Saturday, July 13, 2024

Those who knew the Oath Keeper’s general counsel say they saw storm clouds of mental illness gathering

Kelly SoRelle Video
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Editor's note: A Washington, D.C. television station has reported that independent evaluators have deemed Kellye SoRelle not competent to stand trial for her role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“The storm! The storm arrived!”

The voice, seemingly that of Granbury attorney Kellye SoRelle, narrates a video posted on her Facebook page of supporters of then-President Donald J. Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“The storm” is a term frequently used by believers of QAnon, a political conspiracy theory and movement whose origins date back to October 2017. Embraced by the far right, believers maintain that cannibalistic pedophiles that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood figures operate a global child sex trafficking ring that conspired against Trump.



The hours-long attack on the Capitol, during which police officers were assaulted and some were seriously injured, was aimed at impeding the ratification of electoral votes.

Supporters hoped to prevent Democrat Joe Biden from being sworn in as president. They believed Trump’s allegations of widespread voter fraud even though judges in more than 60 cases determined that the allegations were without merit.

The storm’s arrival at the Capitol that day reportedly was intended to herald a cataclysmic event in which Trump would vanquish his foes and Democrats would be arrested and publicly executed. Even Trump’s loyal vice president Mike Pence was targeted after he refused to bow to pressure to reject electoral votes for Biden. A noose hanging from a gallows appeared on the Capitol grounds amid chants of “Hang Mike Pence!”

Despite the chaos and violence of that day, the storm did not arrive, at least not in the way that QAnon adherents had hoped. The certification of electoral votes was delayed but did occur, and Biden was sworn in as president two weeks later.

Approximately 1,000 people have been charged with crimes in connection to Jan. 6. Some struck plea deals, agreeing to cooperate with investigators looking to net bigger fish.

For more than a year, while others were arrested and charged, SoRelle remained free and defiantly vocal despite having been there that day. Videos posted on her Facebook page indicated that she was right there in the thick of things.

“She’s all but bragging about being an organizer and doing what she can to assist in stopping the peaceful transfer of power,” said Nick Poehl, an attorney in South Texas.

The tempest that seemingly everyone but SoRelle saw barreling toward her arrived on Sept. 1 of last year when the then-43-year-old mother of four was arrested in Junction, a town in Kimble County, for her alleged role in the attack on the Capitol.

The four-count indictment of SoRelle by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia included charges of tampering with evidence, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, and being inside the Capitol during the insurrection.

Some close to SoRelle told the Hood County News they became concerned as she grew increasingly radical and appeared to embrace QAnon. Her social media accounts featured images and buzz words connected to the conspiracy movement.

At some point during her transformation, SoRelle connected with Oath Keepers, an organization whose members include current and former military, law enforcement, and emergency personnel.

The FBI describes Oath Keepers as an anti-government militia movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies Oath Keepers as an organization that engages in vigilante justice and is “based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy American liberties.”

SoRelle became the Oath Keepers’ general counsel and a close associate of the group’s founder, Elmer Stewart Rhodes IIl.

Her law degree elevated her importance among the far right. She shared platforms with Rhodes at political rallies, a microphone magnifying her voice to those eager to hear what she had to say.

The former prosecutor made national news for her work in support of Trump and was featured in podcasts. Her Twitter followers grew to more than 16,000.

SoRelle appeared to have found her calling but seemed oblivious to the dangers it carried.

In September 2021, four months after federal agents seized Rhodes’ cell phone as part of their investigation, SoRelle’s own iPhone was confiscated following a meeting with two FBI agents at Kroger Marketplace near her rented residence in Granbury.

Seizing a lawyer’s cell phone is a serious matter and involves special protocols within the justice department, but SoRelle seemed more annoyed than frightened by that foreboding development.

“There’s so much stuff in there,” she wrote in a message to HuffPost, seemingly missing the irony.

On Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, the walls closed in tighter.

Rhodes was arrested by the FBI at a friend’s house in Little Elm in Denton County. He and 10 other Oath Keepers were charged with seditious conspiracy and other charges. Seditious conspiracy is a rarely charged crime that carries the possibility of 20 years in prison.

A news helicopter captured the scene at the site of Rhodes’ surrender, where there were multiple federal agents. Their vehicles blocked the driveway and both directions of the street.

Rhodes, a former paratrooper, had previously lived in Montana and Nevada, but the 32-page indictment listed a different place of residence for him: Granbury, Texas.

