Court Battles

Lawyers for Oath Keepers founder ask federal judge to release him from jail

Lawyers for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes on Wednesday urged a federal judge to release the militia’s founder from jail while he awaits trial on seditious conspiracy charges over the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

James Bright, one of the defense attorneys, pushed back during a detention hearing against prosecutors’ insistence that the facts surrounding the case call for Rhodes to be denied bond during the pretrial proceeding. Bright questioned whether there was an actual conspiracy to prevent President Biden from taking office when the Oath Keepers refrained from using weapons on the day of the riot to further that alleged goal.

“I think that speaks, in all honesty, your honor, to the rationality of whether there ever was — outside of this purely bombastic language and the specter of the preparation — of whether there was actually ever a true seditious conspiracy that existed,” Bright told the judge on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta seemed skeptical at times during the hearing of Rhodes’s effort to get released from jail, though he declined to rule on the motion Wednesday.

Mehta, an Obama appointee, appeared troubled by various circumstances in the case during his deliberations, including the prosecutors’ allegation that there was an armed contingent of Oath Keepers — referred to in court filings as a “quick reaction force” (QRF) — waiting just outside Washington, D.C., for an order from Rhodes to bring guns into the District on the day of the riot.

“Why have a QRF at all?” Mehta asked Bright.

The defense attorney said, “I think this is where we cross over into some varying belief systems that, while legal, other people may not understand or agree with.”

Bright said that the Oath Keepers believed that if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act during the events, it would grant the group as a militia “the legal fundamental ability to utilize weapons outside of the district.”

Rhodes’s defense team is asking Mehta to reconsider a federal magistrate judge’s ruling that the 56-year-old Oath Keepers founder be denied bond. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson ruled late last month that Rhodes is too dangerous to be released while awaiting trial.

“Defendant’s authoritative role in the conspiracy, access to substantial weaponry, and ability to finance any future insurrection, combined with his continued advocacy for violence against the federal government, gives rise to a credible threat that Defendant’s release might endanger others by fostering the planning and execution of additional violent events,” Johnson wrote in the order.

Federal prosecutors have emphasized Rhodes’s alleged stockpiling of and easy access to weapons as a key factor in why he should remain behind bars.

“The large-picture view in this case is that the defendant is alleged to have been leading a plot to oppose by force the transfer of presidential power in this country,” Kathryn Rakoczy, a prosecutor with the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office, said on Wednesday. “That plot, and the execution of that plot, ultimately included an attack on the United States Capitol while the Congress was convened to certify and deal with objections to the presidential election.”

While Mehta declined to rule on Rhodes’s detention status during Wednesday’s hearing, he made clear that even if the Oath Keepers leader were to be released, he would be subject to the strictest possible conditions.

“It would be about as strict as it gets without being behind bars,” the judge said.

Mehta scheduled the next pretrial hearing for Friday.

Tags Amit Mehta Capitol riot federal court Jan. 6 Insurrection Joe Biden Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes

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