Micah Loewinger: Hey, Micah Loewinger here with the On The Media Podcast extra. The last part of this week's show features an interview with Tasha Adams, the ex-wife of Stewart Rhodes, founder of The Oath Keepers. That interview was a collaboration with Death, Sex & Money, an excellent podcast from WNYC, hosted by Anna Sale. Anna traveled with me to Montana to interview Tasha Adams and the Death, Sex & Money episode, the version they released went way, way deeper into Tasha's story. We've decided to bring you that extended cut. Anna, take it away.
Anna Sale: Hey, it's Anna. We co-reported this week's episode with my colleague at On the Media, Micah Loewinger. Hey, Micah.
Micah: Hey, Anna.
Anna: Micah is a star reporter here at WNYC and through the last few years I have followed his accolades in the company chat about as many scoops, many of which have focused on the digital platforms that right-wing extremist groups have used to communicate, including in the runup and during January 6th, he figured out ways to listen in and report on conversations that not many other journalists were paying attention to. Then at the WNYC holiday party last December, Micah told me about another conversation that he found interesting. Do you remember what you told me, Micah?
Micah: Yes, I think I was telling you about a source of mine, Tasha Adams, she's the estranged wife of Stewart Rhodes, who's the leader and founder of The Oath Keepers, one of the groups that broke into the capitol on January 6th. She had told me an intense story about what it took to leave their marriage. In fact, when she was planning her escape from Stewart Rhodes, the only person she told was Kelly Jones, who used to be married to Alex Jones.
Anna: That Alex Jones?
Micah: Yes, that Alex Jones. The two of them had messaged online, but they'd never spoken and I wondered what would it be like to get them on the phone together for the first time.
Anna: You said, "Do you think that would be interesting for Death, Sex & Money?" And I said, "Yes." Within a week or two, Micah and I had started making plans to travel to Montana and report out this story and get to know a lot more about Tasha Adams and how she wonders to this day about the responsibility that she bears for the January 6th insurrection.
Micah: Also, what her story can teach us about the private origins of some of the far-right violence that feels more and more present in our country.
Anna: This to me is the kind of journalism that I most want to be a part of, that's exploring a big national story of critical importance to democracy, and that also treats the personal dimension of these stories, the motivations at play, the human costs with equal importance. If you'll indulge us, I want to remind you that this kind of reporting takes resources like for this one travel and also time to make sure we're telling this story ethically and with the proper context. Ambition to follow up on a holiday party conversation takes money.
If you'd like to support more of this on Death, Sex & Money, we need your contributions, we do right now. You can become a monthly sustaining member or make a one-time donation at deathsexmoney.org/donate. There's also a link in our show notes. Thanks so much. Micah, thanks for reporting this with us. I'm really so honored to bring it to our listeners. For you listening, I want to tell you that this episode includes in-depth conversation about leaving a controlling, often scary relationship and also details about physical abuse, miscarriage, and infant loss. Please take care while listening.
Tasha Adams: People died that day and I-- the first words out of my mouth were, "I helped start this. I helped start this, it turned into that and people died that day. Would this have happened had I not supported Stewart?"
Anna: This is Death, Sex & Money, the show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot and need to talk about more. I'm Anna Sale
Micah: I'm Micah Loewinger From On the Media.
Anna: Several weeks ago, Micah and I traveled together to a small town in northwest Montana, not far from the Canadian border. It's beautiful.
Micah: Beautiful and kind of scary because the roads are very icy.
Micah: We were there to meet Tasha Adams, who for more than 20 years was the wife of Stewart Rhodes. He's the founder of the far-right extremist group called the Oath Keepers, a man you may have seen on the news, wearing an eye patch. Tasha's divorce from Stewart Rhodes isn't finalized, it's taken years to work its way through family court, but she and her children left. They snuck away in 2018. At the time, Tasha felt very alone.
Tasha: I had never spoken out loud to anyone about our plans, our secret basement, and layer plans that I had with the kids about getting out except for Alex Jones' ex-wife. I had texted her,
Anna: Alex Jones, host of Infowars, the one who was found liable last year in court for his lies that the Sandy Hook shooting and the losses of those families were fake. We'll get to Tasha's connection to Kelly Jones, Alex's ex-wife later in this episode. Micah and I met Tasha in the small town where Stewart moved their family in 2010. We talked for hours in a conference room at a local business. It had been hard to find a place to record. Tasha's landlord didn't want reporters coming by her place. Another business we'd called didn't want to get mixed up in any coverage of the Oath Keepers. It made me wonder how isolated Tasha feels in town.
