eighteen of 19 defendants connected to the three indictments are facing charges of conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiring to prevent an officer of the United States from discharging a duty. Eleven individuals were charged with seditious conspiracy.

“The seditious conspiracy indictment alleges that, following the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election, Rhodes conspired with his co-defendants and others to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power by Jan. 20, 2021,” the news release said. “Beginning in late December 2020, via encrypted and private communications applications, Rhodes and various co-conspirators coordinated and planned to travel to Washington, D.C., on or around Jan. 6, 2021 … [and] made plans to bring weapons to the area to support the operation.”

Rhodes reportedly entered a restricted area of the Capitol grounds and told others to meet him around 2 p.m. that day.

Various Oath Keepers, and affiliates, wore paramilitary uniforms with patches with the Oath Keepers name, logo, and insignia, the news release said. The individuals “marched in a ‘stack’ formation up the east steps of the Capitol, joined a mob, and made their way into the Capitol,” the release said.

A second “stack” soon followed suit, marching from the west side to the east side of the Capitol building, authorities said.

Since the attack last January, more than 725 people have been charged and arrested in connection to the Capitol breach. More than 225 of those arrested face charges of assaulting or impeding law enforcement. Investigations remain ongoing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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James Hartley is a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is passionate about true stories, movies, baseball and good hot tea. You can connect with James on Twitter @ByJamesHartley or Instagram @JamesTakesPhotos. | Want reporters like James to help you stay informed about your community? You can help the Star-Telegram continue to offer great local, business, political, sports and culture news by purchasing a digital or print subscription today.

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