Rhodes and four others associated with the Oath Keepers are on trial on charges of seditious conspiracy.

PHOENIX – Long before he assembled one of the largest far-right anti-government groups in US history, before he Oath keepers stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, Stewart Rhodes was a promising graduate of Yale Law School.

He obtained a clerkship at the Arizona Supreme Court after his time in the Army was cut short by a training accident. The job was another stepping stone from a rough start. But instead of matching, Rhodes looked angry and hurt.

Rhodes alienated his moderate Republican boss and eventually left the job. Since then, he has organized his life around a desire for greatness and a deep distrust of government.

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He appealed to create a group based on anti-government sentiment, and his message resonated. He gained followers as he embarked on an increasingly extremist path that led to armed confrontation. That culminated last year, prosecutors say, when Rhodes engineered a plot to violently prevent Democrat Joe Biden from becoming president.

Rhodes, 57, will be back in court on Tuesday, but not as an attorney. He and four others associated with the Oath Keepers are on trial on charges of seditious conspiracy, the most serious criminal charge brought by the Justice Department in its sweeping prosecution of the rioters who attacked the Capitol.

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According to Rachel Carol Rivas, interim associate director of research at the Southern Anti-Poverty Center, a think tank, the trial will draw attention to the secret group Rhodes founded in 2009, which has grown to thousands of professed members and loosely organized chapters across the country. .

For Rhodes, it will be a position at odds with the role of greatness he has long envisioned, said his estranged wife, Tasha Adams.

“He was going to achieve something amazing,” Adams said. “He didn’t know what it was, but he was going to achieve something incredible and amazing.”

Rhodes was born in Fresno, California. He shuttled from there to Nevada, sometimes living with his mother and sometimes with his grandparents, who were migrant farm workers.

Rhodes joined the Army fresh out of high school and served nearly three years before being honorably discharged into the reserves in January 1986 after breaking his back while skydiving. He had recovered and was working as a valet in Las Vegas when he met Adams in 1991. He was 25, she was 18.

He had a sense of adventure that was attractive to a young woman raised in a middle-class family of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Adams family put up money for her to go to college, but after their wedding, Rhodes decided he should be the first to go to school. He told her she would have to quit her job as a ballroom and country dance teacher and instead support them both by working full-time as a stripper so he could focus on his excellent work at school, according to Adams. They married, but she found stripping humiliating and at odds with her conservative Mormon upbringing, she said.

She quit when she became pregnant with their first child and the couple moved back in with her family.

Rhodes’ attorney declined to be interviewed, and Rhodes declined to answer a list of questions sent to The Associated Press.

He graduated from college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, went to Washington to work as a staffer for Ron Paul, a libertarian Republican congressman, and later attended Yale University. Paul did not respond to a request for comment.

After serving as an official in Arizona, the family moved to Montana and returned to Nevada, where he worked on Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign. Then Rhodes also began formulating his idea to found the Oath Keepers.

On April 19, 2009, he officially founded the Oath Keepers group in Lexington, Massachusetts, where the first shot of the American Revolution was fired.

The group’s stated goal was to recruit former and current military, first responder and police officers to fulfill their promise to defend the Constitution against enemies. The Oath Keepers issued a list of orders that their members would not obey, such as disarming citizens, conducting warrantless searches, and detaining Americans as enemy combatants in violation of their right to a jury trial.

Rhodes used the growing power of social media to promote the rise of Oath Keepers during Barack Obama’s presidency. Membership lists were leaked last year included about 38,000 names, although many people on the list said they were no longer members or had never been active members. One expert last year estimated the number of friends at several thousand.

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According to Sam Jackson, author of the book “Oath Keepers” about the group, the internal dialogue was often darker about what members perceived as an imminent threat, particularly to the Second Amendment, and preparing to fight back.

The showdown with the government began in 2011 in the small desert town of Quartzite in western Arizona, where local government was in disarray. A couple of years later, Rhodes began urging members to form “community preparedness groups” that included military-style training.

As Donald Trump’s political star rose, the group’s rhetoric began to change. And when Biden won the 2020 election, prosecutors say, Rhodes began preparing for battle. Rhodes and the Oath Keepers planned for weeks to block the transfer of power, stockpiling weapons and creating armed “quick response force” teams to stand by outside the nation’s capital, prosecutors said.

On January 6, 2021, two teams of sworn guards stormed the Capitol along with hundreds of other angry Trump supporters, according to authorities.

Rhodes is not accused of going inside, but was seen gathered outside the Capitol after the riot with several members who did, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys argued that the militia group had come to Washington only to provide security for right-wing activists at pre-riot events.

The case dealt a heavy blow to the oath keepers. But this does not mean that the ideas that Rhodes promoted have disappeared.

“He came up with a plan that will be used in the future by people we don’t even know about,” said Jason Van Tattenhove, a former spokesman for the group. “I think it’s really important for us to pay attention.”