From Yale to insurrection: Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers 'general'
Stewart Rhodes mugshot. Collin County Sheriff's Office.

The government calls Stewart Rhodes the "general" of a traitorous violent insurrection in Washington on January 6, 2021; his lawyers say he led a "peacekeeping force" in the riot at the US Capitol.

And his former wife called him a narcissistic "sociopath" who mythologizes his own future as "the next George Washington."

Rhodes, 56, was at the center Monday of the first US sedition trial in decades, accused with other members of this Oath Keepers militia group of plotting the armed attack on the US Congress to block Joe Biden from becoming president.

Prosecutors say that as the leader of the Oath Keepers, the eye-patch-wearing Yale law graduate spearheaded the attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-president Donald Trump, stockpiling weapons nearby for an armed insurrection.

In an indictment, the Justice Department detailed encrypted chats in which Rhodes urged Oath Keeper members to prepare for a revolution after Trump was defeated by Biden in the November 2020 election.

"We aren't getting through this without civil war," he told them.

If Biden became president, he said, "It will be a bloody and desperate fight... That can't be avoided."

From Yale Law to conspiracies

Rhodes has spent years preparing to do battle with a government he views as increasingly repressive.

He grew up in the southwest US, and joined the army after finishing high school.

But he was discharged early due to an injury in a parachuting exercise.

His former wife Tasha Adams Rhodes, with whom he had six children, says they met as he was working as a parking valet and she was teaching dance in Las Vegas.

He was also working as a firearms instructor -- and lost one eye when he dropped a gun and it fired, hitting him.

In 1998 he graduated from a local university and was accepted at Yale University Law School, one of the country's most elite institutions.

After Yale he set up a law practice in Montana, where he developed the idea for the Oath Keepers in 2009, on the premise that the federal government was increasingly encroaching on citizens' rights including restricting gun ownership.

Followers must be willing to fight the government, he would say.

Mainstreaming fringe ideas

Blogging online about politics and the alleged threat of the American left, Rhodes struck a nerve among many white men with military and police backgrounds, recruiting thousands to the group.

"He showed a talent for giving fringe ideas more mainstream appeal," wrote Mike Giglio in an Atlantic profile of Rhodes.

As the group grew, Rhodes mobilized armed, combat-suited Oath Keepers for security at Republican rallies and during social disturbances, like the riots in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 after police shot a Black man.

"The Oath Keepers are basically a peacekeeping force," Rhodes' attorney Phillip Linder told the federal district court in Washington Monday. "They make themselves available to help keep peace in the streets."

  • 'Extremely patriotic' -

But government prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler Monday said that text messages and recorded conversations show Rhodes planned the January 6 actions and organized his followers around them.

He depicted Rhodes outside the Capitol during the riot, constantly on his phone texting orders to his followers.

He was "like a general in the battlefield," said Nestler. The Oath Keepers launched their fight to break through police lines into the Capitol after Rhodes texted them: "The patriots are taking matters into their own hands."

Linder, Rhodes' attorney, says that the government has exaggerated and taken out of context many of Rhodes' text messages to portray his client as plotting to overthrow the government.

"Stewart Rhodes meant no harm to the capitol that day. Stewart Rhodes did not have any violent intent that day," said Linder.

"Rhodes is extremely patriotic.. he is a constitutional expert," he added.

© Agence France-Presse