Home politics Hidden adviser for Stewart Rhodes’ legal team a Montana extremist with white supremacist history

Hidden adviser for Stewart Rhodes’ legal team a Montana extremist with white supremacist history

Hidden adviser for Stewart Rhodes’ legal team a Montana extremist with white supremacist history

Stewart Rhodes’ attempts to paint the Oath Keepers as a mainstream organization have long been belied by his dalliances with white supremacists.

A central component of the appeal of far-right “Patriot” movement groups is the way they wrap themselves in the bunting of mainstream Americana to obscure their innate extremism, while claiming to represent the “real” national identity. Organizations like the Oath Keepers recruit mainstream law enforcement officers and veterans by claiming to be upholding the Constitution, their underlying nature only emerging at last in events like the Jan. 6 insurrection at which the Oath Keepers played a leading role in an attempt to subvert the constitutional order—for which founder Stewart Rhodes now faces seditionist conspiracy charges.

During Rhodes’ latest flurry of activity in the courts—during which he attempted (unsuccessfully) to delay his trial by having the judge appoint a “special master” in his case—a facet of his defense emerged that illustrates how deeply groups like the Oath Keepers are rooted in virulent far-right extremism. It turns out, via Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney at Politico, that one of the legal advisers in his brief seeking a trial delay is a man with a long history of white supremacist activity in Montana and elsewhere: Roger Roots.

Politico discovered Roots’ name in the metadata for a Rhodes filing from the week before and inquired with Rhodes’ attorney, Ed Tarpley, about it. Tarpley responded that Roots had indeed advised him in writing up the brief—which was a request for Rhodes’ entire legal team (which has represented him for five months) to be fired and replaced with Tarpley.

“He’s somebody that has helped with research and that sort of thing. He’s not taken an active role,” Tarpley told a Politico interviewer by phone. “We have a lot of people on the team scattered around the country that are doing various things. … He’s just one among many people pitching in to help Stewart Rhodes.”

U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta abruptly rejected Rhodes’ request and rebuked Tarpley for creating uncertainty around the case, appearing only a few weeks before the trial’s scheduled Sept. 26 opening. Rhodes ultimately opted to keep both Tarpley and his current legal team aboard. A week later, he also rejected Tarpley’s brief to delay the trial and appoint a special master.

But the revelation of Roots’ involvement in Rhodes’ proceedings is illustrative of the ability of far-right extremists to insinuate themselves within the mainstream by donning mainstream garb. It also is almost certainly not by accident. The men have a long association dating back to the years before Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers—the same years in which Roots was trying to cover up his white supremacist past in Montana by adopting the trappings of libertarianism.

Nowadays, Roots is generally known in Montana as a perennial candidate for the Libertarian Party (he finished third in the party’s 2022 congressional primary election). But in the 1990s, Roots cut a prominent figure as one of the leaders of the state’s raging white supremacist movement.

Arriving in Montana in the early ‘90s with time in a Florida prison for an assault conviction on his record, Roots set about organizing white supremacists in eastern Montana, working with Klan organizer John Abarr in Montana and Wyoming. He also spread the word by writing essays that he distributed as pamphlets and on the internet.

Cover of Roger Roots pamphlet
The front page of Roger Roots’ racist screed from the early 1990s.

The most notorious of these, Whites and Blacks: 100 Facts (and One Lie), featured a long list of so-called “facts” derived from white supremacist/eugenicist propaganda. It included claims that whites are more intelligent than people of color, implying that they are actually a separate species. It includes Adolf Hitler among a list of “great” white men.

The one “lie” on its list comes in at number 97: “Every race has an equal capacity to learn and contribute to civilization and any differences are caused by prejudice and racism. The fact that white skins are associated with civilization is merely a quirk of fortune and coincidence.”

Roots was closely associated in the 1990s with a Billings white supremacist faction led by ex-cattle rancher Rudy Stanko, affiliated with the neofascist World Church of the Creator, which preaches that white people are the cream of God’s creation. Stanko and his cohorts began indulging in steady spree of hate crimes—toppling Jewish grave markers, defacing a Native American home, and entering a Black church during worship and threatening congregants.

Things came to a head around the holidays in 1993, when someone threw a rock through the window of a 6-year-old Billings boy who had placed a menorah in his window. The faith community, outraged, organized a public response in which everyone in town put menorahs up. The community response led to a PBS documentary titled Not In Our Town, the making of which itself led to the formation of a national organization with that name devoted to enabling communities to stand up to hate groups and their toxic effects.

Roots also managed to be hired on by the reelection campaign of the late Sen. Conrad Burns, a Billings Republican, but under a pseudonym. When his identity was exposed, Roots was fired.

He also became heavily involved with the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), which pushes an idea known as “jury nullification.” The concept is that ordinary people serving on juries have an inalienable, God-given right to throw out the law if they think its outcome is “unjust.” FIJA encourages jurors to ignore laws they don’t like and set defendants free, even if evidence proves guilt. Instead of basing verdicts on whether a law is broken, jury nullification teaches that jurors can ignore laws with which they don’t agree. 

In reality, FIJA’s origins and orientation are extremist and built on long-rejected legal theories adopted from the old Posse Comitatus movement. The Posse and their followers, who preached that taxes were illegal and that the IRS was an unconstitutional body, became extremely frustrated as their followers, beginning in the early 1970s, received hefty sentences for their mounting tax violations. Convinced that the legal system itself was corrupt and would never allow their view of constitutional law to see the light of day, they developed the idea of organized jury nullification: If they couldn’t get the courts to change, all they had to do was get one or two jurors to hang up the process.

The chief proponent of the concept in Posse circles was a Montanan named Red Beckman. He had a long and colorful career as a tax protester and antisemite; his book, The Church Deceived, described the Holocaust as God’s judgment on “the Anti-Christ Church” for worshipping Satan, and was noted for repeating the charge that Jews are Satan worshippers on TV interviews. He also appeared as a keynote speaker at numerous Christian Identity events over the years. Beckman was an early and important influence on LeRoy Schweitzer, the leader of the Montana Freemen, who led an 81-day standoff with federal agents near Jordan in 1996.

Beckman’s ideas about jury nullification became a cornerstone of his anti-tax strategy, and they quickly gained popularity, not just among the Posse, but among many elements of the far right that were coming into conflict with legal authorities for their many activities. Not only could jury nullification solve problems related to tax cases, but juries could also potentially overturn charges ranging from malicious harassment to firearms violations and bomb-building. As the Posse mutated into the Christian Patriots, who then became merely Patriots, the theories became more distilled and more widely distributed.

Because it does have a certain legal history, it has proven to be a powerful recruiting tool within the mainstream. It meshes nicely with the Patriot modus operandi of the 1990s: hiding the agenda by adopting a mainstream pose, offering crackpot theories as legitimate by spouting a blizzard of legalisms, and generally gnawing away at the legal system in the hopes of inducing its collapse. And they’ve been very successful at getting out the jury-nullification gospel to a broad swath of society (particularly barter-fair types and libertarians), all under the guise of enacting a needed reform of the court system.

Roots was a major supporter of Beckman during his battles with the IRS over income tax evasion. Writing as a correspondent for Christian Identity tabloid The Jubilee, Roots frequently wrote articles supporting Beckman. Roots also penned a Jubilee article defending former Waffen-SS member Hans Schmidt during his legal troubles for, as Roots put it, writings “that were critical of Jewish and Masonic control over the institutions of the Western world and which pointed out immense errors of fact in the official ‘Holocaust’ legend.”

But in the early 2000s, Roots began remaking his public image, primarily by associating himself with the Montana Libertarian Party. As the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN) explains: “While some Libertarians embrace social issues close to the political Left, the Montana Libertarian Party has historically attracted ‘Patriot’ activists and others who think the Montana Republican Party isn’t conservative enough when it comes to issues like guns, taxes, and government regulations.”

He also renounced white supremacism, dubiously. In a 2008 affidavit Roots sent to the MHRN, he claimed he had “no involvement in the white supremacist movement” and had not “spoken or written a racist statement in years.”

“I do not endorse any opinion I expressed during my twenties,” Roots told the group.

However, the same year Roots sent MHRN the affidavit, he represented Rudy Stanko in a Nebraska lawsuit.

In 2014, Roots told the Sidney Herald that he was a “lost soul in my youth.”

“I used to be an extreme right winger, and I used to read the writings of Adolf Hitler and all kinds of racist materials,” Roots said.

In 2016, Roots also became heavily involved in the legal defenses of Cliven and Ryan Bundy after they were charged with multiple offenses arising from their 2014 armed standoff in Nevada, working as a paralegal on their cases. His contribution was largely based on his background with FIJA, and leaned heavily on encouraging the jury to ignore the law. Roots cited the Bundy cases in the brief he helped Tarpley write for Rhodes.

Roots’ associations with Rhodes date back to at least 2007, when Rhodes—who had graduated Yale Law School in 2004—was working for the presidential campaign of former Congressman Ron Paul, a devoted libertarian with a background of long associations with far-right extremists. Rhodes’ ex-wife, Tasha Adams, told Daily Kos she found some of Rhodes’ emails from that year on which Roots was copied. She said that Rhodes was a huge fan of FIJA and its concepts.

In a Facebook post from earlier this year, Roots indicated they had been in contact even longer: “I’ve also known him since he and I were both in law school in New England. He was the president of the student Federalist Society chapter at Yale and I was president of the student chapter at Roger Williams U[niversity in Rhode Island].”

He also indicated his sympathy: “My position on Stewart is like my position on most people: right now he is in a jam and I feel a sense that we need to rally in his behalf (or at least rally against the injustice he is currently facing). He has obviously made mistakes (who hasn’t), but I believe he is totally innocent of these charges.”

In July 2020, Roots helped organize a right-wing roadshow called “Rage Against the State” that toured through the Montana towns of Livingston, Belgrade, and Whitehall with a slate of far-right “celebrities—including Ryan Payne, who directed militia forces at both Bundy standoffs in Nevada and Oregon in 2014 and 2016; Bozeman Christian nationalist preacher and vlogger John Lamb; and Nick Ramlow, the leader of Ammon Bundy’s People’s Rights network in Montana.

Politico was able to obtain only a brief interview with Roots. “I do help political prisoners with legal research,” he told the interviewer. “I don’t really want to go into any specific case.”

He ended the conversation in short order. “You’re going to attack Stewart Rhodes, then you’re going to attack me. All you guys do is support the prosecution. You should be ashamed of yourselves. What the world needs is more anti-government reporters,” he said.

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