Oath Keepers Founder Is Said to Be Investigated in Capitol Riot


Still, even if no evidence can be found that Mr. Rhodes personally entered the Capitol, which would amount to clear proof of a crime, that does not preclude prosecutors from charging him as part of a larger conspiracy. In February, prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Ryan Ashlock of Kansas on conspiracy charges, asserting that he was part of a group of Proud Boys who traveled to Washington to “stop, delay and hinder the congressional proceeding” on Jan. 6 even though he never entered the building.

Known for his distinctive black eye patch — the result of a gun accident — Mr. Rhodes has long been known to the F.B.I. and remains under investigation for a matter separate from the riot at the Capitol, a Justice Department official said. For years, he has earned a reputation as a leader of the right-wing “Patriot” movement, often spewing incendiary rhetoric to recruit and inspire militia members.

“As we have said consistently, we do not and will not tolerate violent extremists who use the guise of First Amendment-protected activity to wreak havoc and incite violence,” Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, said in a statement for the record before testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

After gaining early experience in politics working for the libertarian Ron Paul, the former Republican congressman from Texas, Mr. Rhodes formed the Oath Keepers in 2009, just months after President Barack Obama took office. At a ceremony in Lexington, Mass., the site of a famous battle of the Revolutionary War, Mr. Rhodes said his plan was for members of the Oath Keepers to disobey certain illegal orders from the government and instead uphold their oath to the Constitution.

Throughout the Obama years, gathering momentum as a militia group, the Oath Keepers repeatedly inserted themselves into prominent public events. They turned up, for instance, in 2014 at a cattle ranch in Nevada after its owner, Cliven Bundy, engaged in an armed standoff with federal land management officials. That same year, members of the group went to Ferguson, Mo., in a self-appointed mission to protect local businesses from riots prompted by the death of Michael Brown, a Black man who was shot by the police.

After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Rhodes and the Oath Keepers seemed to pivot away from their anti-government views and embrace the new spirit of nationalism and suspicions of a deep-state conspiracy that had taken root in Washington. Mr. Rhodes was particularly vocal in supporting the former president’s relentless lies that the 2020 elections were marred by fraud and that President Biden’s victory was illegitimate.

One week after Election Day, Mr. Rhodes told the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that he had men stationed outside Washington prepared to act at Mr. Trump’s command. And at a rally in the city on Dec. 12, he called on Mr. Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, suggesting that a failure to do so would result in a “much more bloody war.”

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Janice Hill

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