In our crowd-funded age, one might assume that being the founder of a nearly 40,000 member militia would confer advantages when it comes to raising cash online.
But for Stewart Rhodes — the Oath Keepers honcho charged with leading a seditious conspiracy to block, by force, the transfer of power from Donald Trump to president Joe Biden — appeals for help funding his legal defense fund have gone all but unanswered.
Rhodes was indicted just after the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurgency, and since Jan. 31 a banner headline at the top of the OathKeepers.org homepage has linked to a GiveSendGo account for the “Stewart Rhodes Legal Defense Fund.” The page seeks to raise $250,000 on the militia founder’s behalf.
But Rhodes has not caught fire as a cause célèbre for his erstwhile followers. Through April 12, the fundraiser had collected less than $12,000 — from fewer than 200 contributors — securing less than 5 percent of its target. (GiveSendGo is the Christian analog of GoFundMe, and also counts clicks of prayer; Rhodes had received a humble 322.)
The failure of crowdfunding has not left Rhodes lawyerless, however. Instead, his defense is dependent on support from a dark-money group, Defending the Republic, linked to Sidney Powell, the superlawyer-turned-conspiracy-theorist best known for mounting feckless challenges to the 2020 presidential election, as part of a legal team Trump once touted as “The Kraken.”
Defending the Republic quietly announced on Jan. 21 that it “is providing the defense for Oath Keeper, Stewart Rhodes.” Lawyers Philip Linder and James Lee Bright then registered, three days later, as Rhodes’ attorneys, per federal court records. The unusual arrangement drew no public attention in real time. It wasn’t until March that BuzzFeed independently reported that Rhodes’ defense was linked to Powell’s group, citing information from former Oath Keepers general counsel Kellye SoRelle.
Neither Linder — who also launched Rhodes’ GiveSendGo campaign — nor Bright responded to questions about who pays for their services. SoRelle, who recently stepped away from the Oath Keepers after a brief stint as the group’s acting president, emailed succinctly on Tuesday: “Defend the Republic is paying for them — Sidney Powell.”
Rolling Stone asked Powell why Defending the Republic is funding the defense of Rhodes and other J6 defendants. She sent a lengthy email statement that reads, in part: “Standing in defense of an unpopular person or cause, or to face down the omnipotent government that has its own long record of misconduct and wrongful convictions, is in the highest traditions of the bar and mandatory to protect our Republic and the Rule of Law.”
Powell’s group is controversial. It has raised more than $14 million from anonymous right-wing donors by fanning baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen. The group spent more than half a million dollars backing a Republican audit of Arizona’s election results that was intended to tarnish Biden’s victory there but backfired by reconfirming it.
Defending the Republic entered 2022 with more than $9 million in assets, according to a publicly released audit of its finances. That audit describes the group’s “litigation program” which seeks to challenge “instances of government overreach and abuse of individual rights.” The group says it contracts attorneys to “use the courts to litigate cases of constitutional infringement.”
One of those attorneys was Jonathon Moseley, who served as defense counsel for Kelly Meggs, another top Oath Keeper charged in the seditious conspiracy plot. Moseley describes Defending the Republic as a opaque but dependable benefactor. “I focused on defending my client. And if I sent an invoice, they’d pay it,” Moseley tells Rolling Stone. “As far as I can tell there doesn’t seem to be anybody [at the group] who actually admits to being in charge.”
It’s highly unusual for ideological, third-party groups to insert themselves in criminal court cases. And the case of Mosleley underscores that Defending the Republic’s vetting process of the attorneys it supports may need refinement.
Megg’s case was recently upended when Moseley had his law license revoked by the state of Virginia for a litany of alleged offenses ranging from “violating professional rules that govern safekeeping property” to “unauthorized practice of law” and “misconduct.” Responding to his disbarment Moseley says, “It’s a bunch of little disputes; I’m appealing it.” Of Meggs, he adds: “He will be having a different lawyer and is in the process of figuring that out.”
The legal challenge facing Rhodes and his fellow Oath Keepers in court prodigious. The government’s case reportedly includes at least 180 gigabytes of relevant data, and a spreadsheet with 45,000 rows of messages. Rhodes has pleaded not guilty to the sedition charge but will remain jailed through trial after a judge ruled he posed a “clear and convincing danger” to public safety.
Rhodes is now in custody in a detention center in Alexandria, Virginia — about 10 miles from the hotel where an Oath Keeper “Quick Reaction Force” allegedly stockpiled weapons in advance of Jan. 6, ready to be moved into D.C. on Rhodes’ orders. Court documents quote Rhodes as having prepped for a “massively bloody revolution against” Trump’s enemies.
While the Oath Keeper’s online fundraising has been paltry, comments left by mostly anonymous donors on Rhodes’ GiveSendGo page reflect he retains some diehard supporters, who continue to inhabit the dangerous fantasy world promoted by Powell and other election deniers. “We are living under a coup,” wrotes one $50 donor. “Everyone knows it and yet few are willing to stand.”
” ‘Insurrection’ is what they call it. Lies,” wrote another. “It’s all a ruse.”
“I wish we could do more for all of you, political prisoners,” added a third. “May God protect you.”
One man who used the name Dr. Clifford N. Alford and donated $51 wrote: “Some of us are proud to be Oath Keepers and nothing and no one will ever change that.”