Oath Keepers Trial: Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers, testifies at the January 6 trial
Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers, told a court on Friday that he believed the 2020 election was “unconstitutional” and explained why he created his far-right libertarian militia.
Testifying in his own defense trial, Rhodes took the stand after federal prosecutors spent nearly five weeks arguing that he and four co-defendants committed a seditious conspiracy for their alleged role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Rhodes told jurors he feared the White House would be attacked by anti-fascists in the weeks after the election and expected then-President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to counter what he described as a “siege” by left-wing assailants. “Of course, Trump did not invoke the Sedition Act,” he admitted.
Rhodes is likely to be the only one of the five defendants in this trial to testify. The five were charged with seditious conspiracy – a Civil War-era crime that accuses defendants of attempting to overthrow, wage war against, or prevent the execution of US law. The last time federal prosecutors secured a conviction on charges of ua 1995 Trial of Islamic militants for plotting a bomb in New York.
In this case, the Justice Department alleges that Rhodes, along with co-defendants Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell, attempted to stop a peaceful transfer of power during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. All pleaded not guilty. Defense attorneys claim the defendants were in Washington, DC that day as security personnel for a presidential rally.
Rhodes also argued Friday that the Oath Keepers’ primary role is apolitical and intended to provide voluntary disaster relief and security, citing the group’s presence in Ferguson, Missouri, and Louisville, Kentucky, during civil unrest protesting police killings of black Americans.
“[A local business owner] she gave us permission and so did her neighbors, different minority businesses,” he said, comparing the Oath Keepers to the male-only, white group Proud Boys. “I’m not like the Proud Boys who want to fight in the street Rhodes said.
According to Rhodes, the creation of Oath Keepers was an idea that grew out of his dissatisfaction with the civil rights policies of the Bush era following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. In particular, he challenged the treatment of enemy combatants, a designation created by the Bush administration that applies to detainees accused of supporting terrorist activities against the US
“A big push was what I learned in the Bush years, the enemy status of the combatant,” he said, citing his experience at Yale Law School and his time in the military. “In the military, they teach us about legal orders and illegal orders,” Rhodes said. The Oath Keepers was launched in April 2009.
With his testimony, Rhodes opened himself up to cross-examination by federal prosecutors next week, after his defense team finishes its line of questioning. The government is expected to press Rhodes on his private communications regarding Jan. 6, as well as the defendants’ actions inside the Capitol building on the day of the attack.
Of particular interest is the stash of firearms Rhodes and other Oath Keepers had accumulated in a hotel room in Virginia the night before, which the defendants claim was a precaution.
Rhodes claimed in testimony that similar caches, called “rapid reaction forces,” had been present at previous events for which the Oath Keepers had volunteered as security. Federal prosecutors allege that, in connection with the group’s communications, the intent of the Oath Keepers that day was armed rebellion against the actions of Congress.
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