Micah: She's been getting a lot of attention from reporters, including me. We'd texted and spoken on the phone as I was digging into the Oath Keepers after January 6th. I was actually called to testify by the government about my reporting in the big criminal case against Stewart Rhodes. I don't know, do you remember who I am?
Tasha: Yes, I do. I remember we talked a little bit early on, I think. Not long after J six, I think we spoke.
Micah: That's right. Yes, exactly.
Tasha: I listened to all the pretrial hearings. I listened to all of that. Anything I could listen to. I listen to.
Tasha: I don't know. I just was pretty obsessed with the whole thing. I just needed to. Also, the idea of seeing Stewart face consequences so huge for me. Then it's a process of Stewart's about to face consequences. He needs to face consequences and then I take a deep breath and sit with it and just let myself get hit with the fear that I can't stop because there's nothing I can do with this internal voice that says if something bad happens to Stewart, something bad happens to me.
Anna: Tasha was 22 when she married Stewart. She was just 18 when they started dating. She was teaching ballroom dancing in Las Vegas where she'd grown up in a tight-knit Mormon family.
Tasha: I really wanted to do everything, I had a really busy schedule. I was taking tons of other dance classes in addition to the ballroom. I was always running to auditions. I wanted to be a journalist and I wanted to-- I just wanted to do everything.
Anna: Before she met Stewart, Tasha had found dating kind of boring.
Tasha: I had gone on a date earlier with Mormon boy arm around the shoulders during the yawn at the movies, no kissing on the first date. Okay, that's fine. It wasn't the adventure I was looking for.
Micah: Then came Stewart, he was 25, an artist who'd grown up in this big multicultural family with Filipino and Mexican relatives. He caught her eye because he was a single guy in a dancing class at the studio where she worked.
Tasha: Stewart was so assertive and he just seemed so worldly, he lived everywhere. He'd been in the military and he brought me pictures of times he'd gone hang gliding while he was in the military. We went on a few dates. There was a bit of a culture clash because he was just so assertive, our first date was planned for a weekend, but instead of waiting for the weekend, he actually called me the next night. First time he ever called me was at 10:30 at night in my family's home. Back in the days of home phones, the whole house is waking up.
Who's the heck is calling the house at 10:30 at night? He said, "Let's go out to dinner." Well, this is Las Vegas, so you can do that. He picked me up at 11:30 at night and we had dinner at midnight. It seemed odd and it made me a little uncomfortable, but at the same time, I sort of gave myself a talking-to over being uncomfortable with that. Like, "How am I going to go on adventures all over the world if I'm uncomfortable going out to dinner a little late?"
Anna: Then how quickly did you all become serious?
Tasha: Pretty quickly. I was pretty much staying over there within-- To me, it was quick, within three months or so which was a huge, obviously, this is a huge no-no in my life and in my family, my culture, but really around that same time, three months in, his possessiveness, his controlling, his possessiveness, not so much over the kind of things I read about at the time, were seen as red flags in relationships like jealousy of, "You're looking at him?" It wasn't like that. It was more possessiveness of my personal time. He wanted my time and all of it. He seemed very jealous of me going to school. He seemed jealous of the dance classes I was taking. He was jealous of my friends. He wanted that time for himself.
Even at that point, I had started to think, "I don't know, maybe this isn't for me," which at that point, it's turned into a sexual relationship, and stepping away from it at that point is a big risk for me because I'm now downgraded in this world that I grew up in. I'm not going to be anyone's dream girl at this point if I stay inside Mormon culture, at least that's how I viewed it but I was really on the fence and I was really thinking, "Maybe I need to break this off."
I was really actually pulled into a parking lot and was just mulling it over, just sitting there thinking, "Which way do I drive back to my mom's house and just go home," or "Do I drive to Stewart's place where I'm supposed to go?" I was really kind of back and forth. I wound up going to this place, but the next day it was still in my own head about, "Man, I don't know." Then I get a call that he's been in this terrible-- there's been a terrible accident and he's accidentally shot himself in the eye.
