Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes claims to have sat for a nearly three-hour interview with FBI agents in May after the agents seized his phone as part of the Capitol riot investigation.
Rhodes, who has not been charged with a crime, told The New York Times Friday that he denied to the agents the primary charge against more than a dozen members of his group charged in a large conspiracy case: that they intended to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.
Rhodes said he went further than that, claiming to the agents that members of the Oath Keepers only went in the building after they’d heard someone had been shot, presumably referring to Ashli Babbitt. Rhodes claimed that the members went inside because they wanted to render aid to the person.
That, the Times noted, is not a claim supported by the paper’s reporting.
Text messages cited by prosecutors shows Rhodes in frequent communication with Capitol riot defendants at multiple points during the attack.
At 1:38 p.m., according to one March court document in the large conspiracy case, Rhodes wrote to a chat group of Oath Keepers, “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.” At 2:14 p.m., another member of the group allegedly wrote “The have taken ground at the capital[.] We need to regroup any members who are not on mission.” Rhodes allegedly reposted that message with an instruction: “Come to South Side of Capitol on steps.”
At 2:41 p.m., Rhodes sent another message, showing a photo of the southeast side of the Capitol and the text, “South side of US Capitol. Patriots pounding on doors[.]” At approximately 2:40 p.m., according to the same filing, a “stack” of Oath Keepers entered the Capitol’s east side. And at 2:48 p.m., defendant Thomas Caldwell, who was at another side of the building, wrote to contacts on Facebook, “We are surging forward. Doors breached.”
It was right around this time that Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot by a police officer while attending to breach the Speaker’s Lobby inside the Capitol. Citing footage of a clock at the time of her death, Bellingcat estimated that Babbitt was shot at around 2:45 p.m. The Washington Post and Associated Press subsequently reported that Babbitt was shot at 2:44 p.m..
“We’ve got nothing to hide,” Rhodes told the Times. “We did nothing wrong.”
Rhodes told the Times “I did express frustration that some of my guys went in.” He said he told the FBI that those who breached the Capitol had “gone off mission” and added: “There were zero instructions from me or leadership to do so.”
Rhodes has long been under federal scrutiny for his actions on Jan. 6. He’s maintained that the Oath Keepers were prepared to defend against anti-fascists, not take offensive action against Congress.
“If we actually intended to take over the Capitol, we’d have taken it, and we’d have brought guns,” Rhodes said at a rally in late March. “That’s not why we were there that day. We were there to protect Trump supporters from antifa.”
Rhodes has been referred to as “Person 1” in numerous filings against fellow Oath Keepers. He founded the group and currently leads it, though as the Wall Street Journal reported last month, disgruntled ex-members of the group have alleged that Rhodes spent organization money on frivolous personal expenses.
That same Journal report broke the news that Rhodes’ phone had been seized by federal agents — though in that telling, the seizure happened in late April, not May as the Times reported.
Multiple Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to various offenses related to the Jan. 6 attack, and prosecutors have said they aim to make offers to several others in the sprawling conspiracy case.