The leader of the Oath Keepers militia group, Stewart Rhodes, is under federal investigation for any possible part he may have played in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the New York Times reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter.
According to the Times, the Rhodes probe is in its early stages, and prosecutors have struggled to make the case that his actions exceeded his First Amendment rights. The same official told the Times that Rhodes remains under a separate investigation for a matter other than the Capitol riot.
Rhodes, referred to as “Person 1” by prosecutors, has popped up in numerous court filings in the cases of fellow Oath Keepers charged with participating in the attack.
He was even allegedly communicating in an encrypted messaging group during the attack itself with several Oath Keepers who were later charged, allegedly sending associates an order as crowds swarmed the Capitol.
“Come to South Side of Capitol on Steps,” Rhodes messaged the group in response to a report that rioters had taken ground at the Capitol, prosecutors said. He allegedly sent a picture showing the southeast side of the Capitol.
“South side of the US. Capitol,” Rhodes allegedly wrote. “Patriots pounding on doors.”
Ahead of the attack, Rhodes also told the group that the Oath Keepers had staged “quick reaction forces” (QRFs) nearby that could provide backup if needed, according to court documents.
“We will have several well equipped QRFs outside DC. And there are many, many others, from other groups, who will be watching and waiting on the outside in case of worst case scenarios,” he allegedly texted.
Several of the alleged Oath Keepers who have been indicted on conspiracy charges for the Capitol attack allegedly discussed having armed QRFs as they were planning the attack.
Alleged Capitol conspirator Tom Caldwell, who denies being an Oath Keeper, texted fellow alleged co-conspirator Jessica Watkins about a person named “Paul” who had committed to being a QRF on January 6 and “will have the goodies in case things go bad and we need to get heavy.” Watkins allegedly messaged Bennie Parker, another indicted member of the militia, that “QRF will be our Law Enforcement members of Oathkeepers.”
On Wednesday, in a filing advocating for his release from detention, Caldwell asserted that the chatter about QRFs “was nothing but a contingency plan hatched up by retired military guys strategizing in the event that Antifa launched a coordinated attack against rally-goers.”
In a blog post two days before the attack, Rhodes called Oath Keepers from around the country to descend on Washington described an effort to provide security to VIP speakers.
“All Patriots who can get to DC need to be in DC,” Rhodes wrote. “Now is the time to stand. It’s not too late to go. Jump on a plane! Jump in your car! Just get there. Show the President you support him taking decisive action as both President and Commander-in-Chief. And show Congress that we the people will not stand for the election being stolen to plant an imposter Chicom puppet in the White House. Stand now, or kneel forever.”
Two Oath Keepers who allegedly acted as VIP security in D.C. — specifically, as bodyguards for Trump confidante Roger Stone, who spoke at a rally in D.C. on Jan. 5 — were subsequently charged with breaching the Capitol. Another alleged conspirator, Jessica Watkins, has asserted she was also in D.C. to provide VIP security.
Roberto Minuta, who was seen on film providing security detail for Stone while decked out in clothes bearing the Oath Keeper logo, was taken into custody on Monday and faces charges of obstructing Congress and unlawful entry.
Another Stone bodyguard, Joshua James, was arrested and charged this week with entering a restricted building, and obstructing an official proceeding and aiding and abetting.
After detailing the alleged behind-the-scenes planning for the VIP security service, an FBI agent’s affidavit supporting the charges against James described Rhodes’ own public statements that “the Oath Keepers were present in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., on January 5-6, 2021, to provide security to ‘VIPs’ at the rallies and events scheduled for those dates.”
In his court filing Wednesday, Caldwell offered a brief defense of some of Rhodes’ comments in the encrypted group chat, specifically those instructing fellow Oath Keepers to bring body armor to D.C.
“Actually,” Caldwell asserted, “the recommendations from the ‘national leader’ of the Oath Keepers seems fairly straight forward: Do everything to protect your physical safety with defensive equipment but obey Washington, D.C.’s strict weapons laws.”