This completely changed everything in my relationship. If I had just been a few years older. If I had been maybe 25, I probably would have been like, "Wow, that's really unfortunate timing that I was about to break up with you and you've had a devastating accident," but at 18, I thought, "Well, now what am I going to do? Now I'm trapped."
Anna: I have to take care of it.
Tasha: Yes, it changed the dynamic completely. I was taking care of him. I was cleaning out his empty eye socket. I was just being pulled out in a tidal wave.
Micah: Also, ironic because a lot of the militia guys preached this like gun safety thing and how they're well trained and they don't slip up, and then--
Tasha: It really struck me a lot. This is jumping forward just briefly, but during our divorce hearing, it came up where he talked about how safe he was at handling weapons. Honestly, I had been so conditioned for so many years to never bring it up. I thought to myself, "Wow, too bad I can't bring up the fact that he shot himself in the face." I don't know why it just was so conditioned to not bring that up that I just didn't, and I just let him sit there with an eye patch on and tell the judge how safe he is with firearms. I just didn't say a thing.
Anna: Conditioned because if you ever brought it up during the course of your marriage, it's so humiliating and embarrassing to him that it would be dangerous.
Tasha: Yes, he would shut it down, and so you just couldn't even hint at it. He almost didn't even talk about that he was missing an eye.
Anna: Wow, okay. He has this terrible accident, and it also has this huge consequence for your life and your ability to feel like this is a relationship you could end after three months.
Anna: When you married, had that period of doubting changed into something else?
Tasha: Yes, it changed into "I have to fix this."
Anna: Fix what?
Tasha: Fix him. During his recovery, he became more open about the abuse he experienced as a kid, that his mom had not been mentally stable, that there was a lot of physical abuse. I felt so bad, and I felt so guilty for my own upbringing. I'd had this board game family life, this great life. Whenever there was something I didn't like about his behavior, he would remind me of this horrible childhood he'd had and how difficult he'd had it, and not everyone has this perfect life.
He was very intelligent, and he was very good at manipulating me honestly. He was very quick to pick up on the fact that I was a real hot button, and sort of trigger for me was any implication, anyone implying that I might be entitled or selfish or kind of a spoiled brat. That always bothered me, and he just knew all he ever had to do was just push it.
Micah: You've said a number of times that you thought that he was very intelligent. What are some ways that you picked up on that? How did he express his intelligence?
Tasha: Oh, he was very well-read, and so was I. For example, he'd read the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire at 13. He was always reading something. He was very good at absorbing things he had read. For me, I'm not like that. I'll read something, but I'll remember the summary of it. He almost doesn't even use the quicker, more summary way of taking information.
He's very heavily focused on the deeper mental process. Now, after many years, I've come to believe maybe it might be somewhat common in narcissists or sociopaths to be like that because everything about himself is a deep mimic of other people and the people around him and he's very good at memory work. I think some of that might have been part of his need to constantly memorize the things around him as a way of coping and mimicking how other people act.
Anna: Soon after they got married, Stewart enrolled at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Tasha never got to finish college. Stewart urged her to quit her job teaching ballroom dancing and become a stripper to bring in more money. She says Stewart made her turn over her earnings to him at the end of her shift. They agreed it was temporary to get him through school, which became a joint family project.
Tasha: He graduated summa cum laude because he took two honors classes. One is the history of Spain, and one was the history of France and he had to write these papers. He did write the main paper to get his summa cum laude status, but these two honors classes were extra classes. He just explained to me, "I'm doing all this work." He had these papers due and if he doesn't get these papers finished in time, then he's not going to graduate summa cum laude and all these things we've worked so hard for aren't going to happen. I just wound up doing all his work for his honors classes.
Anna: You did his homework?
Tasha: Did his papers for him so that he could graduate with that.
Anna: While you're doing the job at the club stripping.
Anna: When Tasha was 25, they had their first son, Dakota. She says she stopped stripping when her pregnancy started to show.
Tasha: My agreement with him back when I first started stripping was, "I will do this, but once we start having kids, I'm going to put you through school. Basically making it so all you have to do is wake up and walk out the door. That's it. Clothes are laid out, food is set, everything is there." Then also not doing any parenting either, so he's doing nothing but school.
