Celebrate the Facts!
1/16/2022 2 Comments
The United States Department of Justice has arrested a provocateur named Elmer Stewart Rhodes for seditious conspiracy for what it alleges is his conspiracy to overturn the electoral process at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. While the verdict in such a trial is unknown, the road there is predictable. The facts, while worth examining, are not the most intriguing thing about Rhodes. Instead, his descent from a mere eccentric to apparent madness is a study in American nativist extremism.
The United States charged Oath Keepers leader Stuart Rhodes and ten co-conspirators with seditious conspiracy on January 13, 2022, for allegedly plotting ‘to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force.’
Rhodes, born in 1966, now lives in Granbury, Texas, a village southwest of Dallas, and founded a right-wing paramilitary organization called the Oath Keepers in 2009. The Oath Keepers are an organization associated with right-wing militias. Though the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as a member, they explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel. The Oath Keepers were among the individuals and groups who forcibly entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Department of Justice National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting the case. Prosecutors said that at the beginning of late December 2020, Rhodes helped plan the attack on Congress. The documents claim Rhodes helped form groups standing by at remote locations but prepared to use weapons if necessary.
Rhodes said little in court, typical for a first appearance. However, through his public defender, he did tell the judge that he wished to enter a not guilty plea. He was shackled at his wrists and ankles. Seditious conspiracy can result in fines or imprisonment for as much as twenty years or both. Before his arrest, Rhodes denied any wrongdoing, saying he never entered the Capitol and never intended for members of his group to go in.
The last sedition prosecution came 26 years ago when the United States convicted Omar Abdel Rahman and nine others who planned to bomb the United Nations, the FBI building in Manhattan, and bridges and tunnels between New Jersey and New York. The next court date for Rhodes, a detention hearing, will be held on January 20, 2022, and Rhodes will remain in jail until then.
Estimates say that his net worth is between $500k and $1 million, chump change in a federal case, so it is unlikely he can mount an adequate defense barring contributions from supporters. At this point, Rhodes is so toxic that it is unlikely to happen. Given that condition, he might be a good candidate for a cooperation agreement and then implicate people a bit higher in the insurrection, if he can. That is, assuming he is guilty.
The United States had previously indicted nine people charged in this most recent indictment with a role in the January 6, 2021 insurrection. One may surmise one or more of those people will testify against Rhodes if the case, should the case come to trial, in return for leniency. On the other hand, one might also suspect that at least one of them has already cooperated, leading to the indictment.
On the other hand, delusional people rarely make rational decisions, so Rhodes might fight the charges even if guilty. If that occurs, he will hope to exploit the lack of precedent in such charges, and claim he is a political prisoner. In that case, Marjorie Taylor Greene and other right-wing politicians accustomed to raking up cash from the delusional will use his cause to get more attention and raise more money.
Chief candidates for the next-in-line would be slippery provocateur Roger Stone and the bombastic conspiracy-monger Alex Jones. Rhodes, his deputy, and three Oath Keepers who guarded Roger Stone exchanged 19 phone calls over three hours on January 6, 2021. The calls started with the first assault on police barricades protecting the United States Capitol. Rhodes has a close relationship with Alex Jones, appearing on his Internet channel Infowars, spewing lies, disinformation, and propaganda. The porcine pair are similar in age, appearance, and demeanor, leading one to conclude they are a natural match. It is also conceivable is that there was communication between Rhodes and Jones related to the insurrection.
Rhodes joins his colleagues Steve Bannon, Augustus Invictus, and Richard Spencer as credibly accused of spousal abuse. Rhodes’ wife, Tasha Rhodes, filed for a temporary protective order against her husband in December 2021, a few days after filing for divorce. Tasha Rhodes alleged he frequently threatened himself and his family with guns, and he has a history of violent outbursts against his family. The document claims that history includes choking his teenage daughter by the throat in 2016. Allegations of spousal abuse are a common thread in white nationalist groups. Tasha Rhodes appeared on CNN and referred to him as a 'sociopath.’ She said she felt 'so much relief' that he was in custody.
The bigger question is how a nominally intelligent and highly educated man becomes radicalized to the point of delusion and starts believing in fables. It started, apparently, with the United States military, who trained Rhodes as a paratrooper and discharged him after an injury. Military organizations teach soldiers that violence solves problems and that murder is moral when serving the flag. Such firmly held social mores are difficult to rebuild after the military breaks them.
Rhodes enlisted in the United States Army after finishing high school. He became a paratrooper and received an honorable discharge from an injury during night parachuting training. He attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, graduating in 1998. Rhodes worked as a certified concealed-carry firearms instructor and a valet driver while a student. Rhodes lost one eye when he dropped a gun, and it fired, resulting in the injury and his trademark eye patch.
His first political employment was supervising interns in Washington, D.C., for Libertarian Ron Paul, then a Republican congressman from Texas. Rhodes later attended Yale Law School, graduating in 2004, and clerked for Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan. He later volunteered on Paul’s failed 2008 presidential campaign. Yale, one of the Ivy League finishing schools for the American oligarchy, will not be listing Rhodes in its distinguished alumni on its website.
Libertarians define themselves as people who uphold the principles of individual liberty, especially of thought and action. Their belief system features minimizing almost to the point of elimination of governments. Such a system is intriguing but untenable in practice. One might conclude that Libertarians enjoy the privileges of living in a governed country but don’t wish to obey its laws or pay taxes. The mistaken belief that such a governmental system could be successful and his ardent support of a strange Ron Paul was the first documented step from eccentricity toward Rhodes's full-blown wingnut status.
Along with his now-estranged wife, Rhodes started the Oath Keepers in 2009 as a full-blown protest of the Barack Obama election in 2008.
Fast facts about the Oath Keepers:
In 2015, the Montana Supreme Court officially disbarred Rhodes from practicing law for violating the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct. The punishment resulted because Rhodes represented right-wing extremist clients in Arizona despite being unlicensed to practice in Arizona.
The social costs of the American military machine are incalculable. No empirical platform calculates the costs of veteran suicides, reduced lifetime earnings, criminal behavior, depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders? Of the more than 700 people facing federal charges over the Capitol siege, 73, are veterans. Rhodes is not the only veteran sharing delusions and willing to break the law over them.
A rational society diverts a delusional person into the mental health treatment industry, hospitalized, medicated, and discharged before hurting themselves and others. Believing the basic tenets of the Oath Keepers include delusional thinking, let alone founding a movement espousing such nonsense. Under the guise of First Amendment-protected free speech, people such as this can lie, misrepresent, twist facts, distribute propaganda, and meet openly and advocate mistaken beliefs.
However, Rhodes allegedly crossed the line, and now he is in the hands of the federal criminal justice apparatus. One might argue Rhodes’ use of wireless communication, albeit encrypted, was also indicative of mental illness. Rhodes was high profile before the insurrection. A person of Rhodes’s education and reasonable awareness would know when the FBI wants to find out whom one is talking to and what they are saying, they will find out.
The criminal justice system in the United States misses many opportunities to study and treat mentally ill convicts. For instance, the United States executed Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing perpetrator, shortly after his conviction without uncovering much detail about his journey into psychosis. The United States buried that chance and missed dozens of other such opportunities each year, leaving a deeper understanding of causes of criminal behavior unknown.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.