After the violent Capitol insurrection failed on Jan. 6, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes had another idea for overturning the election—a truly epic one.
While Rhodes’ lawyers have claimed the leader of the far-right militia group did “precisely nothing” after his insurrection dreams were dashed, new details obtained by The Daily Beast reveal that isn’t quite accurate.
According to a source with inside knowledge of the case, just days after Jan. 6, Rhodes and multiple militia members joined a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 election.
Unfortunately for Rhodes and his compatriots, the lawsuit he signed on to was, in a word, “insane.” It went off the rails almost as soon as it hit the courts, with the lead attorney citing The Lord of The Rings as legal precedent.
Eventually, the case dissolved amid a sea of ridicule. But it didn’t start out that way.
The full scope of the Oath Keeper’s shadow legal effort, largely spearheaded by the group’s then-general counsel Kellye SoRelle, stretched back well before the riot, according to multiple people involved. In fact, it ran on a parallel track alongside the paramilitary-style buildup that has defined the militia’s role, and it roped in a number of key Jan. 6 figures along the way—including people tied to the Proud Boys and First Amendment Praetorians.
Rick Hasen, a nationally recognized election law expert, told The Daily Beast that Rhodes’ connection to this lawsuit didn’t rate highly against other accusations—such as allegedly stockpiling weapons in preparation for a violent coup.
“I don’t know the fact that he was one of many who joined this absurd lawsuit is all that significant compared to the other, more immediately dangerous things that he did,” Hasen said.
But Rhodes, a Yale Law grad, appears to have been hands-on with the lawsuit from the beginning. And the nexus represented in the legal push suggests that members of violent groups—with some such as Rhodes facing conspiracy charges—coordinated to overturn the election in more ways than one.
It also undermines assertions from Rhodes’ attorneys that the Oath Keepers founder discontinued his efforts to overturn the election after Jan. 6—a potentially important legal fact that could hurt Rhodes’ case as he tries to defend himself against “seditious conspiracy” charges.
Just days after the riot, a group gathered at a house in suburban Dallas to map out a legal path forward. According to a person with knowledge of the meeting, the crew included SoRelle, along with indicted Oath Keeper Joshua James, and Texas attorney Paul Davis, who said in a later court filing he had attended the Jan. 6 rallies to “collect evidence” on behalf of “one or more of the Plaintiffs.”
(Davis later filed a lawsuit against this reporter, which was dismissed with prejudice.)
Other parties to the lawsuit were in attendance, and Rhodes also showed up, the source said.
SoRelle, who had met with a number of right-wing figures ahead of the riot, was recruited after the election to test the waters for a possible legal remedy. When the violence of Jan. 6 failed, a plan went into action. And it was one that Rhodes himself endorsed.
The legal framework stemmed from a pre-riot plan devised by right-wing radio host Jerome Corsi—a former confidant of Roger Stone, who received an Oath Keeper protective detail on Jan. 5 and 6.
Corsi’s proposal hinged on “overwhelming” evidence and a warped understanding of the Help America Vote Act, leading him to declare all of Congress illegitimate and demand an election “redo.”
The plan was astronomically unrealistic on its face, but that didn’t stop Corsi from dubbing it the “invincible argument.”
Still, on Jan. 5, the day before the riot, Rhodes slapped his name on Corsi’s road map. SoRelle, the Oath Keepers general counsel, signed as well. (An archived version with their signatures can be found here.)
Reached for comment, Corsi told The Daily Beast he was “retired from active politics and not giving interviews about the election.”
The initial lawsuit that Davis and SoRelle put together hewed closely to Corsi’s path. It sought to invalidate the 2020 election, declare Joe Biden’s victory “unlawful,” and dissolve Congress. Davis took lead attorney, naming hundreds of defendants, including every member of Congress, all 50 governors and secretaries of state, Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
It somehow got weirder. In its most absurd iteration—with Davis, not SoRelle, at the helm—the lawsuit asked a federal judge to put the government into a receivership styled after the mythical kingdom of Gondor from The Lord of The Rings.
