Some of his followers are wanted by the FBI. That does not stop the leader of the Oath Keepers.


Rhodes still throws the falsehood that the election was illegal. He says Biden’s administration and supporters in Congress should be seen as an occupying enemy force and is issuing warnings of what he claims are 365 million armed patriots ready to “stand up”.

“There will be resistance. The only question is what will be the spark,” Rhodes said in an interview on January 30 about Infowars, a media organization that is one of the leading suppliers of conspiracy theories in the United States. “They keep pushing,” he said of who he calls “leftist.” “That’s why it’s important … Let them be the ones drawing first blood. Then you defend.”

Rhodes spoke to CNN in the days following the violent invasion of the Capitol, but did not return further calls and emails to comment on the future of the Oath Keepers to this story.

But his rhetoric following the uprising in interviews and posts reviewed by CNN reflects what he was urging his supporters to do in advance when he urged them to participate in the January 6 rally.

“All patriots who can come to DC must be in DC. Now is the time to stand. It’s not too late to go. Hop on a plane! Hop on your car! Just get there,” Rhodes said on his group site on January 4th. “Stand now, or kneel forever.”

Odeholders inside the Capitol

Rhodes’ call was apparently heard and followed by a number of people entering the Capitol on the bloody day, including former members of the military, whom the Oath Keepers group is actively recruiting for membership

Jessica Watkins, confirmed by Rhodes as being an oath-holder, has emerged as one of the central figures in the government’s case against the rebels.

She was photographed with Rhodes – a figure marked with a black eye patch – in November during a “Stop the Steal” and “Million Maga March” event in Washington, DC.

Rhodes, in the midst of eye patches, marched with the Oath Keepers through Washington, DC last November.  Watkins is visible behind him on the right, wearing jeans and goggles on his ballistic helmet.

Watkins, who served in the Army, along with two other military veterans and alleged oath-guards Donovan Crowl and Thomas Caldwell are charged with conspiracy and other charges in connection with the attack.

“We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are tipping it,” Watkins said in a walkie-talkie app, according to federal prosecutors. They say she coordinated with others.

Paramilitant communications under close scrutiny in Capitol riots investigation, court records show

“We’re if ** kin ‘Capitol, Crowl!” Watkins in the back is said to have shouted at Crowl when Crowl shot selfie video according to the complaint against them

Watkins and Crowl are both in jail, nor did they have a lawyer when the story was published. Caldwell is accused of having coordinated with Watkins and Crowl before, during and after the assault. His lawyer says Caldwell denies involvement in Oath Keepers.

He also says Caldwell worked for the FBI. An FBI spokesman said it was “policy not to comment on personnel matters and CNN is unable to confirm Caldwell’s work for the FBI. But a source with inside knowledge of how Oath Keepers works, told CNN that there are members , which is in federal law enforcement but is kept away from the official member database for probable denial.

Watkins, center and Crowl, on the left, were among the alleged bearers wearing body armor and the group's insignia at the Capitol on January 6.

The FBI is trying to identify a group of between 8 and 10 people wearing military tactical equipment embossed with your protective clothing on the Capitol stairs. A picture shows a couple of oath guardians inside the Capitol rotunda.

Rhodes, who is not facing charges in connection with Jan. 6, says he did not enter the Capitol building. But he was seen after the attack with the men in Oath Keepers equipment, which was now being searched by the FBI.

The FBI has appealed for information about the group on FBI photos.

The FBI has sent several photos of men in Oath Keepers uniforms asking for more information as they investigate the Capitol attack.

Rhodes told CNN shortly after the uprising that he was not anti-government, but that he “did not trust the FBI right now.”

Inflammatory rhetoric and offers of help

Rhodes, now 55, is a veteran of the Army and excluded lawyer who incorporated Oath Keepers in 2009, after the group rose to prominence during Barack Obama’s first election campaign.

“Our role is not to be obedient to the one who happens to be the leader. Our role is to defend the Constitution and the Republic,” Rhodes told CNN in 2009.

Rhodes and other militia groups began condemning the government as tyrannical, according to Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher in the Anti-Defamation League.

Rhodes boasted of trying to recruit active and retired military and law enforcement personnel. “Ed” in the group’s name refers to the promise to defend the Constitution against foreign and domestic enemies with the subtitle that they were not necessarily seen to obey orders from a government that they believe is illegal.

