Within days of President Donald Trump’s election defeat, Stewart Rhodes began talking about the Insurrection Act as critical to the country’s future.
The bombastic founder of the extremist group Oath Keepers told followers that the obscure, rarely used law would allow Trump to declare a national emergency so dire that the military, militias or both would be called out to keep him in the White House.
Appearing Nov. 9, 2020, as a guest on the Infowars program of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Rhodes urged Trump to invoke the act “to suppress the deep state” and claimed Oath Keepers already had men “stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option.”
Invoking the Insurrection Act was an idea sparked in conservative circles that spring as a means of subduing social justice protests and related rioting, a goal Trump seemed to embrace when he called for state leaders to “dominate” their streets. By the end of the year, it had become a rallying cry to cancel the results of a presidential election. Now, private and public discussions of the law stand as key evidence in the cases against the Oath Keepers.
Earlier this month, Rhodes was charged with seditious conspiracy, accused along with 10 members of his group of conspiring to use violence to try to stop Joe Biden’s certification as president. Rhodes has denied wrongdoing, saying he never wanted or told his group to enter the U.S. Capitol.
A court hearing in Plano, Tex., on Monday will determine whether he must stay in jail while awaiting trial.
Court filings and public statements leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, show how important the idea of the Insurrection Act became to Rhodes and other extremists, including followers of the ever-changing QAnon extremist ideology, and to Trump and people close to him.
“It is hard to put into words how mind-boggling this idea was, to use a statute designed to protect the country from insurrection to support an actual insurrection,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.