LITTLE ELM, Texas — A Texas man who founded the far-right militia group called the Oath Keepers is now the highest-ranking member of an extremist group to be arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, from Granbury, is charged with seditious conspiracy and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. He was arrested Thursday by federal agents in Little Elm, Texas, according to WFAA, our sister station in Dallas.
Another Texan, identified as Roberto Minuta from Prosper, and nine others from around the country were also indicted on charges of seditious conspiracy.
Masterminds of the insurrection?
After Joe Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump, Rhodes allegedly called on fellow Oath Keepers to engage in a “full-on war in the streets.”
According to the Associated Press, Rhodes gave a speech on Dec. 12 in D.C. calling on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, “warning that the Oath Keepers would mount a ‘much more desperate [and] much more bloody war’ if he did not do so.”
The federal indictment alleges Rhodes and others began using encrypted and private messaging apps in late Dec. 2020 to coordinate, plan and travel to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021.
Their plans included organizing into teams that were "prepared and willing to use force" and to transport firearms and ammo into the D.C. area, the indictment alleges. Their goal, according to the federal investigators, was to storm the Capitol to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's victory.
The suspects are accused of recruiting others to participate in the conspiracy; training them to use paramilitary combat tactics; and providing them with paramilitary gear, weapons and supplies, including including knives, batons, tactical vests with plates, helmets, eye protection and radio equipment.
In charging documents against another Oath Keeper, investigators said they obtained communications showing Rhodes took part in a leadership meeting of “multiple patriot groups” on Jan. 3.
According to Republican Congressman Troy Nehls, the former Fort Bend County sheriff, Capitol police had plenty of intelligence that warned them about the possibility of violence that day, but never shared it.
“They talked about extremist organizations and groups. They mention the Proud Boys. They mention Oath Keepers. There was an enormous amount of intelligence, but it wasn’t disseminated, and it wasn’t shared," Nehls said earlier.
What is seditious conspiracy?
Eleven people are now charged with seditious conspiracy. So what is that charge? It's basically accusations of two or more people in the U.S. conspiring to overthrow the United States government or to declare war against it. It can also mean to -- by force -- block or delay the execution of U.S. laws or to take any property.
Below is the full definition from the U.S. House.
"If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both."
During the breach
Investigators say the group gathered at its command center at D.C.'s Willard Hotel.
About an hour before the breach, investigators say they obtained a Signal chat from Rhodes to his followers expressing frustration with Trump.
“All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’ve had enough."
Investigators say after a mob breached the Capitol by breaking windows, ramming doors and assaulting Capitol police officers, Rhodes signaled his followers to meet him there.
The first group, wearing paramilitary gear and Oath Keepers patches, used a "stack" formation to force their way up the east steps of the Capitol, investigators say. A second "stack" followed.
The feds say other Oath Keepers remained stationed outside D.C. in teams trained to provide support with additional firearms and other weapons.
They say after the deadly insurrection, Rhodes and others continued to plot to prevent the lawful transfer of presidential power.
What we know about Elmer Stewart Rhodes
Rhodes, 56, is a Yale-educated lawyer and U.S. Army veteran who founded the Oath Keepers in Nevada in 2009 after Barack Obama was elected as the nation's first Black President.
Before that, he attended college in Nevada before moving to D.C. to work for then-Republican Congressman Ron Paul from Texas.
After attending Yale for his law degree, Rhodes volunteered for Paul's failed presidential campaign in 2008, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
But it was Rhodes' anti-government conspiracy theories that prompted him to form the Oath Keepers to "defend the constitution," according to the group's website.
"They believe that the federal government has been coopted by a shadowy government that’s trying to strip Americans of their rights," said Mark Toubin with the Anti-Defamation League.
Rhodes focused primarily on recruiting disillusioned members of the military, law enforcement and first responders.
"And the reason they do that is that they believe if the government were to issue an unconstitutional order, it would be up to the military and law enforcement to enforce it and they would want to ensure that that did not happen," Toubin explained.
The Oath Keepers
Oath Keepers describe themselves as a "non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to "defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic," according to a statement on the organization's website.
However, the Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Oath Keepers as a “fiercely anti-government militaristic group” fueled by Rhodes’ own “conspiracy-flamed convictions... for instance, to force Americans into concentration camps, confiscate their guns or cooperate with foreign troops in the United States."
The Anti-Defamation League said they're aware of members in the Houston area.
“According to our records there have been dozens of people -- if not more -- in Houston, as well as throughout Texas, who signed up for the group at one time or another," Toubin said. "However, it’s unclear how many of them remain active.”
According to the SPLC, the group travels all over the country to high-profile protests and standoffs to offer vigilante justice in an effort to drum up publicity that leads to donations and new members.
Oath Keepers showed up at Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020 after police killed Houston native George Floyd in Minneapolis. In response to the racial unrest that followed, Rhodes posted the following statement to the group’s Facebook account: "Maybe you better read that Oath again it said protect the constitution from all enemies foreign and or here’s the part you better read slowly … Domestic … Once these thugs turned to burning, killing and looting, they became domestic enemies.”
Rhodes is a frequent guest on Alex Jones’ conspiratorial internet show, and the Oath Keepers have provided security to Trump allies, such as Roger Stone, as well as at high-profile events including the “Million MAGA March."
More than 20 members of the militia group have been indicted in a multi-state conspiracy case alleging they plotted in the weeks leading up to January 6 to disrupt the joint session of Congress. At least three of the defendants in that case have already agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecution. One, Mark Grods, has agreed to testify that the group conspired to bring paramilitary gear and supplies – including firearms, camouflaged combat uniforms and radios – and to forcibly storm past the exterior barricades to enter the U.S. Capitol Building.
Another Oath Keeper – heavy metal guitarist Jon Schaffer, who has self-described as a founding member of the group – was the first January 6 defendant to accept a plea offer in the case. He was also expected to cooperate with investigators looking into the group.
In August, seven U.S. Capitol Police officers named Rhodes and other members of the Oath Keepers, along with former President Donald Trump, in a civil suit accusing them of violating the Ku Klux Klan Act and committing acts of domestic terrorism.