In exchange, I want-- this seems so silly, but I was very emotional about this at the time, "I want a house. I want my own house. I want a damn treehouse before Dakota's too old to want to play in it and that's the agreement. By the time he's about eight years old, I want a little house. It doesn't have to be fancy just a regular house with a yard and that's when I went out of the steel." That never happened.
Micah: Instead, they moved around a lot. Tasha had their second child in 1998 and their third in 2002 while Stewart was enrolled at Yale Law School. Stewart's world was expanding, and hers was shrinking.
Tasha: I think the last time I ever went to a doctor was when I was 19. I didn't go again until I was 50.
Anna: When you were having babies, what health insurance did you have?
Tasha: Oh no. I never had any health insurance.
Anna: Would you go into hospitals to have the babies?
Anna: They were all home births?
Anna: Did you have help?
Tasha: Generally. I had a midwife friend who would help.
Micah: After Yale, Stewart got good jobs, like a prestigious gig clerking for a judge in Arizona, but nothing lasted. Tasha says he would come up with a reason for why they suddenly had to leave town. Y2K was coming and they needed to prepare, or he suddenly craved a fresh start.
Anna: Tasha told us she now looks at these stories differently. Maybe there were other reasons they had to get up and move so quickly.
Tasha: I swear half my life was playing detective. Sometimes I'm able to solve the mysteries, especially now with his name being so public it's easier for me to find people and get responses from them, and they remember they've been paying attention.
Anna: His notoriety is helping you understand your personal past.
Tasha: There are just things I had no idea about. I had no idea there was an argument between him and the judge. I had no idea he was fired. Just that, "Oh, we're moving. Here we go again." [laughs]
Micah: It sounds like he had a really hard time working for people and with people. Was the Oath Keepers a way for him to be the leader, to have the autonomy that he wasn't finding in his life up until that point?
Tasha: Honestly, in some ways, that's what I was hoping for. When he said he wanted to start an org I thought, "Wow." Then he could just talk for a living. Then he can't get fired. Maybe we can pay the rent. Because another thing is, when you live like that at this point, there's no doubt he's abusive. He is physically abusive. He is emotionally abusive.
I still think I can fix him. Again, back to his intelligence and his gift for manipulating is he seemed to be pretty aware, looking back. It seemed he was very aware that I wanted to fix him. He would constantly say things like, "I feel so much better about myself and about our relationship and our family when I'm on my path. I don't know what my path is, but when I'm on it, I don't know where this path ultimately leads, but when I'm headed in the right direction when I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, then I'm not getting as angry.
If I start a nonprofit, if I focus on this group that's just focused on the constitution, these things that I love, then I'm on it and I'm in the zone. I'm not being drugged down by the lesser me. I'm who I should be which is a good person."
Anna: I want to just ask a few questions. You've used the word abuse a few times, and you just guide us on what feels okay to talk about. When you say he was physically abusive, when did that start in your relationship?
Tasha: You know what's funny is if he were to ask me, and in fact, I was asked four years ago, three years ago, "Was Stewart physically abusive? Didn't ever hit you?" I would've said no and did say no many times. At the same time, I was physically afraid of him. I was afraid he was going to kill us all. Was afraid of being shot, afraid of being choked, afraid of him grabbing the kids, hitting the kids.
Afraid for our lives for sure. He would never outright punch you, but he would do other things to hurt you because he always wanted deniability. He always saw himself as a great man. Being undeniably abusive didn't fit into that, though he would break out of that sometimes. Most commonly he would want to do martial arts with you, and then you would just get beat to shit really with sticks or whatever, and just, "Oh, sorry about that. Oh, sorry about that."
How often and how hard you got hurt correlated directly to how upset he was with you over something. He was more abusive to the kids than I realized until later on. We've been talking about it more. There was a lot of things I did not know, and there's a lot of things I think I probably just didn't want to know. I have a lot of blank spaces in my memory, they're just missing time that I think maybe I'm just not ready to deal with yet. I can remember screaming and running from him. I remember my dad, who was really old and had bad knees coming to the back door because we lived in a little apartment in the back of my mom's house asking me if I was okay. I have no memory of why I ran. I have no memory of why I was afraid.
Anna: We sent a detailed list of questions about topics we discussed with Tasha in this episode to Stewart through his lawyer, including Tasha's allegations of abuse by Stewart. They declined to comment on anything. Coming up, in 2009, Stewart starts the Oath Keepers.
