The trial of Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the extremist Oath Keepers organization, began with jury selection Tuesday.
Rhodes and several members of his heavily armed militia have been charged with seditious conspiracy, among several other counts, over their alleged efforts “to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States.”
In a court filing back in February, prosecutors said: “Rhodes stood at the center of the seditious conspiracy — orchestrating plans to use force, recruiting and financing co-conspirators, purchasing weaponry and tactical gear, inciting support and action, and endeavoring to conceal his and other co-conspirators’ crimes.”
In other words, he cast himself as a general in an insurrectionist army.
Rhodes, who has pleaded not guilty, served in the Army. And he perfectly embodies the violent pseudo-patriotism that conservative hate groups like his use to lure people — veterans in particular — who are sympathetic to their cause.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, warned about this during a hearing back in March that focused on radicalized veterans who participated in the Jan. 6 siege.
Takano explained how and why groups like the Oath Keepers prey on people who have served:
These groups value the leadership skills, combat experience, and the weapons training that veterans possess. Having veterans among their ranks also gives these groups an air of credibility. It allows them to project a false appearance of patriotism and duty that belies their true anti-government views, and racial, ethnic and religious hatred.
Writing for Military.com in May, Drew F. Lawrence detailed the great lengths to which Rhodes went to pitch his organization to fellow extremists as a de facto military that was effectively meant to protect then-President Donald Trump. For example, Rhodes called on former military officials to join the Oath Keepers for pro-Trump events in Washington on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021.
“We need prior military, LEO, security professionals, skilled martial artists, emergency medical, communications, and intelligence personnel,” he ominously wrote in a Jan. 4 post on the Oath Keepers’ website.
"PATRIOTS! GET TO DC AND STAND!" the post said.
On Monday’s episode of “The ReidOut,” former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove said Rhodes viewed his actions whipping up an army of pro-Trump extremists as “a road to authority and authenticity as a clandestine militia leader.”
In this case, Rhodes and his minions are on trial. But so, too, are the conservative movement’s mythical patriotism, the violence it begets and anyone — veterans included — who subscribes to it.