Elmer Stewart Rhodes, head of the extremist Oath Keepers group, was ordered to remain in custody Friday after a federal judge found he poses a dangerous threat to the American public and should await his July trial for seditious conspiracy behind bars.
Poring over the evidence from federal prosecutors for more than an hour, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta was unconvinced Rhodes should be released given his sophistication with covert communication, his access to weapons, and among other things, the backlog of communications where he appeared to have a total lack of remorse over fellow “patriots” storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rhodes is currently being held at the Cimarron Prison and Correctional Facility in Oklahoma. Prosecutors asked that he stay there until his trial in Washington this summer. U.S. Attorney Katherine Rakoczy said there was serious concern that if Rhodes is transferred to the prison in Washington—where other Jan. 6 defendants are currently being held—sensitive discovery materials had the potential to be jeopardized.
Defense attorney Phillip Linder asked for the transfer, arguing it would be difficult for Rhodes to communicate with his attorneys and prepare at such distance.
Judge Mehta said he sympathized but nonetheless, the circumstantial evidence of Rhodes’ case overruled the inconvenience.
Rhodes's virtual appearance Friday was initially scheduled to take place in the early afternoon but was unexpectedly disrupted after a power outage forced a lost connection between Judge Mehta’s bench in Washington and the live feed from Oklahoma. Mehta resumed the hearing on Friday just after 5 PM.
He picked up where the court left off: a review of the charges.
Indicted in January, the seditious conspiracy charge for the 57-year-old longtime Oath Keeper is among the most serious to be brought by the Justice Department yet.
The list of allegations against Rhodes is long. Prosecutors say Rhodes oversaw a sweeping, weaponized effort to lay siege to the Capitol and obstruct the transfer of power from outgoing President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden.
He oversaw the orchestration of quick-force reaction teams that crossed state lines, ultimately ending up at a northern Virginia hotel and positioning themselves just minutes outside of Washington with their weapons cache so Oath Keepers could be called up to the Capitol at a moment’s notice.
Rhodes claims that the guns and teams stashed in Virginia were there just in case Trump invoked the Insurrection Act and needed Oath Keepers to assist.
“There are a number of [statements] Mr. Rhodes makes before and after Jan. 6 that run counter to the notion that they were simply waiting on the president to invoke the Insurrection Act and once it happened, the intention he had dissipated and he was no longer a threat."
Further messages or remarks after Jan. 6 showed Rhodes expressing a willingness to stop Biden’s “illegitimate regime.”
Mehta reiterated Friday that it would ultimately be up to a jury to decide his guilt or innocence. But the circumstantial evidence in Rhodes’ case ruled out any shot he had at escaping pretrial detention.
The judge, appointed by former President Barack Obama, also excoriated the suggestion by Rhodes that he was not at all aware that fellow Oath Keeper and defendant Kelly Meggs intended to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Previously covert communications revealed by prosecutors on discovery showed time and again how Oath Keepers like Edward Vallejo were loyal to Rhodes, checking in with him frequently or asking his permission for various tasks.
The “evidence is strong to believe,” Mehta said, that Rhodes knew Meggs was going to breach the Capitol and likely did so on his command.
“These are not people who do things without orders. They certainly don't do things with such significance, like entering the Capitol, without an order from their commanding officer. That may turn out to be the wrong inference but it certainly is reasonable,” Mehta said.