HELENA — Elmer Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, was arrested in Texas this week for allegedly committing seditious conspiracy related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. He had been a practicing lawyer in Montana before his disbarment in 2015.
Before coming to Montana
Rhodes was born in California and joined the military after graduating high school. Army records show he was discharged due to a severe injury during training. According to The Atlantic, in 1993 Rhodes dropped a loaded handgun which caused the injury to his left eye. Following the incident, he enrolled in college, graduating summa cum laude from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and then attended Yale Law School where he was an accomplished student.
He worked for former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, while in Washington D.C. before working as a clerk for Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael Ryan.
Rhodes formed the Oath Keepers in 2009 after Paul’s failed 2008 bid to be the Republican presidential nominee.
In 2010, Rhodes relocated his law firm to Montana where he was licensed to practice law. Court filings had listed Montana addresses for Rhodes in Big Arm, Kalispell, and Trego over the years.
Road to Disbarment
In 2011, members of the Oath Keepers went to the small town Quartzsite, Arizona to support protesters who were against the town's then-Chief of Police. Led by Rhodes, the militia group gathered to hold the “Quartzsite Liberty Rally.” Two protesters were arrested, Michael Roth and Jennifer Jones.
In May of 2012, the Arizona Supreme Court fined Rhodes $600 for acting as the attorney for Roth and Jones when he wasn’t licensed to practice law in Arizona.
Rhodes continued to represent Roth and Jones in Arizona even after the reprimand, and continued to file federal lawsuits on their behalf.
On April 15, 2014, he failed to appear by telephone for a status conference for a case with Jones. At the time, Rhodes was at the Cliven Bundy standoff with the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Nevada. Oath Keepers were there supporting Bundy who had not been paying grazing fees on federal land.
Disbarment by the Montana Supreme Court
On April 28, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona filed an ethics complaint against Rhodes for appearing in court without a license to do so. On May 12, 2014, Roth lodged a complaint against Rhodes, stating that he had provided incompetent representation and had abandoned Roth in his civil suit in federal court. Rhodes did not respond to either complaint.
On July 30, 2014, the Montana Commission on Practice (COP) told Rhodes to personally appear before the COP on October 16, 2014, in Kalispell to address the complaints. He did not show up to the meeting.
The matter was then raised before the Montana Adjudicatory Panel of the Commission on Practice. On October 8, 2015, a hearing was held in Butte to address the complaint. Rhodes was told to appear before the commission to answer the grievances in person, but he again did not show up.
On Decenber 8, 2015, the Montana Supreme Court officially disbarred Rhodes from practicing law for conduct violating the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct.
In 2018, Rhodes’ now-estranged wife asked for a restraining order in Lincoln County against her then-husband, accusing him of abuse and household violence. However, that order was denied at the time.
In the following years, Rhodes relocated to Granbury, Texas.
On Thursday, federal authorities arrested Rhodes and took him into custody. He and 10 other members of the Oath Keepers have been charged with seditious conspiracy charges for alleged actions before and during the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The Department of Justice alleges that Rhodes and the Oath Keepers used a "variety of manners and means" — including using "paramilitary combat tactics" and tactile gear to "breach and attempt to take control of the Capitol grounds...in an effort to prevent, hinder and delay the certification of the electoral college vote."
The U.S. Code defines seditious conspiracy as when "conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States." The crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.