Tasha: He would definitely would target people who had issues, PTSD issues. A lot of people had drug addictions. They tended to do a lot of MMA. They did a lot of shootings, but they were all people who viewed themselves as the great family man, the great protector.
Anna: This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.
Micah: I'm Micah Loewinger.
Anna: I'm Anna Sale.
Micah: Can I ask you just a really basic question? What was the oath?
Tasha: The oath is based on the idea that everybody in the military, even post office workers, even lawyers, police officers have all had to swear an oath by law, have to swear an oath to the Constitution before they can go into office. The idea is that sometimes these guys swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and they're not doing it. It's a pretty easy sales pitch right out of the gate, especially timing-wise. We're talking about the end of the Ron Paul movement not too far off in time from the Occupy Movement.
His original pitch, which is how he pitched it to me, was very much this idea of what if police, in particular, had a support group, fellow officers who they could go to if they saw corruption, that they could say, "Hey, things are going crazy in my department. They're not acting right and I don't know what to do." They would offer legal counsel and just backup."
Anna: Just imagining when you said, "When he pitched it to me." I'm picturing I have this idea like it starts. Do you think you were the first person he talked to about it?
Tasha: We were at a Ron Paul event. It's when he was doing some legal work for the Ron Paul campaign, 2008, I guess it was. We were in Pronto, Nevada and he went outside to talk with some veterans. By then I have a million kids, so I'm just entertaining kids. That's all I'm doing at these things. He comes back in with a notebook with some names written down and he said there's a kid out there, a returned veteran from Afghanistan.
He had some ideas for names, and there's a whole list of names. One of the names on it was Oath Keepers. I said, "Well, just stop right there. That's the name. That is the name." No other. It doesn't really matter. I said that his name is so marketable. That's just a good name.
Anna: You said that?
Anna: You're playing with the kids at this event and then you're like--
Tasha: That's the name. I said that's marketable. It could be a cigar club. It doesn't matter. [laughter] It could be a cigar club, it could be a motorcycle club. I could see it on jackets, sell T-shirts. People are going to love it.
Micah: In the first couple of years of the Oath Keepers, Tasha helped out a lot. She was selling T-shirts. She was answering emails and posting on the blog. She really wanted them to succeed.
Anna: Maybe she was naïve, but Tasha says she understood the Oath Keepers as the opposite of what it would become. That this was a group who would root out corruption, racism, demagoguery in the military, police departments, and so on. Tasha didn't think any of the political organizing was dangerous.
Micah: Others saw it for what it was, especially as Stewart's profile grew. Tasha remembers an early interview when Stewart was invited on MSNBC in 2009 to be a guest on Hardball with Chris Matthews.
Tasha: Chris Matthews said, "I think you won a war."
Chris Matthews: You're putting people together on a war footing preparing them to be vigilant,-
Stewart Rhodes: It's not a war.
Chris: -to be ready to challenge the imposition of foreign troops in this country to create some concentrate-- You know what I think you're up to is creating a mindset. I heard some people the other day talking about the battle. We have to keep the battle going. You want to have people in a militant environment where they think militantly with this sense of perhaps taking steps at some point against the governor or not taking orders or in some way rebelling.
Tasha: I don't think Stewart has ever been called out so accurately.
Micah: So early too.
Tasha: Yes, so early.
Anna: Did you as his wife at the time, who also feels, I don't know what your mix of feelings were about him in that time,-
Tasha: Pretty mixed.
Anna: -was it satisfying to watch him be called out? Did you feel protective of him?
Tasha: I felt angry. A part of me was like, "Am I mad because there's some truth to this?" I was afraid there might be truth to it. They really, really didn't want there to be truth to it. It made me even more focused and determined like, "I've really got to hover over this thing and keep it on this path." I had a lot of fear myself at that time. Like, "Oh, man." Because I know what Stewart is underneath. I keep thinking that deep down at his core he is a good person, but then there were a couple of things that happened in our personal life around that time 2010 and then 2012, that I just stepped away from all of it. My whole facade fell apart.
His life is all politics and what he's doing in my life was all babies. At that time, I had a miscarriage. Again, not going to doctors just going into midwives and stuff. He pulled this stunt where he basically orchestrated a board of directors call during my midwife appointment to see if I was losing the baby or not and it turned out I was. He used me losing the baby as a tool and the board of directors not voting him into a forced hiatus because he was acting unhinged even around them.
