Oath Keepers Leader Sits for F.B.I. Questioning Against Legal Advice

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In a bold move, Stewart Rhodes, the laminitis and person of the right-wing militia group, sat for an interrogation with national agents aft they seized his telephone successful May.

Stewart Rhodes, the person  of the Oath Keepers militia, denied that helium  oregon  immoderate  different   Oath Keepers had committed crimes connected  Jan. 6.
Credit...Susan Walsh/Associated Press

July 9, 2021, 2:51 p.m. ET

It was soon aft national agents confronted him successful May extracurricular a boutique edifice successful Lubbock, Texas, seizing his cellphone with a warrant, that Stewart Rhodes, the person of the Oath Keepers militia, made a bold decision: Even though helium had conscionable gotten undeniable impervious that helium was nether investigation, helium agreed to beryllium questioned astir his — and his militia’s — relation successful the Jan. 6 onslaught connected the Capitol.

Against the proposal of a lawyer, Mr. Rhodes spoke freely with the agents astir the Capitol battle for astir 3 hours, helium said successful an interrogation connected Friday. Mr. Rhodes said that helium denied that helium oregon immoderate different Oath Keepers had intended to disrupt Congress’ certification of the Electoral College ballot — the main accusation the authorities has lodged against 16 members of the radical who are charged with conspiracy.

He besides said helium told the agents that members of his militia went into the gathering lone aft they had heard that idiosyncratic had been changeable wrong and wanted to render aid. (A New York Times ocular investigation of the events of Jan. 6 did not find grounds of Mr. Rhodes’ claims.)

“I did explicit vexation that immoderate of my guys went in,” Mr. Rhodes said, noting that helium told the F.B.I. that those who breached the Capitol had “gone disconnected mission.” But past helium rapidly added, “There were zero instructions from maine oregon enactment to bash so.”

For months, the authorities has softly acknowledged that investigators person been scrutinizing the relation that Mr. Rhodes played successful the Jan. 6 assault, but the information that helium voluntarily submitted to an F.B.I. interrogation was a caller measurement successful the inquiry. In tribunal papers connected to the lawsuit of his associates, Mr. Rhodes has been identified arsenic Person 1 and prosecutors person described however helium was successful nonstop connection with immoderate suspects before, during and aft the assault.

They person besides said that helium sent members of the radical encrypted messages assuring them that “well-equipped Q.R.F.s” — oregon quick-reaction forces — would beryllium lasting by extracurricular of Washington connected Jan. 6 “in lawsuit of worst lawsuit scenarios.”

Speaking with investigators successful the mediate of a transgression enquiry is simply a hazard adjacent though Mr. Rhodes had a lawyer, Kellye SoRelle, contiguous with him. Mr. Rhodes said that helium was not the lone Oath Keeper person to person talked with national agents successful caller weeks. After helium was questioned, 1 of his apical lieutenants, a antheral helium identified arsenic Whip (and who is known arsenic Person 10 successful tribunal papers), besides spoke voluntarily with the F.B.I.

“We’ve got thing to hide,” Mr. Rhodes explained. “We did thing wrong.”

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to remark connected the interviews.

The revelation that 2 Oath Keeper leaders — who person not been charged — person been questioned by the F.B.I. comes astatine a benignant of inflection constituent for the Oath Keepers’ case, 1 of the astir salient prosecutions stemming from the Capitol assault.

Earlier this month, astir of the defendants challenged the viability of the government’s charges and 1 asked the presiding judge, Amit P. Mehta, to determination his proceedings retired of Washington, arguing that excessively galore section residents suffered from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Judge Mehta issued an bid connected Tuesday saying that the 16 defendants would beryllium tried successful 2 groups, 1 tentatively acceptable to statesman successful January, the different 3 months later.

At the aforesaid time, however, astatine slightest 3 Oath Keepers person pleaded blameworthy successful the lawsuit and person agreed to cooperate with the government’s sprawling probe of the group. At a caller hearing, prosecutors told Judge Mehta that they were successful plea negotiations with respective different members and could not regularisation retired further charges.

Despite the flurry of activity, prosecutors overseeing the probe of Mr. Rhodes person agelong admitted that they person struggled to marque a lawsuit against him. His activities seemed to enactment wrong the boundaries of the First Amendment, 1 authoritative with cognition of the substance said.

Known for his achromatic oculus spot — the effect of a weapon mishap — Mr. Rhodes, who attended Yale Law School aft serving successful the military, founded the Oath Keepers successful 2009, aft the predetermination of erstwhile President Barack Obama. For years, helium has earned a estimation arsenic a person successful the right-wing “patriot” movement, often spewing incendiary rhetoric.

But aft Donald J. Trump was elected, helium and his members seemed to pivot from their anti-government views and clasp the caller tone of nationalism and suspicions of a deep-state conspiracy that had taken basal successful Mr. Trump’s administration.

Mr. Rhodes was peculiarly vocal successful supporting the erstwhile president’s repeated lies that the 2020 elections were marred by fraud and that President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s triumph was illegitimate.

One week aft Election Day, for instance, Mr. Rhodes told the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that helium had men stationed extracurricular Washington prepared to enactment astatine Mr. Trump’s command. And astatine a rally successful the metropolis connected Dec. 12, helium called connected Mr. Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act.

Then, 2 days earlier the Capitol attack, Mr. Rhodes issued a “call for action” connected the Oath Keepers’ website, urging “all patriots who tin beryllium successful D.C.” to “stand gangly successful enactment of President Trump’s combat to decision the enemies overseas and home who are attempting a coup.”

In the aforesaid communiqué, helium announced that the Oath Keepers would beryllium sending “security teams” to supply extortion to “V.I.P.s” astatine events surrounding the governmental rallies successful Washington connected the time earlier and the time of the riot. Members of the group, including immoderate who person been charged, did enactment arsenic guards for Mr. Trump’s adjacent state and advisor Roger J. Stone Jr.

Mr. Rhodes has agelong predicted his ain arrest, noting astatine a code astatine the Texas-Mexico borderline successful March that helium mightiness look charges successful transportation with the Jan. 6 attack.

“I whitethorn spell to jailhouse soon,” helium told the crowd. “Not for thing I really did, but for made-up crimes.”

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