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DOJ reveals new Signal messages from Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes as judge rules he will remain in jail

<i>Aaron C. Davis/Washington Post/Getty Images</i><br/>Stewart Rhodes
The Washington Post via Getty Im
Aaron C. Davis/Washington Post/Getty Images
Stewart Rhodes

By Hannah Rabinowitz, Holmes Lybrand and Katelyn Polantz, CNN

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes will be held in jail while he awaits trial, a federal judge in Washington, DC, ruled on Friday after prosecutors revealed new Signal app messages where Rhodes allegedly called January 6 “the final nail in the coffin of our republic” and instructed his followers to prepare for violence.

The messages from the encrypted app, which were presented during hearings Wednesday and Friday, allegedly show how Rhodes advocated for then-President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act. If Trump didn’t, prosecutors allege, Rhodes repeatedly suggested that his followers should be ready to act without Trump’s support.

“Be prepared for a major letdown on the 6th to the 8th, and be ready to do it ourselves,” one message read aloud in court said.

“He must know that if he doesn’t act, we will. He has to understand that we will have no choice,” said another message.

After the riot, Rhodes allegedly messaged associates that if Trump failed to invoke the Insurrection Act before he left office, “patriots should… prepare to walk the same path as the founding fathers.”

Prosecutors used the messages as evidence that Rhodes is too dangerous to be let out of jail while he awaits trial. Friday, federal district Judge Amit Mehta agreed to keep him detained.

Mehta said Friday that Rhodes presents a clear and convincing danger, calling him an “extremely sophisticated individual” and that there was “simply no way” to mitigate the risk to public safety Rhodes poses.

“There is quite a bit of communication suggesting Mr. Rhodes was encouraging others to prepare for violence,” Mehta said. “The words he used were quite graphic, of bloody revolutions and the like.”

Mehta also noted that the decision to keep Rhodes detained was not about his right to free speech. “I am the first to recognize there is expansive protection under the First Amendment for speech… but Mr. Rhodes is not being accused of just speaking. He is being accused of taking action, planning and preparing people to stop the certification of the electoral college vote.”

Rhodes has been in jail since his arrest in mid-January on charges that he led a seditious plot to overthrow the presidential transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden in January 2020.

Rhodes has pleaded not guilty to the seditious conspiracy charges and other federal charges. He and 10 other alleged members of the Oath Keepers are set to go to trial in July.

During the initial detention hearing held Wednesday, prosecutors said Rhodes was “the leader in the conspiracy” with a “particularly dangerous role.”

Defense lawyers argued there is a lack of evidence Rhodes conspired with others before, during, or after January 6, and said that Rhodes’ cooperation with the government for over a year after the Capitol riot suggests he isn’t likely to flee and is not a threat to the public.

But Mehta disagreed.

“The evidence is quite strong that it is unlikely that Mr. Rhodes did not know about, at a minimum, if not order [members of the Oath Keepers] into the Capitol,” Mehta said, adding that the Oath Keepers — an organization known for recruiting former military and police officers — would not “do something without the blessing of their commanding officer.”

Rhodes’ lawyers also maintained that Oath Keepers were not prone to violence and had previously stationed Quick Reaction Forces in Virginia at two other DC events they provided security for without incident.

Only a few dozen January 6 defendants are detained while they wait to go to trial. The standard to hold anyone in pretrial detention is very high, and federal judges in Capitol riot cases have reserved those orders for defendants accused of violence, defendants with troubling criminal histories, and those who, like Rhodes, are accused of taking leadership roles in conspiring with others.

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