He put his phone on speaker while we're finding out that we're losing the baby and, "Oh, look, guys, we lost--" It was me and like 10 guys basically on speakerphone while I'm learning that my baby-- And I had a pretty serious physical reaction to that miscarriage. I almost died. He just left me bleeding out on the floor and just walked away. The kids helped me to walk again. It was a real shake-up moment because I always told myself that deep down under the surface, Stewart is a kind, loving person with this gruff exterior.
When it really, really counted, and I really needed it, this kind person would show itself and then when I really needed it, he's just irritated that I'm staining the carpet with blood. Then, again, two years later, I had a full-term little girl who didn't live. It was the same thing again. He didn't care. That was a very, very ending of thinking that he had any type of emotion whatsoever toward other people.
Anna: It changed the story for you about what your obligation was to him?
Tasha: Yes. It changed everything. It was a whole other mourning process. I realized, I lost my husband because the person I thought was my husband never actually existed. Everything I thought he was, was entirely made up. Really, his actions certainly never backed that up. I just believed beyond reason that there was a true, loving, kind person under the surface of this extreme damage and abuse and all the things he suffered, but there really wasn't one under there. That was hard. That was a hard process.
Micah: Coming up. Tasha plans her escape from her marriage. She left in 2018.
Anna: The woman who gave her inspiration that she could leave, Kelly Jones, who divorced right-wing firebrand, Alex Jones. Tasha had watched the national coverage as they battled out custody in Family Court.
Tasha: Sometimes just the loudest, most outrageous voice can win. That can even work in a court of law when the judge says one thing and your ex says another and they just ignore it and they would just rather make the victims suffer more than to have to deal with this person who's going to broadcast live from their courthouse lawn if they make their life too difficult.
Anna: This is Death, Sex, & Money from WNYC.
Micah: I'm Michael Loewinger.
Anna: I'm Anna Sale.
Kelly Jones: Hi. Can you hear me?
Micah: Yes. Hi.
Kelly: Okay, hi.
Micah: We invited Tasha and Alex Jones, his ex-wife Kelly Jones to meet on a video chat.
Anna: It was the first time the two had ever spoken outside of a few online messages. They both were recording from home with high-quality microphones, which Micah noticed as soon as we were all on video together.
Micah: I wasn't expecting to have two professional mics.
Anna: How about us go, "Tasha"?
Tasha: Yes, that's how we roll, man. I just stole this out of the keeper pile when Stewart left this.
Kelly: An old Infowars engineer has been trying to help me get up and running so he lent me this. What this equipment has seen.
Micah: And heard. Kelly Jones was married to her husband Alex for eight years. They have three kids.
Kelly: To have the most probably broadly loathed and Taurus insane person as an ex-husband, to be just perceived instantly, as if people would ever know or understand who you are. I don't know how many times I've responded to the message, "Well, you married him," or "Why did you marry him?"
Anna: By the time Tasha was ready to leave, she and Stewart had six kids and the family was living in an 800-square-foot cabin in Montana. Tasha was homeschooling the kids. Some of the younger ones didn't even have social security numbers or birth certificates. She says Stewart had at least 20 guns in the house.
Micah: Leaving and starting a new life felt really hard and risky.
Tasha: Though we left in February 2018, the planning started 2016, and saving money and trying to get things in place like a car [laughs] in the middle of the woods, no cell service, 20 miles from nowhere, just trying to be able to even get out of the cabin, but I started following Kelly's situation very closely with her battle with her children, and I'm watching her legally get her kids back, but not physically get her kids. It was mortifying, and I'm just sitting, I believe, just crying with or without even speaking with her just seeing her go through this. I thought, "Oh, well, this is a similar situation."
Micah: Tasha watched and thought, "If I leave Stewart, he might act exactly like this. bullying me in public, disregarding court orders, and fighting me at every turn."
Anna: It scared Tasha, and also made her think this woman will understand. She wrote Kelly a message online telling her that she was thinking of leaving, and Kelly encouraged her.
Tasha: Between me not having cell service, and living in the woods and you being so busy, I don't know if we ever chat. I don't recall us ever chatting,
Kelly: I sure hope we will in the future because I think we have a lot in common and similar experience to share but-
Tasha: I think so.
Kelly: -that's my recollection. I have a lot of people reach out to me, not only from the extremist community by any means but just generally people going through tough divorces.
