Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, gave a fiery speech in Laredo, Texas, last week, in which he declared that the US Justice Department is waging a “persecution campaign” against his group and the Proud Boys over their roles in the Capitol riots and predicted that he himself may soon be locked up.
“I may go to jail soon, not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes,” Rhodes said, according to a tape of the event reviewed by BuzzFeed News.
He added, “There are some Oath Keepers right now, along with Proud Boys and other patriots who were in DC, who are sitting in jail… Denied bail because the powers that be don’t like their political views.”
Federal prosecutors are pursuing conspiracy charges against a group of Oath Keepers members for descending on the Capitol on Jan. 6 “in an organized and practiced fashion” to stop Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president.
Rhodes, who has not been charged in connection with the Capitol insurrection, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his speech. Nor did a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, which has called the Oath Keepers “a large but loosely organized collection of militia who believe that the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”
Rhodes’ comments were made at a “border security” rally organized by Patriots at Large and Women Fighting for America and attended by some of Texas’s top Republicans. The event kicked off Friday with a speech by Allen West, the head of the Texas Republican Party. Rhodes’ comments were first reported Wednesday by the Daily Beast.
Rhodes and members of the Oath Keepers have had a sporadic presence at the US–Mexico border over the years. Rhodes has repeatedly called on members of the paramilitary organization to head down to the border as part of a “call to action” to assist border patrol officials in spotting and detaining immigrants at the border.
Many of those charged in the federal investigation over the Jan. 6 attack have pleaded not guilty and insisted they were in Washington, DC, to provide protection for VIPs at President Trump’s rally and entered the Capitol to keep order, not to create mayhem or disruption.
Rhodes, 55, was in Washington that day but did not enter the Capitol. In court papers, prosecutors refer to him as “Person One” and allege that he stood outside the building and was in direct communication with his followers during the riot.
Rhodes has declined to comment to BuzzFeed News about the events of Jan. 6, and at one point texted that the invitation to do so would be “like Solzhenitsyn being approached by Pravda for a comment on a hit piece they are doing on him.” Rhodes referenced that text — and his response — in his Texas speech on Friday and added, “I want to say a few things while I still can, before they send me off to the gulag.”
“You need to understand that you are the real targets,” he told his audience. “You must stand up now. Do not cower in fear. Running and hiding, hoping the FBI won’t knock on their door. That’s what they want you to do. You need to stand up united and tell them you are not afraid to speak out. You will continue to speak out. You won’t be silenced.”
He also called the government’s allegations that members of the Oath Keepers were out to cause violence and disrupt the election “absurd.”
“With no guns,” he said. “If we actually intended to take over the Capitol, we’d have taken it. We’d have brought guns.” They were there, he said, “to protect Trump supporters from antifa.”
Rhodes’ claims in the speech mirror those posted on the Oath Keepers’ website on March 20, under the headline “The Political Persecution of the Oath Keepers.”