As she told the Los Angeles Times, Adams says Rhodes exhibited an authoritarian personality from the earliest stages of their relationship, which began in 1990, with controlling behavior that began with telling her what clothes to wear. That escalated into cajoling her into working as a stripper to finance his college education at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. But she also felt trapped at each step, beginning with Rhodes shooting his eye out three months after they had begun dating, with a .22-caliber derringer that he claimed he dropped, after which she helped nurse him back to health. They married in 1994.
He also early on manifested a propensity for conspiracy theories, particularly in 1999-2000, during the so-called “Y2K Apocalypse” panic, a software issue that inspired a wave of panic among so-called “survivalists” and right-wing “Patriots” convinced that modern society was about to collapse. But unlike others who had been drawn into the paranoia and then felt cheated afterward, Rhodes only saw it as preparation for the inevitable.
“Stewart was all-in for Y2K, for sure,” she said. “The moment the lights did not go out, there was a palpable disappointment, I think, that I really picked up on. ‘Oh, I don’t get to be king of the world.’ I think the simplicity of that life is what a lot of these guys long for. They want that to happen, and you know—it was about to be it! It was about to be the moment that all the things in life that they fail at disappear.”
Adams said she not only put Rhodes through a bachelors program at UNLV but then helped him when he applied to Yale Law School and got in. But after he’d graduated, he worked only a year at a regular law firm and wound up being fired for habitual failure to arrive on time and for doing little actual work.
The family was struggling, unable to pay rent or bills, when he came up with the idea for the Oath Keepers—largely inspired by his earlier involvement with then-Congressman Ron Paul—in 2008, she said:
I still didn’t have it in my head that I could leave him, so I was thinking, ‘Man, I’ve gotta fix this.’ I was really desperate to fix it. And it felt like I had one last-ditch effort when he said he was gonna start a nonprofit org. And I just thought, ‘Well, maybe this is the thing he needs. He just needs a mission. Maybe if he just has a mission.’ And initially, you know, when the Oath Keepers first started out, it was completely reversed—although I think where it is now, or whatever it is now, was his ultimate goal actually.
I think what he saw was the energy of the Ron Paul movement—he saw the money, he saw the youth, he saw the people willing to donate their hours and their time, and—you know, typical narcissists, that’s what they do, they absorb energy from people, right?—and so I think he saw all that energy, he saw all that and he wanted to find a way to take it for himself. So when the Ron Paul movement wound down, some Air Force kid had given him the idea of a name—and I thought it was a great name. I thought that was so marketable.
And the other part of my head was, ‘This guy’s been fired from everywhere. And if he starts this, all he has to do is talk for a living. That’s all he has to do is talk. He cannot get fired. Maybe he can make a paycheck and maybe we can, like own a house, or at least be able to pay the electric bill.’ Because at that point we were lucky we were living in a home that was already deep into foreclosure and we couldn’t rent it out to anyone else, because we were months behind in rent. You know, the power and the water was getting shut off every other month. And we were dipping into food storage to eat.
Rhodes launched Oath Keepers in March 2009. Adams, who had been raised in a politically moderate environment, hoped that Rhodes’ emphasis on recruiting law-enforcement officers would help reel in police abuse, and she worked for its first five years of existence keeping the operation mostly afloat.
But she said it became clear to her that Rhodes was driving it in a more paranoid and ultimately far-right direction, beginning with the “Ten Orders We Will Not Obey” manifesto that he made as one of the Oath Keepers’ founding documents. And then there were the sketchy characters, like Charles Dyer, who Rhodes recruited as organizational leaders.
Dyer, who gained viral-video fame under the nom de plume “July4Patriot,” posting paranoid rants about “tyranny” under President Obama and warning of an imminent revolt among soldiers in the military, was recruited by Rhodes into the organization early on, and began turning up as a spokesman at “tea party” events. Adams said that Rhodes became “obsessed” with Dyer (“Stewart used to talk with his mother all the time”), and “almost immediately invited him to our home.”
After having Dyer sleeping on their couch for several days, Adams found out that Dyer was under investigation for having molested his own young daughter, but “he didn’t stay much longer after that.” Shortly after he departed, Dyer in fact was charged with the crime and eventually convicted; he’s currently still serving his sentence.
“He had sort of an eerie vibe about him. Just his demeanor,” Adams said.
Over the next several years, Oath Keepers prospered as one of the major entities of the tea-party movement. In 2013, Rhodes decided to form “action teams” that could turn out in places where they could prevent police officers from violating their constitutional oaths; among the first places where they did so was at the Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada in April 2014.
However, while Oath Keepers raised their profile significantly there, the organization got into conflicts with other “Patriots” while there, leading to an incident in which Oath Keepers and independent militiamen drew guns and threatened to kill each other. Rhodes also faced legal jeopardy for being involved in situations where federal officers were being threatened.
That was the beginning of a downward spiral for Rhodes. Adams said that his personal hygiene was so bad that it caused him to lose his prosthetic eye, forcing him to begin wearing the eyepatch that is now part of his signature appearance:
So, after Bundy Ranch, my son thinks either he did some work with the feds as a deal, possibly, or they threatened him, because he did meet with the FBI after Bundy Ranch—or just having his own side criticize him, because he’s very very thin-skinned about any kind of criticism—he had a complete meltdown. And that’s when the violence at home became—I mean, he’s like waving guns around every day, like, loaded guns with his finger on the trigger, at me—not every day, but at least once a week, you know, he’s pulling a gun on me, and not necessarily pointing it at me but waving it around the room and saying—because he’s very aware of laws, and so he’d never say, “I’m gonna shoot you,” but he’ll say, “I’m gonna shoot myself.” In the meantime he’s screaming at you and saying things like, “I’m not violent! If I were violent, you’d be by your throat up against the wall.” While he’s holding a gun. That’s not suicidal, that’s homicidal.