When United States Magistrate Judge Kimberly C. Priest Johnson issued an order on Wednesday, Jan. 26, for Rhodes to remain jailed pending trial, her order noted that the defendant “reports that he is currently in a relationship with Kellye SoRelle” and that he had been living with SoRelle in Granbury.

Rhodes was convicted last November of seditious conspiracy. Last month, he was sentenced to serve 18 years in federal prison.

The militia leader’s arrest and his denial of bail marked a significant escalation in the probe of Jan. 6, yet if SoRelle was concerned that she might get swept up in the federal government’s dragnet she did not show it publicly.

The day after Rhodes was locked up in the Fannin County Jail, she announced that she would serve as acting president of the Oath Keepers until he was released.

She attended his first hearing in federal court in Plano where he appeared in shackles, and then spoke with a gaggle of reporters outside the building afterward.

The Twitter account of Capitol Terrorists Exposers sent out a mocking tweet that included photos of SoRelle in the center of the media scrum.

“Look at you looking like a boss @kellyesorelle! Nails on fleek, killer bangs and shady shades. I can brag I know you now you’re a celeb.”

Someone posted on Facebook a link to an article in Rolling Stone magazine about SoRelle taking charge of the Oath Keepers and quoted a line from Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show’s song “Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

Wanna see my picture on the cover, wanna buy five copies for my mother.”

Some who know SoRelle agree that she seemed to be craving attention and seeking the limelight against her best interest. Like others, they feel anger over her alleged actions to overturn an election and believe that accountability is in order. But prison? They’re not so sure.

“I think,” said Poehl, “she needs to be in a hospital.” 

STORM CLOUDS GATHERING

Kellye Crump grew up in the Texas Panhandle where her grandmother, Jennie Pair, who taught in the Lubbock school district, was instrumental in raising her. This is according to “Elaine,” a woman who has known SoRelle and her family for years. She asked that her real name not be used.

Crump attended Lubbock High School and may have played in the band. Elaine thinks she remembers her jokingly referring to herself as a “band nerd,” or something to that effect.

The 1997 LHS graduate went on to attend Oklahoma City University School of Law. She met fellow student Jeremy SoRelle, who is from Cleburne.

Crump had always been “engaging and charming,” Elaine said, and was “the darling of their law school cohort.”

Kellye and Jeremy married, and Kellye, who took the SoRelle name, gave birth to their twin daughters while still a law student.

According to Elaine, staff in the dean’s office babysat the infants so that their mother could finish law school.

Kellye SoRelle graduated in 2005 and became certified to practice law in Texas in 2006. Elaine said that she passed the bar on her first try.

In 2011, SoRelle landed a job as an assistant district attorney in Cameron County, the southernmost county in Texas. It includes South Padre Island.

According to Elaine, she did well there.

“If you were to speak to anyone who knew Kellye from her high school days, her college days, her early legal career days, I feel like you could talk to anybody that she knew when she worked down on the border and anybody would say they would define Kellye as someone who had a lifetime of professional success and a lifetime of achievement,” she stated.

From Elaine’s perspective, SoRelle held a position of power in both her marriage and her professional life, but things began to change in 2017 when she moved with her husband and their four children to Granbury. Jeremy had been offered a position at the Hyde Law Firm.

Elaine said she believes that SoRelle was not enthusiastic about the move but likely convinced herself that it was the best thing for her family since she and Jeremy both had family members living in the area. SoRelle has a brother who lives in Granbury and her mother lived in Hood County at that time.

“I think most of us wish she had not given up her community, her position — what she had in the valley,” Elaine said. “It really, really was a good fit for her in so many ways.”

Granbury, on the other hand, may not have been. One local attorney, who asked not to be named, said that SoRelle didn’t seem to have many close relationships.

Paul Hyde said that SoRelle at first practiced law solo in Granbury, but when he offered her a job at his Hyde Law Firm, she accepted. Her hire date was July 23, 2018.

In 2019, SoRelle announced a run for the Texas House of Representatives. At that time, Mike Lang, a fellow Republican who also lived in Granbury, held the District 60 seat and there was a presumption that he would seek a third term. SoRelle told the HCN that she was concerned about Lang’s wealthy backers and said that the voice representing District 60 “should not be for purchase by the highest bidder.”

But SoRelle’s actions involving those wealthy backers — the staunchly conservative billionaire Wilks family of Cisco — befuddled Hyde and the man who agreed to manage her campaign, Hyde Law Firm paralegal manager Wayne Baker.

