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Oath Keepers leader says no plan to attack US Capitol

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Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, is seen on a screen in June 2022 during a Congress committee hearing to investigate the attack on the US Capitol./AFP
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Nov 08, 2022 - 06:58 AM

WASHINGTON — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes denied Monday in his sedition trial that his organization planned the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol, calling those who entered the building “stupid.”

He admitted under questioning by prosecutors that he has a history of opposing authorities and backing civil disobedience to the government.

But said he did nothing unlawful on the day supporters of then-president Donald Trump stormed the seat of the US Congress, and condemned those of his group who “went off-mission” and entered the building.

Rhodes, on trial with four others for conspiracy to mount an armed rebellion against the US government, rebuffed questioning from Justice Department prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy, who sought to show that, from President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the November 2020 election, he planned to bring his group to Washington to forcibly overturn the voting result.

The eyepatch-wearing Yale law graduate and former soldier told the court that about 100 members of his militia-like group were in Washington on January 6 only to provide security to rallies and rally speakers.

“It was not part of our mission for that day to enter the Capitol for any reason,” Rhodes said.

Rakoczy showed plentiful text messages between Rhodes and his followers that called for action if Trump himself failed to act to prevent the Congress’s certification of Biden as the next president on January 6.

She outlined a long history of Rhodes and his group showing up heavily armed at tense situations involving law enforcement, adding to the tensions.

And she noted he bought $17,000 worth of arms and ammunition on his way to Washington for the January 6 event, and had told followers that “the final defense is us and our rifles.”

‘Political persecution’ 

But Rhodes challenged Rakoczy repeatedly to prove that he specifically called for violent action on January 6, saying it was only a consideration for after January 20, the day Biden was inaugurated as president.

“This is the first time that we have had an election .. that was so blatantly unconstitutional,” he said, without explaining what was unconstitutional about it.

When he realized on January 6 that hundreds of people had stormed the building housing the US legislature, he said he tried to contact fellow Oath Keepers to stop them from taking part.

“I’m wondering where my people are. I didn’t want them getting wrapped up with all the nonsense with Trump supporters.”

Speaking in military terminology, he admitted that a number of Oath Keepers went “off-mission” to enter the Capitol.

He said that co-defendant Kelly Meggs, the head of the large Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, was “an idiot” for taking his people into the Capitol.

“I think it was stupid to go into the Capitol. It opened the door for the political persecution of us. And that’s where we are,” he told the court.

High-stakes trial 

The Justice Department opened the high-stakes trial on October 3 saying that Rhodes and the Oath Keepers “concocted a plan for an armed rebellion… plotting to oppose by force the government of the United States.”

Prosecutors have shown videos of the violent assault by dozens of group members dressed in military-style combat gear.

Halfway through, the trial is focused on the planning for January 6 by Rhodes and the Oath Keepers.

Prosecutors have avoided trying to show any links between them and Trump or his advisors, currently under separate investigations in Congress and the Justice Department over their possible roles in the January 6 uprising.

Carrying a potential 20-year prison sentence, the rare charge of seditious conspiracy is a gamble for the Justice Department.

Out of 870 people charged over January 6 so far, the government has reserved sedition for just a few dozen of the attackers, mostly members of self-styled militia groups.

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