Micah: What did that mean to have that conversation?
Tasha: It was reassuring in a way that's hard to articulate because there's this, you've been told for decades that you're wrong and crazy and to feel like you're being abused, or to feel like you're being controlled. This moment, it's just a couple lines, I think I'm going to get out and we're going to plan for this. For someone on the outside not to then say, "He's your husband, you have to stick by him, you're married. You had vows and he's a good man, you're so lucky."
Kelly: Can I just say, that's so moving to me that that was so significant to you, Tasha, it really is. It's incredibly moving. I admire you tremendously. I just want to remind you how strong you are and how important you are and how beautiful your kids are, and what a tremendously fantastic mother you are for extracting yourself from that hell against all odds and under the horrible circumstance that you were in. I'm really moved by that Tasha.
Micah: Kelly Jones filed for divorce from Alex Jones in 2013. 10 years later, they're still entangled in court battles.
Kelly: If I can lose my kids to Alex Jones, anybody can lose their kids in an American family court. The point is, it's not just about me, and what's happening to me and my family. It's about America and how all this came to transpire. If you're protecting an abuser, a violent abuser, and an extremist in court, think about the impact, how that resonates out to America.
Micah: Kelly left Alex Jones back during the Obama administration. Tasha was still with Stewart Rhodes when Donald Trump became president.
Anna: That was a busy time for Stewart. So much so that Tasha says he was pretty distracted when she left and filed for divorce in 2018. Still, as we talked in that conference room in Montana, it was clear that Tasha is still thinking about the role she played during the Trump presidency and the lead-up to the insurrection at the US Capitol in 2021.
Micah: Can I ask about January 6th?
Micah: What were you doing?
Tasha: January 6th, glued to my laptop.
Micah: On January 6th, 2021, she was watching the attack on the Capitol from home like the rest of us.
Reporter: The Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary group are also here. They're organized staging their military-style equipment neatly on the ground, and later they put on body armor, talk on radios and chat with their supporters on a walkie-talkie app called Zello.
Micah: Tasha noticed a line of men and women wearing battle rattles and Oath Keeper patches moving through the crowd.
Tasha: There's nobody else. That's not the Proud Boys. They don't run around with full military gear and helmets. Even just right down the types of radios. I knew that Stewart's people and then it even reverted to my own programming where I thought, "Hh, maybe they went off mission. They must have went off mission. Stewart wouldn't want them to do this." That thought was about a half a second long where it's like, "Oh, what am I thinking?" That's the Stewart talk.
Anna: You're just taking this in on your phone and on your laptop by yourself. Are you talking to anybody?
Tasha: The kids are in and out. "Oh my God, this was all Stewart. Maybe this was all Stewart." Then Dakota's got his, "What is happening?" [laughs] When Dakota gets off work comes in with his laptop. "Do you see this? Do you see that?" "Yes, I see it." That's when we realized the extent of it or at least everything that was known at that point. It became sort of revealed day by day how instrumental Stewart really was in this.
Micah: When did you start hearing from reporters?
Tasha: Definitely, started right after J6, started talking with a lot more press for sure. It was kind of slow. I was really guarded about the kind of stuff I would talk about initially. Definitely, even listening to my original interviews it's almost like a really different perspective. If you read the LA Times article, it's really clear. I'm telling this man it's all my fault and he's just writing down, "It's all her fault." Headline. "It's all her fault."
Micah: What was all your fault?
Tasha: All of it. Oath Keepers, Stewart.
Anna: Because you hadn't prevented it.
Tasha: People died that day and the first words out of my mouth were, "I helped start this. I helped start this. It turned into that and people died that day. Would this have happened had I not supported Stewart?" That's impossible to trace. You could say Stewart was going to become a two-bit criminal with or without a Yale law degree, and maybe he would've heard people in some other way. Maybe he would've been some other type of criminal.
Maybe he just would've been somebody easily recognizable as a dirtbag had I not been back there, "Let's fix you up." Through me, he learned how to deceive people a little better I think because he learned how he was supposed to be. I showed him how he was supposed to be and he learned how to mimic it. That kind of guilt really wears at me and it's still really hard for me to talk about J6, in particular. I feel like I do own a piece of that for sure.
