Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Aaron C. Davis/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Pro-Trump media and lawmakers have, for months, been faithfully regurgitating the line that the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol can’t have been an attempted coup or insurrection, because none of the hundreds of people arrested had been charged with sedition or insurrection.
But a federal indictment unsealed Thursday put a pin in that narrative—or at least, you’d think it would. Ten members of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia, and their leader Stewart Rhodes, were hit with a stunning sedition conspiracy indictment alleging that they stockpiled weapons, engaged in paramilitary training, and even discussed a plot to transport high-powered guns across from their hotel in Virginia across the Potomac for Jan. 6, all with the goal of blocking then President-elect Joe Biden from taking office.
The sedition indictment came down on Jan. 8, two days after the anniversary of the Capitol riot, and amid mounting pressure by members of Congress to bring the hammer down harder on accused rioters.
The new narrative that’s emerged in the last 24 hours, since the indictment was made public, is that the Justice Department is just scrambling to cover its tracks.
“It’s interesting that they’ve just added the seditious conspiracy charge after Congress spent two weeks criticizing them for not being tougher,” Jonathon Moseley, an attorney who is representing Florida Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs, one of those charged with sedition conspiracy, told VICE News. “And then they did it. It shows congressional interference, makes me feel like this is somewhat of a public relations ploy.” (Moseley is also representing Rhodes in a separate civil case).
Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, on his “War Room” podcast, spoke with ex-Trump speechwriter Darren Beattie about the indictment—claiming that the fresh charges only raise more questions about whether the Capitol riot was incited by a gaggle of undercover FBI agents who were hellbent on smearing the MAGA movement. Beattie, through his right-wing blog Revolver, has been pushing the “Fedsurrection” conspiracy for months, which has recently gotten big boost from the likes of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson plus members of Congress like Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green.
Beattie claimed in a series of posts last year that Rhodes, a Yale Law graduate who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, was a government asset. One widely-shared article with the headline, “Federal Protection of ‘Oath Keepers’ Kingpin Stewart Rhodes Breaks The Entire Capitol ‘Insurrection’ Lie Wide Open,” made its argument based on the fact that Rhodes had not yet been arrested or charged in connection to the riot.
“I don’t want the regime to trot out this headline as an arrest as some ostensible debunking of the possibility that Rhodes had been protected up to this point as an asset or informant.” Beattie told Bannon. “The arrest only intensifies these questions.”
The “Ray Epps” conspiracy, which claimed that an Oath Keeper from Arizona was in fact a federal agent, was also the brainchild of Beattie. (The Jan. 6 Select Committee stated this week that they interviewed Epps, and he testified that he has never worked for the FBI or any other agency). Now the conspiracy that Rhodes is, in fact, a government asset, is gaining traction on pro-Trump forums.
Infowars’ Alex Jones, a long-time ally of Rhodes who regularly had him on his show—including in the run-up to Jan. 6—was in meltdown mode on his show on Friday, oscillating wildly between believing the allegations against Rhodes, or the conspiracy that he’s a federal agent.
“If what they say about Stewart Rhodes is half true, I’m personally pissed,” said Jones (who has been subpoenaed by the J6 committee). “If things went off the way he wanted them to, if he wanted a bloody civil war to be triggered there, there might be millions dead, so this is a big problem folks.”
“They lie so much I don’t know if any of it is true,” Jones added.
Jones, whose entire brand and livelihood relies on doomsday conspiracies, suggested that Rhodes was behaving “apocalyptic, crazed” in the last year. “[He was] acting very strange… had he gone crazy, or is he a fed?” asked Jones. “Is he super deep state… or is he his own crazy operative or is he being set up?”
And on Thursday night, one of the indicted Oath Keepers, Thomas Caldwell, who was already facing charges in connection with the Capitol riot, appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News to claim his innocence, and disparage the sedition conspiracy charges as part of a politicized witch hunt. “If you are perceived by people who may not even be elected in our country to not think the right way, or say something in a private email conversation that they don’t like, you could end up being a target, just as I’m a target,” said Caldwell. He added that he believed his legal battle was essentially “good versus evil.”
Rhodes was expected to appear before a Magistrate judge on Friday afternoon in his home state of Texas.