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Who is Stewart Rhodes? Oath Keepers founder offered to testify before Jan. 6 committee

Jan. 6 panel says Trump tweet incited Capitol attack
Jan. 6 committee says Trump tweet incited Capitol attack 03:18

Last week, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes offered to testify under oath before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6  assault on the Capitol. Rhodes, who founded the far-right Oath Keepers group in 2009, said he would only participate in the hearing if it was live on national television.

Oath Keepers is a "fiercely antigovernment, militaristic group that claims more than 30,000 law enforcement officers, soldiers and military veterans as members," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, though the center states that number is highly unlikely. According to the Department of Justice, the Oath Keepers are "a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias" and they "explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel."

The group promotes "their own version of vigilante justice by providing voluntary and sometimes illegal security during tense situations in America," according to the SPLC. 

Rhodes and the Oath Keepers supported Donald Trump during his presidency. Rhodes became "increasingly conspiratorial" and adopted several "fringe right-wing conspiracy theories with the assistance of his friend Alex Jones," whom SPLC considers "almost certainly the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America." 

Capitol Riot Seditious Conspiracy
FILE - Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers speaks during a rally outside the White House in Washington, on June 25, 2017.  Susan Walsh / AP

Rhodes mobilized his followers to take part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in 2021, believing unsubstantiated conspiracy theories that there was voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election. 

Rhodes and 11 other defendants were charged with seditious conspiracy and face other charges for crimes related to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the Department of Justice says. 

The seditious conspiracy indictment alleges that Rhodes, his co-defendants and others conspired to oppose by force the transfer of power between President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden. Rhodes pleaded not guilty and is being detained in a Washington, D.C.-area jail as he awaits trial later this year.

Capitol Riot Oath Keepers
Members of the Oath Keepers on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.  Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Before he started the Oath Keepers, which the SPLC considers a "militia movement," Rhodes was in the Army as a paratrooper. He received an honorable discharge after being injured during a night parachuting accident, according to SPLC.

He later attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Yale Law School. He held several jobs before working for Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president both as a Republican and a Libertarian, supervising his interns. 

In 2009, Rhodes turned away from electoral politics and formed Oath Keepers and recruited current and former military officers, veterans and police officers.

Rhodes and the Oath Keepers' messages have been amplified with frequent media appearances with people like Alex Jones.

"In recent years, Rhodes' actions have vividly revealed the danger of his conspiracy-inflamed convictions as the mouthpiece for the Oath Keepers organization," SPLC says. 

Earlier this month, Rhodes' attorney Phil Linder said Rhodes wanted to testify before the committee under oath "but he wants it to be part of a public hearing, similar to the previous committee hearings," Linder said. However, committee aides declined to discuss the offers by both Rhodes and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon to testify. 

One of the witnesses who testified Tuesday in front of the House Jan. 6 committee was Jason Van Tatenhove, the former national media director for the Oath Keepers.

Another witness was Stephen Ayres, an Ohio man who was among the mob of Trump's supporters who converged on the Capitol building near the U.S. Senate. He pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct last month.

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