PLANO, Texas - The founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group remained in jail after his first court appearance on Friday, a day after his arrest on charges he plotted with others to attack the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes, who lives in Granbury, and 10 others face the little used federal charge from the violence at the U.S. Capitol back on January 6, 2021, when lawmakers gathered to certify the presidential election results.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson ordered Rhodes, 56, to be held in custody until a detention hearing next Thursday in Plano.
The government said, from November to January 6, with Rhodes at the helm, Oath Keepers plotted and planned the attack on the Capitol. They also allege that Rhodes spent thousands on guns and equipment to try and prevent the peaceful transfer of power, and that even after the January 6th insurrection, talked about the need for Civil War 2.0.
Rhodes appeared in court on Friday wearing heavy boots, blue jeans, a faded black Carhartt T-shirt and a blue medical mask. He walked into the courtroom shackled at the wrists and ankles.
After the hearing, Rhodes' lawyers said he entered a not guilty plea, plans to fight the charges against him and should be released. Defense attorneys Phillip Linder and James Lee Bright said Rhodes has no criminal history, no passport and is not a flight risk.
Bright and Linder said Rhodes has been living in Texas for a year and a half but they could not say what brought him to the state. They said he had no family present at the Friday hearing.
Proving seditious conspiracy
"Seditious conspiracy claim requires proof of an attempt to, basically, overthrow the government," constitutional attorney David Coale said.
That’s what the United States alleges against North Texan Elmer Rhodes and 10 others for their roles in the U.S. Capitol riot.
It’s alleged they purchased weapons and set up battle plans after the November 2020 election.
The government charges Rhodes, Oath Keepers founder and leader, with communicating with others through encrypted messaging. Even though there is no evidence that he entered the Capitol, the complaint says he "...conspired with his co-defendants ...to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power...to hinder and delay the execution of any law of the United States."
"It’s kind of a high stakes escalation of the legal charges that have been brought," said Paul Coggins, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas.
Hundreds have been charged so far for their part in the insurrection. None, until now, have faced these very serious allegations.
"Sedition charges are extremely rare," Coggins added. "They're hard to prove and extremely rare."
"That’s hard to do, in part, because, factually, it’s hard to develop that kind of record," Coale explained. "People just don’t go around trying to overthrow the government every day, and legally, you start to bang up against the First Amendment protections because our First Amendment protects a lot of speech that’s anti-government, opposed to the government, very strong things against our government leaders."
Though prosecutors claim they have proof.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the 2020 presidential election Electoral Vo
Among other facts in the complaint, they have the following comment attributed to Rhodes during a December interview with a regional Oath Keepers leader: "Rhodes stated that if President-Elect Biden were able to assume the presidency, ‘We will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them. That’s what’s going to have to happen.’"
The government said the destruction and violence on January 6, 2021, goes beyond protected speech.
"What they've alleged is that this was far more than that," Coggins said. "This was a planned attack. This had a tactical force held back in case they were needed later, so it’s basically they're saying they didn't come to protest, they didn’t come just to chant, ‘Hang Mike Pence.’ They came with a plan to attack and shut down the government that had been meticulously worked out really almost since the day after the election."
Sedition is a political crime. While it's not treason, it’s right up there with it, and carries a longer federal prison sentence of 20 years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.