Hyde said that at a campaign event featuring all four Republican primary candidates in that race, SoRelle migrated from her own designated spot to that of Jon Francis, son-in-law of Farris and JoAnn Wilks, and handed out his campaign literature as if she was his campaign manager. Francis had entered the race after Lang decided not to seek another term.

Baker said that when he agreed to help SoRelle with her campaign he knew her to be someone who was “patriotic,” with a strong love for her country. She held conservative beliefs and stood for “strong American values,” he said.

In a text to the HCN a few days after Rhodes’ arrest when there were whispers that SoRelle’s arrest might be imminent, Baker stated: “During her campaign, I watched her become more and more radical in her beliefs, and she went down a path that no one could pull her back from. This ultimately led to her divorce and the loss of many friendships. I have not spoken to Kellye in over a year and a half.”

He continued, “I knew Kellye well and watching the rapid decline in her behavior seemed to me like a mental illness. I do not know this for sure, but I do know that the Kellye SoRelle that exists today is not the same Kellye SoRelle I agreed to support in her campaign for Texas House District 60.”

Baker noticed changes in SoRelle in intimate social gatherings, too, not just on the campaign trail. He and his wife were part of a small group of friends that included the SoRelles and they would sometimes get together on weekends to have dinner or to play games.

He said that the changes in her personality seemed to start during the campaign but accelerated after the primary election.

SoRelle came in third in that race, netting just 6.6% of the vote. Glenn Rogers of Palo Pinto ultimately won the seat after beating Francis in a runoff.

With the social gatherings and even with her own husband and children, SoRelle became more withdrawn and distant, Baker said. She seemed preoccupied with her phone and communicated with mysterious people.

“She just kind of became more and more secretive and locked down in herself and distant from everyone,” he said.

Jeremy SoRelle declined to comment for this article, citing concern for his children.

According to Hyde, SoRelle’s odd behavior spilled over into the workplace.

He related that in March 2020 when many businesses closed due to COVID-19, he gave everyone at his office the option of working from home.

He said that SoRelle chose that option, citing as her reason concern for one of her children, who has asthma. As far as he could tell, she believed the danger to be real and wanted to protect herself and her family.

But then on a weekend when a “Reopen Texas” rally was held at the Capitol in Austin, Hyde spotted SoRelle among pictures of protestors that were posted on Facebook.

He texted her, calling her out for supposedly being concerned enough about the coronavirus to not come to the office yet protesting with people who minimized the threat.

She responded by saying she “wasn’t around anybody,” Hyde said.

Hyde then took screenshots of the photos, circled her image, and texted them to her with a message stating, “I agree. Open Texas back up. We’ll start with the Hyde Law Firm. I’ll see you at work on Monday.”

Hyde said that SoRelle did return to work, “but she was so far down that hole at that point.”

By May of that year, Hyde decided he’d had enough of SoRelle’s increasingly radical behavior. On Friday, May 8, he told her that he wanted to speak to her at 4:30 p.m., before she left for the day. But when 4:30 came, SoRelle “just zipped out the door,” Hyde said. She texted him saying that she and Jeremy needed to talk over the weekend to figure things out and that she could talk with Hyde the following week.

Hyde texted back that he expected her in his office at 7:30 a.m. the following Monday.

Around 10 p.m. Sunday night — May 10, 2020 — SoRelle resigned in what Hyde described as a “rambling” email.

According to court documents, she and Rhodes began living together that month. 

A PERFECT STORM

After the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election, as the nation awaited results that were delayed largely because of votes cast by mail during the pandemic, news broke that there was possible proof of voter fraud. An observer at the TCF Center in Detroit, where ballots were being processed, captured cell phone video at around 4 a.m. that possibly showed phony ballots being wheeled into the center on a red wagon.

The video went viral on social media and other platforms and was tweeted by Eric Trump, one of the then-president’s sons.

WXYZ Channel 7 in Detroit soon took to the airwaves in hopes of herding the runaway horse back into the barn. A reporter told viewers that the video of a man near a white van with a black box in a red wagon was one of the station’s photographers. He was using the wagon to carry equipment into the building for a 12-hour shift.

Poehl, who has a law firm in Kemah on Galveston Bay, was stunned when media outlets revealed the name of the person who took the video that caused the commotion: Kellye SoRelle. She was at the TCF Center to monitor vote counting as a member of a Lawyers for Trump team.

