Hours after thousands of MAGA rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, sent a text message to his followers comparing their coordinated effort to that of revolutionaries during the Boston Tea Party.
“The founding generation Sons of Liberty stormed the mansion of the corrupt Royal Governor of Massachusetts, and trashed the place. They also jumped on board a ship carrying East India Tea, and dumped it in the harbor,” Rhodes allegedly told members of the far-right paramilitary group in an encrypted group chat, according to new court documents.
Warning that America is in a “far more deadly situation given the FACT that enemies foreign and domestic have subverted, infiltrated, and taken over near every single office and level of power in this nation,” Rhodes reminded the group that they had “one FINAL chance to get Trump to do his job and his duty.”
“Patriots entering their own Capitol to send a message to the traitors is NOTHING compared to what's coming if Trump doesn’t take decisive action right now. It helped to send that message to HIM. He was the most important audience today. I hope he got the message,” he added.
The rousing speech is the latest in a series of new details that seem to suggest prosecutors are inching towards an even larger case against the militia group, and Rhodes—potentially becoming the most comprehensive conspiracy case arising from the insurrection.
So far, prosecutors have charged over a dozen Oath Keepers with conspiracy, including Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old former Army vet accused of recruiting members to “fight hand to hand” to take over the Capitol. And while the government has not named Rhodes or directly accused him of anything illegal, court documents filed against Watkins and two other members repeatedly detail communications they had with “Person One.” (Other filings have established that Person One is the Oath Keepers’ leader.)
A Wednesday night court filing provided further details about Rhodes’ direct contact with members already accused of plotting together to prevent Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory. The filing details a 97-second phone call at the height of the riot between Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, the self-described leader of the group’s Florida chapter.
After the call, Meggs and several other charged members “embedded themselves among insurgents trying to force open the east side Capitol building double doors that officers were desperately trying to keep shut,” the filing says.
While prosecutors have previously detailed “Person One’s” direct involvement in the Oath Keepers’ coordination on Jan. 6, the new filing provides a starker picture of his involvement before, during, and even after the siege, as the full picture of the destruction and violence at the Capitol came into view. Notably, Rhodes was still warning, in his rousing post-riot message, that there could be more violence if former President Donald Trump didn’t step up.
Prosecutors filed Wednesday’s document in response to Watkins’ latest request to be released pending trial. In it, they provided further details into how Rhodes and other Oath Keepers discussed plans in an encrypted chat group—titled “DC OP: Jan 6 21”—at least one day before the riots.
The chat included Rhodes, Watkins, Meggs, and two other Oath Keepers charged for participating in the riots but not included in the group conspiracy: Roberto Minuta and Joshua James. (James is accused of providing protection to former Trump adviser Roger Stone before storming the Capitol.)
Prosecutors note that the chat is further evidence that the group stormed the Capitol “with the shared objective of using force to upend the transition of presidential power, or ‘stop[ping] the steal.’”
In the group chat, the group “discussed topics such as what kind of weapons to bring, using handheld radios to communicate during the January 6 operation,” and the existence of several well-equipped quick response forces that would be waiting outside the city “in case of worse case scenarios.” (Gun laws are more permissive outside D.C.’s borders.)
Around the time of the first reported breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6, prosecutors state, Rhodes texted the group that “Pence is doing nothing. As I predicted.”
“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,” Rhodes wrote ten minutes later.
Then, during the height of the insurrection—which forced dozens of elected leaders into hiding and ultimately killed five people—another person in the chat indicated that they “have taken ground at the capital [sic]” and that “we need to regroup any members who are not on a mission.”
The message seemed to have prompted Rhodes—whose location during the riot has not yet been disclosed—to call Meggs for almost two minutes. As Meggs and other Oath Keepers pushed toward the Capitol in a uniformed “stack,” or a combat formation, someone in the group chat reminded them that the quick response forces were “standing by at hotel.” Rhodes then directed the group to go to the “south side” of the Capitol.
Prosecutors state that video and photographs from the siege show Watkins telling people to “push, push, push” and to “get in” the Capitol while maintaining formation with her fellow Oath Keepers. The court document states that, around the same time, Rhodes posted a photo in the encrypted group chat with the caption “Trump better do his damn duty.”
“Others discussed the movements of riot control officers being deployed to the Capitol,” the filing states. “One participant on the chat stated, ‘SWAAT [sic] should stand down and abide by their oath,’ while another commented, ‘Hopefully anyone inside the capitol is barricading themselves in and continually reinforce their positions for the long haul.’”
After the riot, Rhodes texted the group: “Leaders check to be sure you have all your team members. If anyone is missing, post here.”
Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahman told The Daily Beat on Thursday that Rhodes and the other organizers of the Jan. 6 riot “are likely the next to be charged.”
“Whether it [is] a drug cartel or an extremist group, federal prosecutors are well versed at peeling back the layers of the onion and charging the heads of criminal organizations,” Rahman said.
“It is even easier here, where prosecutors have social media statements as well as hundreds of defendants who have an interest in cooperating in exchange for a reduced sentence. The Government has more than enough evidence to support sedition charges, and it’s probably just a matter of weeks before we see indictments and arrests.”