It turns out Stewart Rhodes, the Yale-educated lawyer who founded the Oath Keepers to encourage police and military personnel to disobey orders they deem unconstitutional, has a hard time following the rules of conduct for lawyers.
Hatewatch has learned that the State Bar of Arizona has admonished Rhodes for practicing without a license. Rhodes wrote “notices of claim” on behalf of two people who were removed from a Quartzsite, Ariz., Town Council meeting last year. The notices, which generally precede a lawsuit, accused town officials of violating the rights of Michael Roth and Jennifer Jade Jones, a local blogger, by removing the pair from a raucous council meeting that sparked national interest and widespread theorizing from the antigovernment “Patriot” movement.
“There was no justifiable reason my client should have endured being singled out for political reprisal, first amendment retaliation and subjected to false arrest,” Rhodes wrote in one notice seeking $350,000 in damages for Roth. “It is apparent that the actions of the officers were retaliatory and meant to punish, degrade, intimidate and harass.”
Town manager Alex Taft told Hatewatch this week that she lodged a complaint with the Arizona Bar after inquiring whether Rhodes was associated with any firm licensed to practice in Arizona. As it turns out, he was not. This May, the Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee of the Supreme Court of Arizona issued a reprimand fining Rhodes $600.
While hardly a punishing fine, the admonition must come as an embarrassment for Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper who frequently brandishes his Ivy League credentials to bolster his conspiracy theories about the federal government. He did not return several messages left with his law offices in Kalispell, Mont., seeking comment.
But for his followers, who fear the government has grown tyrannical, admonishing Rhodes might seem like another instance of the government trying to discredit one of its vocal critics.
It’s that conspiracy-mindedness that first drove Rhodes and the Oath Keepers into the Quartzsite drama – a complicated tale of alleged small-town corruption that pitted Police Chief Jeff Gilbert and the Town Council against then-Mayor Ed Foster, several police officers and a handful of citizens. The battle was byzantine enough that it’s hard to say exactly what happened. But the story became national news after an online video of Jones’ arrest during the council meeting went viral and prompted widespread condemnation of town officials.
And what fueled that condemnation? Extremists worried that the martial law they fear had finally come to a tiny town in the desert.
At the time, the Oath Keepers posted a message on its website proclaiming that Quartzsite, a town of rock hounds and retirees about 130 miles west of Phoenix, had become a “vital pivot point on which small-town America shall awaken to the encroachment of corruption and violation of rights from Federal levels downward into our local communities and our daily lives.” The group ordered a muster, swept in to stand arm-in-arm with Jones and Foster, both of whom they believed had been targeted by the police. Then they left.
A year later, Quartzsite seems to have settled down. The Oath Keepers hasn’t returned –– despite heady promises to fight for liberty wherever it is threatened. For now, at least, it seems the only thing Rhodes and the Oath Keepers achieved by wading into a story of small-town corruption was embarrassment.