Poehl had never met SoRelle, but he knew her through social media. They had both participated in closed Facebook groups where lawyers discussed politics and particulars of law. In those discussions, which he believes occurred over a period of 3-5 years, she seemed rational and cogent — far different from the person who could be heard mumbling to herself in the red wagon footage.

“It was really kind of nutty stuff,” Poehl said.

Poehl had seen a Lawyers for Trump poster with pictures of SoRelle and a handful of other Texas lawyers, but he said that the other lawyers working to ensure election integrity didn’t seem to be coming at it “at quite the same feverish, crazy angle” as SoRelle.

The incident in Michigan caused some buzz among the lawyer groups, Poehl said. Someone alerted him to SoRelle’s personal Facebook page, which they said contained “some crazy stuff.”

Poehl went to SoRelle’s page and began reading the posts there. It seemed clear that she was into QAnon.

“I’m kind of looking at her page and interacting with her some on that page and kind of starting from a place of trying to debate rationally with her about certain things, but you can’t have a rational conversation with somebody that’s not arguing rationally,” he said. “It just became clear how unhinged she had become.

“At one point, she was literally telling people, like, you need to hide out in your garage or a basement if you have it, have a shortwave radio, they’re going to shut down the communications grid. Like, it’s imminent. It’s coming. It’ll be tomorrow or in the next 48 hours. I mean, it was just Looney Tunes stuff.”

Referring to the lawyers’ groups, Poehl said there seemed to be an unstated hope that reality would eventually settle in with SoRelle.

“It never did,” he said. “It only escalated. Next thing you know, she’s the lawyer for the Oath Keepers and she’s filing bat---- insane lawsuits.”

A lawsuit filed by SoRelle and another attorney was mentioned in Texas Monthly’s January 2022 issue which contains the magazine’s Bum Steer Awards. The mention states: “After showing up at the Washington, D.C., protest, Texas attorneys Paul M. Davis and Kellye SoRelle filed a lawsuit asking a U.S. district court to (a) declare the United States Congress illegitimate, (b) invalidate the confirmation of Joe Biden, and (c) stop law enforcement officials from arresting Davis and SoRelle for their actions at the Capitol. The Trump-nominated judge who heard the suit — which cited The Lord of the Rings as evidence — dismissed it as ‘without merit.’”

Poehl said that SoRelle’s behavior “is a horrible look. We just hate it for our profession. We hate it for her, too. She had a reputation as a competent, coherent person, decent to work with.”

The divorce and the descent into QAnon, Poehl said he believes, led SoRelle “down a rabbit hole and she has not appeared able to escape it.”

Like Baker and Poehl, Elaine and Hyde also fear that SoRelle might have fallen victim to mental illness.

Hyde told the HCN in 2022 that he sometimes received angry messages from people who thought that SoRelle still worked at his law firm and that he shared her beliefs. When they provided valid phone numbers or email addresses, he responded.

In one message, Hyde said, a man asked if the law firm is made up of “treasonous terrorists” and “white supremacists.” In another, a woman asked if everyone at Hyde’s law firm is an Oath Keeper.

In his response to the woman, Hyde stated that SoRelle had not worked at the law firm for more than a year and a half and that her ex-husband, who was still with the firm, divorced her “due to her activities and possible mental illness.” He referred to Jeremy SoRelle as “an excellent attorney” and wrote, “More importantly, he’s an excellent father to their four children, and those kids definitely need a strong and stable parent in their lives right now.”

He stated that Kellye SoRelle “started down this path” around the time the pandemic hit and “unfortunately, as much as we all tried to help her, it became very obvious that she was beyond any help we could give her.”

Poehl and Elaine told the HCN in 2022 that it was their understanding that people had contacted the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) about Kellye SoRelle. The organization provides confidential help to lawyers struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, but it “requires the cooperation of the person to really go anywhere,” Poehl said.

As for the State Bar of Texas, Poehl said it has “a reputation for toothlessness.”

Elaine said she feels that SoRelle’s unhappiness in her marriage and the move from Cameron County may have left her with a need to feel important to someone, which left her vulnerable to dangerous influences. Elaine does not want the woman she has known for many years to be “demonized” by those who never knew the person she used to be.

Poehl said he feels that SoRelle’s mental health issues are likely “severe,” but he also sees the need for accountability.

“Something’s got to be done,” he said, “because when you’re that crazy and out there, somebody’s got to take away the microphone because it feeds the masses of the untreated mental health problems that are out there. It’s throwing fuel on a fire.”