Stewart Rhodes used to wear only the black eye patch, which gave him the look of a privateer. Since moving to Texas a few years ago, he often wears a black cowboy hat as well. He also had it on when he stood in front of the Capitol in Washington on the afternoon of January 6, 2021. At that time, angry Trump supporters were fighting with police officers in and in front of the parliament building, and a demonstrator had just been shot in a corridor. Rhodes was short, answering questions very tersely and tapping away on his phone. He was obviously busy. The question is: what was Elmer Stewart Rhodes III doing that afternoon? There are two accounts. As Rhodes sees it, he and thousands of other American patriots were at the Capitol on January 6 to demonstrate against the illegal seizure of power by Communist Joe Biden, who stole Donald Trump’s election victory. However, as the Justice Department sees it, Rhodes was the head of a group of militant enemies of the state whose goal that day was to use force to prevent the peaceful, legal confirmation of Biden’s legitimate election victory by Congress. At least that’s what the indictment that the US justice system released Thursday after FBI officials arrested Rhodes in Texas says so. Since January 6, 2021, hundreds of people who took part in the storming of the Capitol have been charged. But Stewart Rhodes stands out in this crowd, and not just because of his eye patch. On the one hand, there is the crime that he is said to have committed. So far, the capitol attackers have mostly been accused of rather banal things – breach of the peace or resistance to state authority. Rhodes is now the first defendant to be specifically charged with a politically motivated offense directed against the government and the laws of the United States: seditious conspiracy, translated: seditious conspiracy, possible maximum sentence: 20 years in prison. The indictment reflects what at least the Democrats see in the events of January 6 – an attempted right-wing national coup. And then there is the person Stewart Rhodes – a brawny man in his mid-fifties who served as a paratrooper, studied law at Yale and in 2008 a of the largest right-wing militias in the USA: the Oath Keepers. They differ from other similar groups in that Rhodes has primarily recruited active and retired soldiers and police officers for membership. Rhodes has a big name in the American militia scene. People who know Rhodes and think he’s very dangerous say he knows full well that if you want to start a revolution, you have to infiltrate the police and army first. Exactly what Rhodes wants to start isn’t always clear. He talks a lot and probably likes to show off. His militia is probably a lot smaller than he always claims, closer to 5,000 members than 25,000, and it’s not particularly tightly organized. But his people are well-armed, and Rhodes and his men often turn up where right-wing militants clash with state power. The mindset Rhodes lives in is dark, filled with left-wing enemies rumored to want to destroy America. He is convinced that true patriots should defend themselves against them, if necessary with violence. From Stewart Rhodes’ point of view, the United States is deep in the second civil war that commentators are currently speculating about. January 6, 2021 was a day of struggle in that war for him – two groups of Oath Keepers invaded the Capitol. Rhodes stayed outside the building. He also denies having ordered his people to storm Parliament. Prosecutors believe they can prove the opposite.
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