For Oath Keepers and founder, Jan. 6 was weeks in the making
WILMINGTON, Del. — Two days after the election on Nov. 3, 2020, the Oath Keepers were already convinced that victory had been stolen from President Donald Trump and members of the far-right militia group were making plans to march on the U.S. Capitol.
“We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” leader Stewart Rhodes wrote fellow members, according to court documents. “Too late for that. Prepare your mind. body. spirit.”
Four days after the vote, when The Associated Press and other news outlets declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner, the documents say Rhodes told Oath Keepers to “refuse to accept it and march en-masse on the nation’s Capitol.”
The indictment last week of Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, and 10 other members or associates was stunning in part because federal prosecutors, after a year of investigating the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, charged them with seditious conspiracy, a rarely-used Civil War-era statute.
But the documents also show how quickly Trump’s most fervent and dangerous supporters mobilized to subvert the election results through force and violence, by any means necessary, even though there was no widespread election fraud and Trump’s Cabinet and local election officials said the vote had been free and fair.
Hundreds of people have been charged in the violent effort to stop the congressional certification of Biden’s victory. Many were animated by Trump’s speech at a rally near the White House, just before the riot, where he said: “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
But for Rhodes and others, there was no need for Trump’s words of encouragement. Action was already planned.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 56, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009. He and some friends decided they would form an organization around the perception of “imminent tyranny,” concerned about federal overreach and a series of unrecognized threats - like the government was planning to attack its own citizens. He recruited current and former military, police and first responders.
Rhodes, out of high school, joined the Army and became a paratrooper, but was honorably discharged after he was injured during a night parachuting accident, according to a biography on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website on extremism.
When it looked like Trump was going to lose the 2020 presidential election to Biden, the
Oath Keepers got to work, prosecutors said.
On Nov. 9, 2020, Rhodes instructed his followers during a GoToMeeting call to go to Washington to let Trump know “that the people are behind him,” and he expressed hope that Trump would call up the militia to help stay in power, authorities say.
On Dec. 14, 2020, as the electors in the states cast their votes, Rhodes published a letter on the Oath Keepers’ website “advocating for the use of force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power,” according to the documents.
As that transition in Washington drew close, Oath Keepers spoke of an arsenal they would keep just a few minutes away and grab if needed. Rhodes is accused of spending $15,500 on firearms and related equipment including a shotgun, AR-15, mounts, triggers, scopes and magazines, prosecutors said.