Armed swearers went to Ferguson, Missouri, after the murder of Michael Brown in 2014 and again, pictured, a year later.
He found ways to insert his group into national flashpoints by placing members as community protectors while continuing to use charged rhetoric. Members of the Oath Keepers were in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 during the months-long protests in the wake of the police killing of Michael Brown. They said they were there to protect businesses. Their presence was welcomed by some owners and avoided by others. Some honorees were involved in armed involvement in disputes at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada, according to the ADL. Rhodes also asked people to flock to Washington DC after a standoff at the Bundy ranch.

During the Obama years, the Oath Keepers were openly anti-government in their views, according to the ADL and other groups that track extremism.

But the emergence of political outsider Donald Trump brought about a change. Trump’s calls to “drain the swamp” and his political views were now more parallel to Rhodes’ rhetoric than the campaigns of former presidential candidates.

Donald Trump's candidacy and election victory in 2016 saw Rhodes and Oath Keepers adjust their stated mission from anti-government to focus on specific issues.

In the 2016 election, Rhodes issued a “call to action” called “Operation Sabot” in which he asked members and supporters to look for voter fraud or intimidation in polling stations. Rhodes often wrote and referred to Hillary Clinton, whom he vehemently opposed as “Hitlery.”

Even then, he used the language to ensure that the election was not “stolen from the citizens.”

When Trump came to power, Rhodes moved away from criticizing the political leadership and targeting issues on which he and the then president shared similar sentiments – anger over illegal immigration, China and those on the left, and protection of rights to another amendment. He often talked about the rollout of the Oath Keepers to the US-Mexico border. He called on the Oath Keepers to stand legally armed in front of schools following the Parkland school massacre in February 2018.

Rhodes said his group provided security to VIPs attending Trump rallies. And he went on to say that they would help the “average American” prepare if they were to be “called by the President of the United States to serve as a militia in the United States to secure schools, protect our borders, or whatever.” otherwise he asks them to do to carry out our laws, repel invasions and suppress rebellions “, which he claimed was erroneously carried out by the left.

“We want to see a militia, basically, restored in this country and trained up,” he added.

Preparing for a ‘steal’

As Trump increased his bid for re-election, Rhodes and other extremist groups began blazing the flames of what might happen if he lost, frequently referring to a “civil war.” As early as July 2019, Rhodes Alex Jones told Infowars that if Trump was not re-elected, “we will not accept the results” and will have “no choice but to fight.”

He boasted that his group had veterans who were well-educated.

“If this starts in a civil war, a bloody one, they will immediately go to work and take it to the left,” he said.

A man wearing an Oath Keepers hat shouts in the Capitol corridors during the January 6 invasion of rebels.
After Biden won the election, Rhodes wrote an open letter to Donald Trump on December 23, urging him among many things toinvoke the Rebellion Act, and notes “there are millions of American patriots standing ready.” The law allows, under certain limited circumstances involved in the defense of constitutional rights, the President to deploy troops unilaterally.

“Do not leave them. Do not let them have to do it all themselves. Keep your promise. Empty the swamp. Do it now!” Wrote Rhodes. “We help you at every step.”

After the siege

The way words turned into action did not entirely surprise those who have overseen groups like the Oath Keepers for years.

“By the end of 2020, we saw a sharp rise in Stewart Rhodes’ violent rhetoric,” Friedfeld of the ADL told CNN. “He began to frame the election as a line in the sand, where if the Democrat won, it would be the introduction of tyranny.”

Rhodes was outside the Capitol on January 6th.  He said he did not enter the building.
Rhodes told CNN after the violence that he and his members were in Washington, DC, as part of their broad protection mission. Watkins’ girlfriend told CNN last month she traveled to the capital to “help protect some of Trump’s VIP members,” and a man in the Oath Keepers suit was apparently guarding Trump’s confidant Roger Stone on the morning of January 6th.

Rhodes has lost some supporters since January 6th. The North Carolina chapter left Rhodes’ group, though it said it still supported the mission and would be rewritten in a letter to their local sheriff, which they agreed to share with CNN.

“We could see the chaos and wanted no part of it,” wrote Doug Smith, who said he was in Washington DC that day but did not enter the Capitol.

“The men of North Carolina believe that the national leadership (of the Oath Keepers) could have stopped this and done nothing. The men and myself included can no longer be affiliated with the Oath Keepers after this sad event in our nation’s history.”

But there are many other chapters and members of the group. Accused leaders like Watkins are being detained or hunted for their alleged involvement in the January 6 uprising. And Rhodes is still preaching and issuing orders to all who are willing to listen.

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