In the weeks after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the leader of far-right group the Oath Keepers encouraged members to borrow money to hoard fuel, in advance of what the group claimed would be a Biden administration attack on the power grid. All the while, the group was making almost daily withdrawals from a crowdfunding site, totaling nearly $30,000.
A leaked trove of Oath Keepers messages, uploaded by the transparency group Distributed Denial of Secrets this week, reveals some of the group’s communications after members participated in the Capitol attack. Prominent in the leak are paranoid email blasts from the group’s founder, Stuart Rhodes, who told members that the Biden White House was about to “conduct a ‘night of the long knives’ decapitation strike” on Oath Keepers under the guise of a massive power outage. Those conspiratorial fears were frequently accompanied by appeals to spend money.
One week after the Capitol attack, while Donald Trump still held office, Rhodes sent an email pleading for the then-president to invoke the Insurrection Act in order to cling to power, leaked emails show. (Although the message is addressed to Trump, it is unclear whether Rhodes sent it to him or merely included its text in an email to Oath Keepers.) Part of Rhodes’s justification, a mere seven days after the Capitol riot, was the supposed threat from the left, which he thought would begin attacking pro-Trump families.
“The domestic enemy wolves will be at the door of all your supporters as well,” Rhodes wrote. “Liberty-loving American constitutionalists will have no choice but to honor their oaths and defend both the Constitution and their families when the communists and obedient Deep State minions come for them (as they are already planning on doing).”
Like others on the far right, Rhodes appeared to believe conspiracy theories about Trump secretly holding onto damaging secrets that would destroy the left. Rhodes encouraged Trump to leak those supposed secrets on fringe sites like 8chan.
“At the very least, do the mass declassification and data dump,” Rhodes wrote. “You still have absolute authority as President and Commander-in-Chief to declassify any files held by the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. Use trusted elite units you know are still loyal to the Constitution to get it done (to seize the servers and dump the data on 4Chan, 8Chan, etc).”
Rhodes included the text of that letter in an email blast to Oath Keepers titled “OATH KEEPERS WARNING ORDER PART I.” In it, Rhodes warned followers of the “very high possibility” that the Biden administration would supposedly take out the power grid and begin carrying out targeted strikes on conservatives.
“Within the short term, we face a very high possibilty [sic] of an intentional ‘comms down’ scenario where black hats take down/shut down all communications in the US - No cell service, no internet, no land lines. A comms blackout. This could also include a take down of electrical power. An intentional power blackout. Worst case scenario would be an EMP [electromagnetic pulse] strike,” Rhodes told Oath Keepers on Jan. 13. “The purpose of such a comms down/blackout will be to minimize our ability to communicate and to pin people in their homes as the black hats and their terrorist allies conduct a ‘night of the long knives’ decapitation strike to arrest or otherwise take out patriot leaders, potential leaders, and highly skilled personnel.” (The reference to the “night of the long knives” was the second time Rhodes compared the Biden administration to Nazis in that email.)
Rhodes encouraged followers to plan for militia-led evacuations of homes during the fantasy power grid attack, and to hoard fuel, even going into debt if necessary. “Get all the fuel you can - gas, diesel, NOW,” he wrote. “Get the fuel out of the underground storage tanks and into portable containers. Get all you can. You will need it. Borrow money or charge it if you have to.”
Rhodes did not return requests for comment on whether he believed such attacks were still imminent.
Those leaked email comments show a continued ratcheting-up of Oath Keepers rhetoric, even after the Capitol riot.
Rhodes claims to have been uninvolved and unaware of Oath Keepers’ efforts to breach the Capitol. In speeches at D.C. rallies before Jan. 6, however, he preached a similar brand of anti-left apocalypticism, which extremism monitors described as a warning sign before the Capitol attack. During one such speech, in December, he called on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and warned that “if he does not do it now while he is Commander in Chief, we’re going to have to do it ourselves later, in a much more desperate, much more bloody war.”
Rhodes also appeared to support court-based efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. In a Jan. 28 email, Oath Keepers lawyer Kellye Sorelle sent an email blast to the group stating that “Stewart agreed to allow me to send out an email to all the chapters requesting assistance.”
Sorelle asked members of the group for help finding documentation “for all 50 states regarding their orders/policy changes modifying their absentee ballot process, the use of drop boxes, voter registration changes and certification information for the machines used for elections. I also need evidence from the counties/states documenting that the data/ballots are not maintained for 22 months as required by law.”
Sorelle did not return requests for comment about the nature of her request, and whether Oath Keepers mobilized to help her. At the time of her request, Sorelle was involved in a baffling court case that cited a law from the fictional Lord of the Rings universe in an attempt to nullify Biden’s win. (The case was dismissed in September.)
Some of Rhodes’s emails during this period included requests for donations to the Oath Keepers. Although a public Oath Keepers fundraiser on the site GiveSendGo was a flop in spring 2021, the group was actively withdrawing tens of thousands from an account on the crowdfunding site RallyPay, leaked withdrawals show.
From Jan. 18 to Feb. 16, New Jersey Oath Keeper Edward Durfee made withdrawals from the account almost daily, totaling more than $28,000. Durfee, who is running for office in New Jersey, did not return requests for comment on Thursday (nor did he respond previously, when asked about allegations that Oath Keepers swindled application fees).
The purpose of the Oath Keepers’ RallyPay account is unclear. Leaked chat logs reveal the group “promoted” one such account in support of alleged Capitol rioter Jessica Watkins. The Oath Keepers have also run their own RallyPay fundraisers since at least October 2020.
Questions about money are laced through the leaked emails. In February, Rhodes emailed Oath Keepers asking for their help responding to a tornado in Alabama. Although the email called for volunteers, it also asked for donations. Two days later, Rhodes emailed again, informing followers that local first responders had declined the group’s services.
“The local PD has let us know they have enough man-power to cover their needs and the security need is not as bad as first anticipated. Therefore, we are standing down on this operation,” Rhodes wrote. Nevertheless, he noted, the Oath Keepers would like to keep the donations it had received for the Alabama mission.
“To those who donated to support this mission: we greatly appreciate your support,” he wrote. “Donors like you make what we do possible and we couldn’t do it without you. We hope you will simply let us use your donation to fund our future operations (no doubt we will be in the field again very soon) and our ongoing expenses. However, if you donated to this effort and do want a refund, email us and we’ll get it done.”
Refunds were a problem for the Oath Keepers in early 2021, as The Daily Beast previously reported. Multiple would-be Oath Keepers emailed the group, complaining that they had sent application fees but never heard back about membership.
One application came from a former leader of the Proud Boys, a different far-right paramilitary group. Leaked chat logs reveal that Jason Lee Van Dyke, who briefly served as the head of the Proud Boys, attempted to join the Oath Keepers in March. Van Dyke has previously been accused of using a Proud Boy chapter to surveil an enemy—a charge Van Dyke denies.
Van Dyke told The Daily Beast that Oath Keepers did not ask him about his Proud Boys affiliation. He said he joined the group’s chat briefly, but few people talked to him, even to onboard him as a member. Chat logs show him offering to pay a $50 membership fee, but being told that the group’s payment processors were currently down.
“I seem to recall a time when I might have been in their chat but I was in there for a little bit and as far as I know, that group is completely defunct,” Van Dyke told The Daily Beast. “I don't remember my password to get in there. They don’t have memberships to get in there anymore. If I remember correctly, that chat was dead as a doornail.”