Micah: A federal jury agreed that Stewart Rhodes bears a lot of responsibility for his group's role in January 6th. He, along with five other Oath Keepers, have been found guilty of sedition. The most serious conviction brought against anyone involved in the insurrection so far. In his trial in late 2022, the government said that although Stewart himself never entered the Capitol, "He stood outside of it like a battlefield general." That's a quote from one of the lead prosecutors. They also pointed to a message Stewart sent to his followers in the lead-up to the insurrection. It said, "We're not getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, and spirit."
Anna: Stewart testified in his own defense and said that the Oath Keepers were at the Capitol to provide security to Trump supporters and there was no plan to storm it. Tasha was actually asked to testify in the trial, but she was never called and the thought of it was terrifying.
Tasha: I just didn't want to see him. That was the main thing. I didn't want to walk past him. There's no way. He's going to leap up from that table and strangle me before they can get to me. That's all I could think really. That was my main thing is there's no way I'm going to get past him, but I have followed very closely. I think the reason I didn't wind up coming in is because he did such a terrible job in his own when he testified. It was really bad. It was really, really, really bad. I wasn't sure how it was going to go because he sees himself as this showman and "Get up there and talk." "Come on kids, let's rap about this. Let's all talk and come on. Oh yes, let's discuss." He loves that kind of stuff.
He's basically a 1980s television guy. That's how he grew up. That's how he grew up. His whole family was public speaking and multi-level marketing seminars. The problem with that sort of feign honesty, "Let's just talk," is it looks like it could be honest, but if you're going to put that up against reality you can see the difference and you realize what a gifted liar this person is. That was really fascinating to me because I knew we were going to see that TV face Stewart, but he's always been able to pick and choose his audience. That was really interesting, to see him with people who are not his choice people. He chooses the people who are around them very carefully.
He chooses who works for him. We were constantly moved every year to change his audience for over a decade. Moved to Las Vegas where the audience changed around him because of the transient population and his board of directors flipped every few months. The people who work for him complete turnover every few months. Always a new audience. "That one's no good. They see through me. They're out of here. Here's the next," but for the first time ever, he's seeing he's having to do his thing in front of an audience who just witnessed the real him.
Anna: Tasha was watching so closely because she also wanted to know how long Stewart might be put away.
Tasha: I was really nervous, but I really, on a personal level, I really needed that seditious conspiracy my youngest kids hate. I need him in there 10 more years. Just on a purely personal level, that's what I feel like I need. I need him to stay locked away for the next 10 years so my kids can legally cut contact with him.
Micah: It's been five years since Tasha filed for divorce and it's not a done deal. There's been delay after delay.
Anna: She says she is ready to be done with their marriage, but also that there were a lot of ways she started to move on as soon as she left him.
Tasha: Well, for one, I could sleep and that sounds silly, but I was so sleep deprived. Just being able to think, being able to just interact with my kid, have my kids in school, enjoying the world. Putting the kids in school was huge. It changed everything. I live in this town and I'd lived just barely outside of this town before. I didn't even know where the high school was. I didn't know where anything in the town was.
I never came here. I never interacted with people. Even though it's been so long, it's just like uncovering every day the layers. I was talking with a friend of my attorney the other day and she was asking what my politics are now. I said, "I don't know," because my framework is so off and I wish I could remember my lawyer's exact words, but I think she said, "Your political framework is dog shit." [laughs] Yes, my political framework is dog shit. [laughs]
Anna: I'm not sure I directly tracked that metaphor, but I'm trying to. Doesn't sound good.
Tasha: Because I don't know. If you'd asked me five years ago, three years ago, I'd say, "Oh, I'm a libertarian." I don't know what I am. I don't know. I just went back to that because that's what I was when I was 18. It is like being 18 except old and fat and with bad credit. [laughs]
Anna: That is Tasha Adams. She lives at home with three of her children who are still in school. The other three live nearby.
Micah: After he was convicted of sedition and other crimes, Stewart Rhodes is currently awaiting sentencing in a federal prison. He faces up to 60 years. He'll be sentenced on May 25th.
Anna: Thank you for working with us on this, Micah.
Micah: Thank you. That's it for the podcast extra. Don't forget to tune into the big show on Friday. By the way, follow us on Instagram @onthemedia. We've been upping our social game and we're planning to experiment more and more over there, @onthemedia Instagram. Thanks for listening. See you.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.