Son of Oath Keepers militia leader explains why he’s running for office as a Democrat: ‘I saw the bullsh*t’

Dakota Adams poses for a photograph on Feb. 21, 2024, in Kalispell, Montana. (AP Photo/Hunter D’Antuono)
Dakota Adams poses for a photograph on Feb. 21, 2024, in Kalispell, Montana. (AP Photo/Hunter D’Antuono)

Dakota Adams spent many years unlearning the lessons his father taught him. Growing up under the watchful eye of Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the largest far-Right militia in the United States, meant being ready for the government to break down his door at any moment.

Now, in a development that would no doubt infuriate his imprisoned dad, the 27-year-old is running for office as a Democrat in deep-red Montana. He hopes his experience escaping that conspiracy-filled world might help others break out of their own echo chambers — the kind that has ensured Republican rule there for generations.

“Not all of it is going to be applicable for talking to the average person who has been the target of decades of misinformation by the likes of Fox News, but I think there is some useful insight to be gleaned from how I worked my way out,” he told The Independent.

“It gives me, at the very least, an understanding of where these people are coming from.”

Adams, one of six siblings, was already estranged from his father when Rhodes became America’s most infamous seditionist. The man Adams now only refers to by his first name was sentenced to 18 years in jail for his role in the Capitol attack, in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.

Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers militia (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers militia (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“The last time I spoke to Stewart was seeing him hand over boxes of freeze-dried survivalists food as in-kind payment for one of his many missed child support payments,” Adam said, describing his father as a “self-interested shapeshifter with no true belief.”

Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers militia in 2009, a year after Barack Obama was elected the first Black president of the United States. The group aimed to recruit former military, law enforcement and emergency first responders to uphold the oath they took​​ to “support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic” — in reality, the group was a paranoid and conspiratorial group that threatened the use of violence to oppose the government.

Rhodes’ ex-wife, Tasha Adams, described him as a paranoid man who was good at manipulating people. She shared images of "escape tunnels" and other protections he’d built in their backyard “in case the feds ever came” to his door.

Whipped into a frenzy by the Black Lives Matter protests and the Covid pandemic, Rhodes and his cohorts had fallen fully behind President Donald Trump by the 2020 election. Rhodes became a key part of the election denial movement, telling The Independent that his movement would be “nullifying and resisting” any laws signed by the incoming president Joe Biden, whom he viewed as “illegitimate.”

While Adams is keen to separate himself from his father (he now uses his mother’s last name) he nonetheless credits Rhodes for turning him into the person he is today. Seeing the shambles of his father’s life, and how he ran the Oath Keepers militia, was the spark that first led him away from Trumpism and the anti-government movement.

“I saw that the inner circle of Oath Keepers were bullshit, and that expanded into realising that the militia movement was bullshit, to realising that the entire Republican Party was bullshit,” he said.

“I came to the conclusion that the entire conservative ideological structure in this country is predisposed to putting people like Stewart Rhodes and Donald Trump in positions of power.”

Winning his election won’t be an easy task. Adams is running to represent the Montana state house in an area known for its association with the very life he left behind. The northwest of the state has a long history of incubating right-wing militias and anti-government sentiment, and Trump won the district with 74 per cent of the vote in 2020.

Those associations, Adams says, are exactly why the area has been all but abandoned by national Democrats, who assume they have no chance of victory.

“It’s just a sea of Republican primaries, or more often Republican incumbents running completely unopposed,” he said, “That’s demoralising and depressing, and it kind of shows like an entire swathe of the country that’s been pretty much abandoned and no longer even contested at all.”

Adams has held a few events and town halls to test the waters in his corner of Montana, and has already received pushback from some unlikely areas.

“I’m being accused of being a secret double agent MAGA Republican by Twitter liberals nonstop today, which is something that really surprised me,” he said. The local Democrats he has met have been supportive, he added.

Adams wants to focus on local issues in the November election, and not be dragged into debates about President Biden, the 2020 election, and the plethora of other national issues that animate the Right today.

“I am focusing as hard as I can on just talking about things that I can change in the State House,” he said.

“If somebody has a problem with Biden, then it’s a good thing I’m not out here campaigning for Joe Biden or asking for their vote for Joe Biden — I’m talking about what I can do for them.”