WASHINGTON – Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers, will take the stand Friday to defend the actions of he and other members of the right-wing militia group in relation to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
The Oath Keepers members face a series of charges related to the Capitol riot, including a rare seditious conspiracy charge.
In the government’s five weeks of argument, prosecutors painted the defendants as embattled extremists, bitter over the 2020 election outcome and willing to resort to violence to ensure former President Donald Trump remained in power.
Rhodes, they argued, led the charge. On Jan. 6, 2021, the Yale Law-educated, eyepatch-wearing leader of the group remained outside the Capitol “like a general overlooking a battlefield while his troops stormed inside,” prosecutors said in their opening remarks.
But Rhodes’ defense attorneys, and those of his four co-defendants, have said the government’s portrayal of the militia members is wrong.
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Evidence presented by the government revealed that the same day Joe Biden was named president-elect, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers began organizing in resistance. In a Nov. 7, 2020, chat on Signal, an encrypted messaging app, to other Oath Keepers that they must refuse to accept his nomination and get their “gear squared away and ready to fight.”
Two days later, more than 100 Oath Keepers met on a video call to plan their first trip to Washington for the Million MAGA March later that month, where thousands gathered to protest purported election fraud. No widespread election fraud has ever been found in the 2020 election.
Testimony from Jason Alpers, a military veteran and software company founder based in Dallas who said he “indirectly” had access to Trump, revealed that Rhodes tried to send a message to the former president just days after the Capitol riot, in which he urged the president to invoke the Insurrection Act and be a “savior” of the republic. The message was never passed along.
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In the second week of the trial, Rhodes called into a right-wing show to criticize the government’s case and suggest listeners be “willing to go to jail” for their beliefs.
“I think Americans need to lose their fear of being indicted or put in prison … But just like Nelson Mandela was willing to go to jail for life – he did 20 years – you have to be willing to do that,” Rhodes said in October on the InfoWars podcast “The American Journal.”
Origin of the Oath Keepers
The Oath Keepers were founded by Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper, in 2009. The group has since viewed themselves as a “protector” of civil liberties against a tyrannical government with which conflict is imminent, according to Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
“‘When all else fails, when the government lets you down, when there’s no one else there to protect you, the Oath Keepers are there’ – that was really their propaganda, their messaging in the early years of the organization,” Lewis said.
Over time, Rhodes’ own views grew more conspiratorial — and so did the group’s.
“By 2020, what you saw was a group that had gone from being vehemently opposed to the government – government agencies, representatives of the government – to almost being in lockstep with the messaging and the propaganda that’s coming out of mainstream right-wing spaces,” Lewis said.
Rhodes is the second witness to testify for the defenses, which began making their cases Thursday. At least one other Oath Keeper on trial is expected to testify.
Story Credit: usatoday.com