On the eve of January 6, he called on dozens of his acolytes to prepare for a “bloody fight”. Stewart Rhodes, charged with “sedition” for his role in the attack on the Capitol, illustrates the shift from extreme American right, gone from opposition to the federal government to the fierce and armed defense of Donald Trump. Arrested on Thursday, the founder of the radical group of “Oath Keepers”, 56 years old, appeared on Friday before a federal judge in Texas, who ordered his continued detention.
Justice accuses him of having conspired “in with a view to preventing the peaceful transfer of power”, by using violent means against the headquarters of Congress, on January 6 2021. “He had created a kind of mythological character for himself: he saw himself as a kind of historical figure and in a way, it happened”, reacted on CNN his wife Tasha Adams, who has been fighting since 2018 to obtain a divorce from a man, according to her, “dangerous”.
Stewart Rhodes has a career atypical: enlisted in the army after high school, he quickly finds civilian life after a bad parachute jump. Another accident: in 56, he drops his pistol; the shot goes off and he loses his left eye. He has since worn a distinctive black headband. After going back to school, living on his wife’s salary as a stripper, he earned a law degree from the prestigious Yale faculty, but settled in Nevada, far from the big paying law firms.
Supporter of the libertarian Ron Paul Fiercely opposed to a federal State considered oppressive, he writes on libertarian blogs and participates in 2008 in the presidential campaign of the leader of this movement, Ron Paul. After Barack Obama’s victory, Stewart Rhodes forms his own movement. Its objective: to recruit men and women with military or police experience, ready to “keep their oath” to “defend the Constitution against any foreign or domestic enemy”.
At the time, it was a matter of protecting individual freedoms – such as the carrying of arms – against federal power. Stewart Rhodes insists that this is not a “militia”, that violence should only be used as a last resort.
Little by little, a shift begins. He creates teams with paramilitary training. In and 2015, they are notably deployed in the west near ranchers in armed conflict with the government.
Another turn in 2016. Like other radical movements, the Oath Keepers – which now have a few thousand members – are galvanized by the arrival at the White House of Donald Trump, whose conspiracy theses they share, in particular on the existence of a “State deep” which would be secretly piloted by elites.
Dressed in military uniforms and armed, they come out in broad daylight in 2020 during the demonstrations against the restrictions imposed to stem the pandemic, then during the vast anti-racist mobilization of the summer to, they say, protect businesses from looting.
“Civil War” Conquered by Donald Trump, Stewart Rhodes appears at rallies for his re-election and refuses, after the ballot, to admit defeat. “We can’t get out of this without a civil war,” he wrote to his supporters in November, before beginning preparations to block the transfer of power. For him, it is about “patriotism”.
According to the indictment, he spends thousands of dollars to buy weapons, which he stores near Washington, and organizes the transport of activists to the capital, where on January 6 2021, the elected representatives of Congress must certify the victory of Democrat Joe Biden.
On D-Day, by encrypted messaging, he gives his orders, without entering the Capitol himself. “He’s very good at putting other people at risk,” his wife commented in the Los Angeles Times. This will not have been enough to protect him from justice. Charged with “sedition” along with ten other Oath Keepers, the heaviest count held at this stage, he faces up to years in prison.