Stuart Rhodes, leader of the Wardens of the Oath, arrested in investigation Jan. 6

On Election Day, the letter said, Mr. Rhodes said that “honest” counting of votes could only lead to Mr. Trump’s victory and called on members of his group to “stock up on ammunition” and prepare for “a full-blown war in the streets.”

With his distinctive black eye patch—the result of a gun accident—Mr. Rhodes has been a staple on the far right since the day 2009 he announced the creation of the Oath Keepers at a rally in Lexington, Massachusetts, the site of a famous Revolutionary War battle.

At the event, Mr. Rhodes put up an anti-government platform for current and former law enforcement and military officials who joined his group, saying that his plan was to disobey some of the illegal orders issued by officials and instead adhere to their oath to the Constitution.

During the Obama administration, department guards repeatedly inserted themselves in high-profile public disputes, often playing the role of heavily armed guards. In 2014, for example, they showed up on a Nevada cattle ranch after its owner, Calvin Bundy, got involved in an armed confrontation with federal land administration officials. That same year, members of the group went to Ferguson, Missouri, on a self-appointed mission to protect local businesses from riots sparked by the murder of Michael Brown, a black man shot by police.

After Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Rhodes and the oath-keepers moved away from their anti-government views and appeared to embrace the new nationalism and skepticism about a deep state conspiracy that had taken root among some of the president’s supporters. Like other far-right groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers also – often materially – opposed the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in 2020 in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

According to the indictment, Mr. Rhodes became more serious about preventing Biden from taking office in early January, the same month he began spending thousands of dollars on firearms, ammunition and other tactical gear. Prosecutors did not accuse him of bringing any weapons to Washington on January 6, but said that Mr. Vallejo and other members of the Armed Response Force outside the city discussed the possibility of “armed conflict” and “guerrilla warfare.”

Prosecutors said Mr. Rhodes appeared to be enjoying the chaos at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The indictment indicated that shortly after 3 p.m. that day, a member of his group chat group sent him a message that members of Congress had “obtained gas masks and are trying to get out.” Mr. Rhodes was said to have responded bluntly.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo