From Yale Law to Oath Keepers: Stewart Rhodes’s Unlikely Journey

People find ways to distinguish themselves, either by fitting in or by standing out,” said Jon Michaels, a professor at the U.C.L.A. School of Law and former classmate. “And my sense of Rhodes is, he was standing out.”

Through one of his lawyers, Mr. Rhodes declined an interview request.

At Yale, Mr. Rhodes did not yet have his characteristic goatee and eye patch. He was clean-shaven, with a prosthetic eye, the result of a self-inflicted gun accident. He had unconventional opinions and could seem unusually focused on gun rights, former classmates said. Still, some remembered him as a well-intentioned peer who worked to find common ground despite being in the political minority.

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, during his second week of law school, had a profound impact on him.

On the witness stand, Mr. Rhodes recalled being in a torts lecture when news of the attacks spread.

“A lot of my fellow students collapsed, and were just in heart-rending grief,” he said, adding, “And of course, after the grief came the anger.”

In classmates’ memories, and in Mr. Rhodes’s own telling, the attacks were a galvanizing moment that sharpened his political ideology. He grew increasingly alarmed by the expanded uses of surveillance and detention by the administration of President George W. Bush, which he saw as unconstitutional overreaches.

“You had the sense that he was sort of keeping his powder dry, for the most part,” said Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “The times he would speak up, it was often about fears that the government was actually going too far and infringing on the rights of Americans.”

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