So that kind of behavior, and then along with that he stopped showering, he stopped brushing his teeth, and he stopped—you know, a prosthetic eye, it’s like a contact lens; there’s a silicon ball that’s implanted surgically where the eyeball used to be, his skin grows over that over time, and the prosethetic eye fits like a thick contact lens that you pop out with a little suction cup or pull out, and so you still have to clean it and you have to take it out. And he wasn’t doing that, and it became infected, and then like a year or two went by, I think, where he just did not take his eye out. If you ever see pictures of him like, he puts his finger in water and he’ll put water in his eyeball, and that’s it. And his face started swelling, but he also wasn’t brushing his teeth, so he’d get tooth infections too, really bad ones. And he’d get teeth pulled, or he would spend all this money getting cadaver bone put in and then never get the implant in. He didn’t shower, he didn’t brush his teeth, he didn’t clean his eyeball.
Eventually infection caused the eye socket to rupture. And then it kind of pushed out the silicone implant. And then he had to have the prosthetic eye—the eye doctor couldn’t even remove it, they had to take him to a kind of a specialist in prosthetics, and carefully remove the tissue that had grown all around it, you know, dying tissue. Anyway, if he ever wants to wear a prosthetic eye, he has to do all the surgery again. And that’s why he started wearing the eyepatch.
The erratic behavior included incidents in which he would awaken his entire family in the middle of the night, convinced they were about to be raided by the FBI, and make them either load up into a car and drive around aimlessly, or seek shelter in the escape tunnels and “spider holes” he had built on their property. Adams said that their teenage daughter grew so disgusted with the situation that she constructed a shed out in the adjacent woods where she would sleep anytime her father was in the house.
Eventually, Adams, who had been intimidated by Rhodes’ law degree and his multiple connections to law enforcement, finally worked up the courage to leave Rhodes in 2018 and file for divorce. In the meantime, she said, he continued to spiral deeper into Trumpian right-wing extremism.
It reached its apotheosis in 2020 when Rhodes demanded that Trump invoke the Insurrection Act to tackle “antifa” after an activist shot and killed a “Patriot” in Portland: “Civil war is here, right now,” he tweeted. “We’ll give Trump one last chance to declare this a Marxist insurrection & suppress it as his duty demands. If he fails to do HIS duty, we will do OURS.”
After Trump lost the election, Rhodes called the election of Joe Biden a “communist insurrection,” and again demanded that the then-president invoke the Insurrection Act. “I’m a libertarian,” he said. “I’m a constitutionalist. But he has the authority within the Constitution to suppress insurrections, and we’re facing a wide-open Communist insurrection. In fact, it’s a Chinese proxy attack, a military attack by Communist China, but using domestic Communist proxies—that’s what this is.”
Rhodes’ belief that Trump could take such action decisively shaped his strategy for the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally and the siege of the Capitol afterwards. Adams said she feared that Rhodes might be involved with the attack, but knew immediately upon seeing that paramilitary “stack” formation moving through the crowd on the Capitol steps that the Oath Keepers were heavily involved:
I didn’t really realize how deep Oath Keepers were in. I knew he’d be there, I knew he’d make a show of it—I figured he’d stand off on the edges like he did at Berkeley: everybody’s fighting, he’s at the stage, right? In his safe zone. “Oh, doing security perimeter”—you know, whatever’s safe. Because he’s very—it’s strange to think, but he’s very risk-averse. Very much so. He just—his baseline is very different from most people, so it’s very different-looking. So I figured he’d be on the outside edge.
But when I saw that stack—as soon as I saw that stack, I thought: Now that’s Stewart. That has Stewart all over it. You know, Proud Boys didn’t do that. That’s not some buttcrack militia. That’s Oath Keepers. That’s Oath Keepers doing Oath Keepers stuff. So the next question was, how involved was he? Did they do this without him?
Rhodes, in fact, claimed afterward that he hadn’t ordered or organized an attack on the Capitol, and that the Oath Keepers who had done so had gone “off mission.” Adams thought that Rhodes might be able to escape culpability with this claim, but after reading his indictment, no longer believes that:
At first, I thought that could be true. Technically, that could be his out. He might have never ever said, “Go into the Capitol,” but he might have, you know, tried to encourage it without saying it, to keep himself out of trouble. But after looking at everything, I go: “Oh, OK. Nope, he did this.” This is him. This is him, they were doing what he told them to do.
Now, why? He’s still very risk averse. So my next question is, why did someone so risk-averse do things so obviously risky? And who told him it was gonna be OK if they did this, and that they would all be pardoned? That’s not like Stewart to do it otherwise.
Adams acknowledges that no direct connection between Rhodes and Trump has ever been made:
Not directly. I don’t think they will. I think there probably is a connection, but whether they’ll be able to make it—because I think both Stewart and Trump’s people would probably keep them apart, several people away so they could deny—so it may be impossible to make the connection. I’m almost positive there is one. I don’t think he would have done that without the go-ahead. Because his rhetoric changed almost overnight, and immediately as if he was almost trying to push everything to a certain tipping point. And then he kind of pulled back, and was like, “Oh Trump’s not going to do it.” And then it’s almost like he got a message again, like: “Well, if you can really do it, maybe we can declare the Insurrection Act.” And then you know there was that final push. But I think he was in contact with somebody. It may be really hard to prove it.
Full interview below: