Stewart Rhodes, the founder/president of the Oath Keepers, could be forgiven if he spends a lot of time looking over his shoulder this week. It’s become clear, after all, that federal prosecutors are circling around his organization and Rhodes’ role in members’ participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Federal agents arrested two more Oath Keepers—both of whom provided security for Roger Stone, an ex-adviser to Donald Trump, on the morning of the attack—this week for their involvement in the assault on the Capitol, bringing the total of group members arrested for participation to 11. Meanwhile, prosecutors also filed documents in one of those cases indicating that Rhodes, who was present at the Capitol but did not go inside, was in direct contact with some of the people arrested.
The document, filed Monday in the case of Oath Keeper Thomas Caldwell—who coordinated with militia members Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl, according to prosecutors, to create a “stack” formation that played a key role in breaking down police barricades—alleges that Rhodes exchanged texts with them before, during, and after the insurrection. Rhodes himself has not yet been charged, but the others faces charges that they conspired to prevent Congress from confirming the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Rhodes used the encrypted platform Signal to chat with Watkins, 38, an Ohio Oath Keepers militia leader, and Kelly Meggs, 52, a militia leader from Flordia who was charged in the insurrection in February, prosecutors said. The filing says he directed them to rally during the siege to the Capitol’s southeast steps, following which members forcibly entered the east side of the building.
Prosecutors said the chat called “DC OP: Jan 6 21” they had recovered on Signal “shows that individuals, including those alleged to have conspired with [others], were actively planning to use force and violence.” The document asserts that Rhodes, Watkins, Meggs, and “regional Oath Keeper leaders from multiple states across the country” discussed plans to “provide security to speakers and VIPs” at events Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 in Washington with members and affiliates.
The messages, combined with Rhodes’ previous statements, “all show that the co-conspirators joined together to stop Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote, and they were prepared to use violence, if necessary, to effect this purpose,” prosecutors said. “They were plotting to use violence to support the unlawful obstruction of a Congressional proceeding.”
Rhodes responded by text to The Washington Post that the new allegations are “total nonsense.” He said the government was trying to “bootstrap” a few Oath Keepers’ actions into a conspiracy in order to depict his organization as the “boogeyman.”
“They are trying to manufacture a nonexistent conspiracy,” Rhodes said, “I didn’t say ‘don’t enter the Capitol,’ I never figured they would do that. ” He added of federal investigators, “They got nothing, they got a message from me saying, ‘Meet here.’”
Rhodes gave a lengthy interview to the Post last week in Texas in which he denied repeatedly that he had any advance knowledge of any Oath Keepers’ plans to invade the Capitol. He instead blamed members who “went off the reservation.”
“Just so we’re clear on this: We had no plan to enter the Capitol, zero plan to do that, zero instructions to do that, and we also had zero knowledge that anyone had done that until after they had done that—afterwards,” Rhodes said.
He added: “They went totally off mission. They didn’t coordinate with us at all while they were there. They did their own damned thing.” He also claimed that Caldwell was not actually a dues-paying member of Oath Keepers.
Rhodes messaged the group, prosecutors claimed in the filing, about advance preparations for “worst-case scenarios,” claiming, “We will have several well equipped QRFs [quick reaction forces] outside DC.” However, he insisted to the Post that Oath Keepers never did actually successfully muster such a group.
Nonetheless, news reports from local media outlets confirm that a group of men gathered at the Marine War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington on the day of the insurrection, parking numerous vehicles—mostly pickups and SUVs with out-of-state license plates—and appeared to be in communications with others elsewhere. Arlington Now published photos taken that day showing a group of men loitering near the memorial; the Capitol, which at that point was being overrun, is visible in the background. One truck with large toolbox in the back was left running.
A Feb. 11 court document in filed in Watkins’ case includes prosecutors’ description of the purpose of the quick reaction force, based on her chats with Caldwell:
Caldwell referenced “a quick reaction force [QRF] [that would be] bringing the tools if something goes to hell. That way the boys don’t have to try to schelp weps on the bus.” Watkins previously stated that the QRF provided ready access to guns during operations. As she explained to a contact when preparing to attend a November election fraud rally in Washington D.C., QRF was designed so that “If it gets bad, they QRF to us with weapons for us,” but that, otherwise, “[w]e can have mace, tasers, or night sticks. QRF staged, armed, with our weapons, outside the city” and advised “to be prepared to fight hand to hand” while “guys outside DC with guns, await orders to enter DC under permission from Trump, not a minute sooner.”
However, Caldwell’s attorney asserted in court this week that the Oath Keepers’ “QRF” plans actually comprised a single person—an obese man in his late 60s with a bad back — who planned to come to their aid if they were attacked by “antifa.”
Meanwhile, two more Oath Keepers were arrested this week, both men part of the security detail the organization had provided to Stone on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6. A total of six Oath Keepers were identified by The New York Times as having guarded Stone during the events. The first of these men to be arrested was Robert Minuta, who was arrested Saturday in Newburgh, New York.
Minuta, 36, lives in Texas and owns a tattoo parlor in Newburgh. The criminal complaint filed in his case says that when federal agents came to arrest him, he demanded to know why he was being targeted for the insurrection instead of Black Lives Matter and “antifa.”
One of his compatriots—Joshua James, 33, of Alabama—was arrested Tuesday. James is facing charges of obstruction of Congress and unlawful entry. His first court hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
Stone denied knowing Minuta in a statement to ABC News, saying he was not "familiar with his name prior to his being identified in earlier media stories where it was alleged that he was involved in illegal events up at the Capitol.
"If he was indeed among those who volunteered to provide security while I visited Washington, D.C., I was unaware of it," Stone said.
The evidence establishing the central role of the Oath Keepers and the militant Proud Boys organization in the insurrection continues to mount, as the Associated Press reports in detail.
These two extremist groups that traveled to Washington along with thousands of other Trump supporters weren’t whipped into an impulsive frenzy by President Donald Trump that day, officials say. They’d been laying attack plans. And their internal communications and other evidence emerging in court papers and in hearings show how authorities are trying to build a case that small cells hidden within the masses mounted an organized, military-style assault on the heart of American democracy.
“This was not simply a march. This was an incredible attack on our institutions of government,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough said during a recent hearing.
Rhodes has not been charged yet. In a Jan. 19 interview on CNN, he denied planning the attack.
"We weren't part of any decision to go in there and were part of no planning and no one was instructed to do so," he said then. "I fully expect the media to continue to try to spin it as though I was some kind of grand master planner. If I'd have planned it, it would have been a whole lot different."