Four months after he was found guilty of seditious conspiracy and two other charges related to the U.S. Capitol incursion on Jan. 6, 2021, Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes III decried the verdicts as “pre-ordained” results from a “guaranteed-conviction zone.”
He also warned conservatives that Jan. 6 was “only the beginning of a political persecution campaign aimed at all of you.”
In his first extended comments since being found guilty on three charges and not guilty on two others, Rhodes told The Epoch Times he was prosecuted for “who I am” and “what I said,” not for any criminal actions on Jan. 6.
Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell were accused by federal prosecutors of a seditious conspiracy to attack the Capitol and prevent a joint session of Congress from certifying the Electoral College votes from the 2020 presidential contest between President Donald Trump and Joseph Biden Jr.
Only Rhodes and Meggs were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the first Oath Keepers trial that ran from Sept. 27 to Nov. 29, 2022.
Rhodes faces a May 25 sentencing hearing. The seditious conspiracy charge alone carries a potential 20-year prison term.
He and his four co-defendants filed for acquittal or a new trial, but a ruling has not yet been made on those motions.
“I did not enter the Capitol. Nor did I instruct anyone else to enter the Capitol,” Rhodes said in a 46-page reflection written from his cell at the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia.
“And yet, here I sit, because of who I am, and because of what I said—my political speech—not because of anything constituting an actual crime, not because of anything I actually did,” Rhodes told The Epoch Times.
The U.S. Department of Justice relied heavily on communications between members of the Oath Keepers in encrypted chats, online meetings, text messages, and a push-to-talk radio app as evidence in prosecuting conspiracy charges against the Oath Keepers and associates.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy began her closing argument on Nov. 18, 2022, by turning some of Rhodes’ words against him.
“‘We are not getting through this without a civil war,'” she quoted Rhodes as saying two days after the 2020 election. “‘Prepare your mind, body and spirit.'”
Rakoczy took those words to mean that Rhodes “called for war with all of its horrors and all of its violence to oppose the results of a presidential election.”
Rakoczy said a “mountain of evidence” introduced at trial “has shown that in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, these five defendants joined together and agreed to do whatever was necessary, up to and including the use of force, to stop the lawful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joseph Biden.”
In an open letter to Trump on Dec. 14, 2020, Rhodes asked, “Will you take your place in history as the savior of our republic, right up there with President Washington and Lincoln?”
Or, he asked, would Trump fail to act, “Leaving We the People to fight a desperate revolution/civil war against an illegitimate usurper and his Chicom puppet regime?”
The words of Rhodes and his co-defendants “were not the mere rantings and ravings of old men at a barbershop,” Rakoczy argued. “These defendants repeatedly called for the violent overthrow of the United States Government and they followed those words up with action.”
All Found Guilty
Three groups of Oath Keepers have been tried since September 2022 in U.S. District Court in Washington. All 15 defendants were found guilty of at least some of the charges against them in trials that ended on Nov. 29, Jan. 23, and March 20.
Five Oath Keepers have taken deals in exchange for guilty pleas and cooperation with the government investigation. Three other Oath Keepers and the group’s former general counsel face upcoming trials in Washington.
Founded in 2009, Oath Keepers bills itself as a non-partisan association of current and former military, police, and first responders who pledge to fulfill the oath that all military and police take to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Taken from Article VI of the Constitution, that oath is made to the Constitution and not any politician or individual.
Rhodes said his writings and the other communications that were used against him at trial were political speech that is protected by the First Amendment as enshrined in the 1969 Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio.
The Brandenburg decision held that even inflammatory or violent speech is protected by the First Amendment, unless it is used to incite or is likely to cause imminent lawless action.
“The government presented no witness, no evidence of any actual plan to enter the Capitol,” Rhodes said, “nor any plan to use force to resist the authority of the United States.
“No evidence of an actual crime, other than my very public open letters, which were, according to Brandenburg, protected speech since it did not call for imminent violence that was likely to occur.”
In two open letters to President Donald Trump in December 2020 and January 2021, Rhodes urged the president to invoke the Insurrection Act and seize evidence of fraud from the November 2020 presidential election.
He urged Trump to sign an order declassifying caches of documents that he said would expose the “dirty secrets” of the “corrupt and compromised elites” in Washington. He said Trump should “throw the doors open and dump all the skeletons out of the closets and onto the streets for all the people to see and for all the world to see.”
In a twist, the jury found Rhodes not guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy to prevent a member of Congress from discharging their duty. However, despite not entering the Capitol, Rhodes was found guilty of obstructing an official proceeding.
“So, clearly, the jury found no evidence of any plan by me to do anything regarding entering the Capitol on Jan. 6,” he said.
