Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was skeptical that then-President Donald Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act in the lead up to January 6, according to new messages revealed Thursday, and was privately preparing to wage his own rebellion led by the far-right militia group.
Investigators obtained the new messages from Rhodes’ phone, many of which are from one of seven main Signal chats that the Oath Keepers used to coordinate around January 6, 2021. Prosecutors said that additional messages came from the electronic devices of other members of the Oath Keepers and from their phone providers – noting that T-Mobile preserved messages of some users.
Rhodes had released two public letters calling on Trump to use the Insurrection Act, according to prosecutors. If Trump did invoke the act, he believed the former President would call upon the Oath Keepers as a militia to help stop what they saw as a stolen election and prevent Joe Biden from becoming president, according to the public letters. He echoed the same ideas in encrypted group messages with other members of the Oath Keepers, encouraging the group to organize a quick reaction force outside of Washington, DC, on January 6 in case they were called upon.
But in private text messages shown to the jury on Thursday, Rhodes allegedly told Kellye SoRelle, who identifies as an Oath Keepers attorney, that he had a contingency plan if Trump did not call up the militia.
If the Insurrection Act isn’t invoked “then I’ll make peace with it,” Rhodes allegedly texted SoRelle in late December 2020, days before January 6. “And then I’ll turn my attention to what I need to do as the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers to prepare for what comes after Trump fails to do his duty.”
The Oath Keepers would have a plan for if Trump invokes the Insurrection Act, Rhodes said in one text, “but most of my focus will be on presuming he won’t. And preparing for the worst.”
Rhodes also expressed his doubts that Trump would act in Signal messages to a close group of Oath Keepers leaders presented by prosecutors.
“Either Trump gets off his ass and uses the insurrection Act to defeat the ChiCom puppet coup or we will have to rise up in insurrection (rebllion) against the ChiCom puppet Biden,” Rhodes said on one Signal message from early December. “Take your pick.”
“This will be a DC rally number three,” Rhodes allegedly wrote the Signal group a week before January 6. “Getting kinda old. They don’t give a s**t.”
He added, “They won’t fear us till we come with rifles in hand.”
Just before the building was breached on January 6, Rhodes allegedly sent out a Signal message to Oath Keepers leaders with a final warning toward the then-President.
He wrote, “Trump has one last chance to man up and fulfill his oath. Will he?”
Trump never did invoke the Insurrection Act.
When a mob breached the US Capitol on January 6, some Oath Keepers expressed doubts about storming the building, complaining in the group leaders Signal chat that the mob was “dumb enough to act like ANTIFA.”
Rhodes, however, saw the breach as an opportunity, according to prosecutors.
SoRelle responded on Rhodes’ behalf; “We are acting like the founding fathers. Can’t stand down. Stewart and I concur.”
SoRelle, a self-described general counsel for the right-wing militia group, pleaded not guilty last month to several charges relating to the attack on the US Capitol.
Defense attorneys for Rhodes have repeatedly argued that his actions on January 6 were in anticipation of Trump invoking the Insurrection Act, and the reason the Oath Keepers did not call for armed reinforcements was because Trump did not invoke the act.
Rhodes and four other Oath Keepers are on trial for seditious conspiracy. Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell have pleaded not guilty.