Antifa, Election Fraud and 1776: Messages Provide Window Into Oath Keepers

Antifa, Election Fraud and 1776: Messages Provide Window Into Oath Keepers


Stewart Rhodes, founder of the militia group known as the Oath Keepers, speaking at a rally outside the White House in 2017. Texts featured at his trial paint a portrait of an organization in thrall to conspiracy theories.Credit...Susan Walsh/Associated Press


WASHINGTON — At times he could be grandiose, comparing his efforts to challenge the results of the 2020 election with George Washington’s army fighting at the Battle of Long Island.

At other times, he could issue ideological screeds, calling the Democrats “America-hating,” “totalitarian” Marxists bent on the destruction of the country.

Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers militia, was a prolific writer of encrypted text messages, many of which have been featured this week as evidence at his trial on seditious conspiracy charges in Federal District Court in Washington.

The government has used the messages to build its case that Mr. Rhodes and four other members of the group plotted to stop the transfer of power and keep President Donald J. Trump in office. But they have also provided a window into the mind-set of Mr. Rhodes and others in the far-right organization during a period when Mr. Trump was stoking outrage among his supporters.

That mind-set, in the days between the election and the mob attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, veered between fear, aggression and apparent self-delusion as the Oath Keepers increasingly viewed themselves as the final hedge against Mr. Trump losing power. The messages, which were seized during the government’s investigation of the Capitol assault, paint a portrait of an organization in thrall to conspiracy theories and willing to use extreme measures to fight for what they saw as a country in apocalyptic decline.

Mr. Rhodes and four subordinates are the first of nearly 900 people arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol attack to go on trial for seditious conspiracy.Credit...Kenny Holston for The New York Times

The day after the election, for instance, Mr. Rhodes called for the creation of an armed “quick reaction force” of military and law enforcement veterans to be on hand for pro-Trump demonstrations in Washington and other cities. In a message to his subordinates, he suggested the importance of the force by quoting George Washington speaking to his troops in 1776: “The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army.”