“During the course of the epic trilogy, the rightful King of Gondor had abandoned the throne,” the lawsuit explained. “Since only the rightful king could sit on the throne of Gondor, a steward was appointed to manage Gondor until the return of the King, known as ‘Aragorn,’ occurred at the end of the story.”
If that legal explanation wasn’t convincing enough, the lawsuit continued: “This analogy is applicable since there is now in Washington, D.C., a group of individuals calling themselves the President, Vice President, and Congress who have no rightful claim to govern the American People.”
The attorneys then ask the judge to “appoint a group of special masters” that they invented, called “Stewards,” to “check the power of the illegitimate President” until the matter is resolved through a jury trial.
Notably, the original complaint also asked the court to pre-emptively block the Department of Justice, the FBI, and any other federal agency from arresting both of the attorneys filing the case—as well as “any plaintiff or potential witness”—in connection to their attendance at the Jan. 6 riot.
As for those plaintiffs, many of them happened to figure prominently on Jan. 6.
One was Latinos for Trump, a group tied to Proud Boy leader Enrique Tarrio. The organization’s leader, Bianca Gracia was also a “Gondor” plaintiff. The day before the insurrection, she met with Rhodes, Tarrio, and SoRelle in a D.C. hotel parking garage.
The garage gang featured another Gondor plaintiff—Virginia resident Joshua Macias. Macias was one of two men arrested in Pennsylvania days after the 2020 election when, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, pistols, and a sword, he took a vehicle bearing QAnon propaganda across state lines to the Philadelphia convention center where ballots were being processed.
SoRelle claims that Gracia had invited her to the parking garage to meet Tarrio, and “share information about criminal defense attorneys,” according to Reuters. That same day, SoRelle, Rhodes, Gracia, and Macias all endorsed Corsi’s argument, as did another adviser on the lawsuit.
Most of Corsi’s signatories, however, went unnamed. Likewise, most Gondor plaintiffs were represented only by their initials. But according to a person with inside knowledge of the suit, that list included multiple Oath Keepers.
Two of them stand out: Elmer “Stewart” Rhodes (“E.R.,” a resident of Texas), and Joshua James (“J.J.,” of Alabama), an Oath Keeper and Roger Stone bodyguard.
SoRelle has sought to distance both herself and the Oath Keepers from James, who was hit with conspiracy charges last April for his alleged role in the Capitol attack.
James, SoRelle has claimed, was more closely tied to the First Amendment Praetorians, another far-right armed group. The April indictment cites video footage showing that James “assaulted multiple law enforcement officers after storming inside the building,” screaming, “Get out of my Capitol! This is my fucking building!”
After Davis filed that motion, Rhodes encouraged state chapters to contribute to the case.
A database of hacked Oath Keeper emails shows SoRelle outsourcing legal research around the country, with Rhodes’ blessing.
“Stewart agreed to allow me to send out an email to all the chapters requesting assistance,” SoRelle wrote in a mass communication, one week after asking a federal judge to essentially break the government. She copied Rhodes on the email, using his personal gmail address.
The email also requested, among other things, “documentation for all 50 states regarding their orders/policy changes modifying their absentee ballot process, the use of drop boxes, voter registration changes and certification information for the machines used for elections.”
“We are required to provide additional information to the court by the 10th of February and I need 5 days to compile and draft,” SoRelle wrote. “If anyone is interested in assisting, please let me know. I would like to coordinate teams and divide up the states.”
On Feb. 19, team Gondor shattered under the pressure of competing legal strategies and vague “ethical issues.” Davis withdrew as lead counsel, taking James but leaving SoRelle with Gracia, Latinos for Trump, and Rhodes.
It would be Rhodes’ last legal hurrah for 11 months. He was arrested on Jan. 13, and along with fellow Gondor alum Joshua James, faces charges that could yield 20 years in jail.
Just this week, his attorney told the court that Rhodes still believes the election was “illegitimate.” And unlike many of the rioters who received the earliest charges and claimed ignorance, Rhodes is leaning into it.
“There’s plenty of public leaders that are still saying that on a regular basis,” his attorney said.