Rhodes’ attorneys argued that the revolutionary, often violent rhetoric used by the Yale Law School graduate was simply bombastic political talk and was protected by the First Amendment, but Mehta dismissed that argument.
“Even advocating for violence by itself is not unlawful unless it calls for immediate action,” said Mehta, an appointee of President Barack Obama. “But Mr. Rhodes is not being accused of just speaking. … If anybody thinks this is about speech, they are mistaken.”
Rhodes is charged with being the ringleader of a conspiracy to stop the transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Prosecutors say Rhodes assembled a team of dozens of Oath Keepers — some of whom were tapped to do security for Trump allies attending “Stop the Steal” events — and set a plan to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
As part of that plan, prosecutors say the Oath Keepers amassed a stockpile of firearms that they stashed at a Comfort Inn in Arlington, Va. Rhodes claimed the weapons were defensive and would only be deployed if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act and deputized the Oath Keepers as an authorized federal militia. Mehta called that explanation “dubious.”
Mehta said that despite some conflicting evidence about whether Rhodes specifically ordered the Oath Keepers to enter the Capitol, he viewed it as highly unlikely that the militaristic group would charge into the Capitol in unison without Rhodes’ blessing.
“It is unlikely that Mr. Rhodes at a minimum did not know about, if not encourage, if not order” others to go into the Capitol, the judge said. “These are not people who do things without orders.”
Rhodes specifically spoke with alleged co-conspirator Kelly Meggs moments before Meggs led the group into the Capitol, Mehta noted. Though Rhodes did not go inside himself, he was in Washington and seen outside the Capitol huddling with the Oath Keepers after they exited.
Afterward, Rhodes and some of the Oath Keepers discussed regrouping and making new plans, according to messages obtained by prosecutors.
Mehta also rejected Rhodes’ argument that he was no longer a danger because Trump is out of office. But Mehta noted that many of Rhodes’ plans were contemplated in frustration with Trump for declining to invoke the Insurrection Act and take other extreme steps.
Mehta also said Rhodes’ continued association with his alleged co-conspirators in the hours and weeks after the attack suggested he agreed with their behavior. Many of them dined together at an Olive Garden restaurant in Vienna, Va., just hours after the turmoil at the Capitol.
Mehta also said he was concerned about thousands of dollars worth of weapons and other gear Rhodes purchased in the days leading up to Jan. 6. Rhodes’ lawyers have argued that all the firearms were legal, but the judge said they contributed to the notion that Rhodes was preparing to do battle, even though the stashed weapons were never brought into Washington, D.C.
“The concern to me is the quantity and the timing,” Mehta said. “These are not purchases, I dare say, that are consistent with individual self-defense.”
Mehta also raised concerns about where Rhodes should remain in prison while awaiting trial, noting that transporting him to the D.C. jail would put him alongside several of his alleged Oath Keeper allies. “His ability to communicate and to organize are his greatest weapons,” the judge said.
Rhodes is currently held in Oklahoma City, a key hub for federal detainees being transferred across the country. Prosecutors and defense lawyers struck an unusual agreement that he should remain there, where he will be close to his Texas-based attorneys.