Rhodes said there was never a plan for Oath Keepers to go into the Capitol. Those who did acted without authority.
“There were over 100 Oath Keepers in D.C. on Jan. 6, with multiple security teams working,” he said. “Unfortunately, two of those teams, on their own accord, decided to walk into the Capitol after the doors had been opened from the inside by others.
“I did not know that any Oath Keepers had gone inside until afterward when Meggs walked up to me outside at the northeast corner of the building and told me they had gone inside because they heard someone had been shot and went in to render medical aid, and he told me while inside they had assisted police.”
Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot by U.S. Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd outside the House Speaker’s Lobby at about 2:45 p.m. on Jan. 6.
Oath Keepers were not involved in efforts to save her life.
Shortly after the Babbitt shooting, a group of Oath Keepers intervened between an enraged Capitol Police officer armed with an M4 rifle and protesters who were shouting at him in the Small House Rotunda.
Rhodes said the Oath Keepers feared the situation would escalate to the point of the officer opening fire if they didn’t get between him and the crowd.
“When Kelly Meggs told me his team had gone inside, I told him, ‘That was stupid,’ because entering the building would make it easier for our political enemies to persecute us. And that is exactly what happened.”
Rhodes said Oath Keepers has a track record of assisting law enforcement from the day of its early 2009 founding.
“You will find no footage of Oath Keepers fighting with the police, or breaking windows, or forcing open doors because that didn’t happen,” he wrote.
‘Hopelessly Biased’ Jury
The verdicts against the Oath Keepers were a fait accompli, Rhodes contended.
“We were indicted by a D.C. grand jury and then tried in a D.C. court before a partisan, hopelessly biased, tainted, and prejudicial D.C. jury,” he said.
“The outcome was pre-ordained. There can be no such thing as a fair trial in a D.C. court, before a D.C. jury, for any Trump supporter.”
Defense attorneys in the first Oath Keepers trial entered motions for a change of venue in April and September 2022, but those were denied by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta.
Attorneys argued that a heavy bias against the Oath Keepers, coupled with the district’s heavily Democrat population and round-the-clock coverage of the House Jan. 6 Select Committee made it impossible to receive a fair trial.
Rhodes believes that the first Oath Keepers trial is evidence that the First Amendment no longer carries protection against unjust prosecution.
“Yes, I was found guilty of ‘seditious conspiracy,’ which can only have been based on all of my political free speech, which was paraded in front of the jury by the prosecution,” Rhodes wrote.
“And in the court’s jury instructions, the court told the jury that while the First Amendment protects free speech, the jury could consider my speech as evidence of the charged offenses.
“And they did just that, using my free speech as well as my lawful possession of firearms, which I left in my hotel in Virginia on Jan. 6, as ‘evidence’ of a crime,” Rhodes said.
Prosecutors contended that a cache of weapons and ammunition stored at the Virginia hotel was intended for a quick-reaction force to attack the Capitol. The Oath Keepers had mapped out land and water routes to get the arms to the Capitol, the government told jurors.
Rhodes said the weapons were a contingency if Trump used the Insurrection Act to call up a militia to defend the White House from attack by Antifa or other groups. The weapons were never brought into Washington. Defense attorneys noted that the lawful storage of weapons and ammunition was part of most Oath Keepers’ security missions around the country.
Security Detail, Not Capitol Attack
Rhodes repeated what he said at trial and in statements made to the FBI in May 2021: Oath Keepers went to Washington on Jan. 5 and 6 to provide volunteer security for VIP speakers, including conservative political consultant Roger Stone and conservative activist Ali Alexander, and to do event security at permit-approved events on Capitol grounds.
“Why did those events need volunteer security?” Rhodes asked. “Because violent leftists, including Antifa, had been attacking Trump supporters, not just in Washington D.C. but nationwide, at any Trump rally, any conservative event, anywhere they gathered, anywhere in the nation during the four years of Trump’s presidency and even during the 2016 campaign.
“By Jan. 6, 2021, Oath Keepers had conducted nine volunteer security missions in Washington,” Rhodes said, “starting with Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, where Antifa and ‘Refuse Fascism’ organized mass assaults on Trump supporters and riots against D.C. police, to attempt to shut down the inauguration and/or prevent Trump supporters from attending.”
Rioting broke out across a swath of Washington on Jan. 20, 2017, as Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.
Rioters, some wearing gas masks, torched a limousine, threw bricks and chunks of concrete at police, smashed plate-glass windows in downtown businesses, and lit trash fires.
More than 200 people were arrested and six police officers were injured.
“Across the nation, all through the four years of the Trump administration, Oath Keepers provided volunteer security for hundreds of events, such as the march against Sharia, and our military and police veterans also served as armed escorts outside of Trump campaign rallies, because Antifa would attack Trump supporters after the rally as they returned to their cars or hotels.”
