In a recent indictment of nine people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, federal prosecutors went to great lengths to describe the magnitude of the day’s events, the alarming threat to democracy their actions posed, and the powerful influence that one charismatic leader had in shaping their beliefs.
They took care, however, not to refer to that man by name. Instead, they refer to him as “Person One.”
Elmer Stewart Rhodes III — a one-time Army paratrooper, disbarred Yale lawyer, constitutionalist, gun enthusiast, and far-right media star — founded the group called the Oath Keepers in 2009. Since then, he has ridden crosscurrents of American anger and strife that ran from scrubby Western deserts to angry urban protests right into the Capitol rotunda.
The Jan. 6 insurgency was by far the most incendiary that the Oath Keepers have been involved in, and brought the group more attention, welcome and unwelcome, than it had ever before received. But an examination by BuzzFeed News of the group’s activities over its twelve years of existence reveals an unmistakable pattern.
Rhodes summons his heavily armed followers into the heart of a roiling crisis. Sometimes, as in the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey in Houston or Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the Oath Keepers provide much-needed aid. On other occasions, as at the Bundy ranch in southern Nevada or the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the group’s presence amplifies the conflict.
As a lawyer, Rhodes abandoned multiple clients and lost his license. Numerous people who heeded his calls to action as the leader of the Oath Keepers say he abandoned them as well, summoning them to dangerous confrontations and leaving them to suffer the criminal consequences.
But though Rhodes received tremendous publicity from these events, he has so far managed to avoid any consequences himself. [Continue reading…]