Antifa adherents were often armed with chains, clubs, bicycle locks, or pipes, Rhodes said. None ever attacked an Oath Keeper or one of their protectees.
“We deter attacks by our presence, and Antifa, to date, has never closed on us, never gotten physical, and has not been able to touch a hair on the head of anyone we protect,” he said.
“Antifa fears us and doesn’t attack because of our high number of police and well-trained military veterans.”
During rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Oath Keepers protected a bakery owner and her business by stationing armed men on the roof.
About 30 percent of the 40,000 Oath Keepers members as of Jan. 6, 2021, were current or retired law enforcement officers, Rhodes said. The rest were military, firefighters, and first responders.
“We have a near-perfect track record nationwide,” he said. “Not one event we secured was forced to shut down by Antifa violence, not one person we have protected has been harmed, and all without any use-of-force incidents.”
‘Fair Warning’ for America
Conditions in Washington with juries drawn from a “hyper-politicized pool of people” will only ensure more guilty verdicts, he said.
“All of this adds up to any trial in D.C. of any conservative being nothing but a show trial with conviction assured, whatever the charges, whatever the so-called ‘evidence.’
“Your real crime is being a traditional American—a Christian conservative, a believer in God-given natural rights.”
Rhodes believes that conservatives, Christians, MAGA (Make America Great Again) Republicans, and those who cherish traditional values will increasingly be targets of the left and the Department of Justice.
“You will be found guilty of the crime of simply holding condemned viewpoints,” he said.
“D.C. is a guaranteed-conviction zone for anyone on the right who is dragged into court,” he said. “And that will not change.
“And I do believe that Trump himself will eventually be indicted and put on trial in a public spectacle in D.C.
“You are the problem. You and some 75 to 100 million other Americans are increasingly immune to their propaganda, to their brainwashing, and to their massive gaslighting,” Rhodes said.
“You see through most of it, and your eyes are opening more and more each day to the extent of their lies.”
Rhodes claimed that Jan. 6 was a “smokescreen” to hide fraud in the 2020 election and obscure what he called efforts of the Chinese Communist Party and Marxist proxy groups to take over the U.S. government.
“Consider this a fair warning that if you are not a leftist, no leftist jury will respect your right to free speech,” he said. “To the contrary, they will use your free speech as evidence to support finding you guilty—and the federal judiciary will let them do it.
“Everything you say on social media, in group or private chats, in public speeches and private conversations, will be paraded before the jury and they will be invited to use your speech against you and find you guilty,” Rhodes wrote.
“For you, the First Amendment is dead as any kind of meaningful shield protecting your speech.”
‘Empire of Lies’
Rhodes said Jan. 6 was and is America’s current-day Reichstag Fire, a reference to the February 1933 burning of the German parliament building. The fire was used by the Nazis to help secure totalitarian control of Germany.
“Jan. 6, 2021, was a setup,” Rhodes said. “The powers that be wanted their Reichstag Fire moment. They wanted Trump supporters to enter the Capitol and they wanted footage of some Trump supporters fighting with Capitol Police and D.C. Metro.”
Oath Keepers and Proud Boys were “the designated bogeymen of ‘J-6,’ to use as poster boys for the ‘insurrection’ narrative to smear President Trump and to make Jan. 6 into our Reichstag Fire,” Rhodes wrote.
“This is only the beginning of a political persecution campaign aimed at all of you,” he said.
When more Jan. 6 CCTV security video is released, Rhodes alleged it “will show agitators, including some in uniform working to enrage the crowd, such as by unprovoked use of rubber bullets, pepper balls, pepper spray, and tear gas canisters fired at point-blank range by select teams of officers, while plainclothes agents and agitators [none of whom have been arrested] steered and manipulated the enraged crowd to push over the flimsy bike racks, move toward the building and to enter the Capitol.”
Rhodes said it is “laughable” to suggest there were no paid provocateurs at work on Jan. 6.
“So yes, of course, there were federal agents as well as paid federal assets all over Jan. 6,” he said. “The only real question now is just how many there were and what they did that day.”
Rhodes quoted his former boss, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who once said, “Truth is treason in the empire of lies.”
“We now live in an empire of lies, and yes, if you speak the truth, that empire of lies will accuse you of treason,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said he plans to remain defiant, whether about the seditious-conspiracy verdict, the 2020 election, or creeping totalitarianism in Washington.
“They can take my liberty and imprison my body, but they cannot imprison my mind, and they cannot coerce me into repeating their lies,” he wrote.
“I will never bend the knee or kiss the ring. I will remain defiant and I will continue to speak the truth, so long as I draw breath.”