Oath Keepers boss says he’s a patriot



Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes took the witness stand Friday in his seditious conspiracy trial, telling jurors he’s a patriotic American as he tries to counter allegations that his far-right extremist group deliberate an armed rebel to cease the switch of presidential energy.

Rhodes largely appeared relaxed, however at instances appeared to choke up, as he started his testimony after prosecutors spent weeks laying out proof they are saying proves Rhodes was behind a violent plot to maintain Democrat Joe Biden out of the White House and Republican Donald Trump in.

Rhodes’ choice to testify carries dangers for him, opening the best way for intense cross-examination from prosecutors, who will get a likelihood to query him after the trial resumes subsequent week. Rhodes has but to get into the small print of Jan. 6, when his followers pushed by a mob of Trump supporters to storm the Capitol in military-style stack formation.

Rhodes, carrying a darkish swimsuit and tie, confronted jurors as he described his navy expertise and choice to start out the Oath Keepers in 2009. Rhodes, whose stint as an Army paratrooper was lower quick by a coaching accident, stated he considers himself a patriotic particular person.

“You love your nation?” Rhodes’ legal professional requested him.

“Absolutely,” Rhodes responded.

Rhodes portrayed the Oath Keepers as peaceable and disciplined regardless of a mountain of proof exhibiting him rallying his band of extremists to arrange for violence and discussing the prospect of a “bloody” civil warfare forward of Jan. 6. Asked whether or not he believed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, Rhodes falsely described Biden’s victory as “unconstitutional” and “invalid.”

“You actually cannot have a winner of an unconstitutional election,” Rhodes stated.

Rhodes’ trial is the largest take a look at to this point for the Justice Department’s efforts to carry accountable these chargeable for the assault on the Capitol, a violent assault that challenged the foundations of American democracy.

Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and his co-defendants are the primary individuals arrested within the Jan. 6 assault to face trial on the cost of seditious conspiracy. The Civil War-era cost, which carries a sentence of as much as 20 years behind bars upon conviction, is never introduced and could be laborious to show.

The others on trial are Kelly Meggs, chief of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers; Kenneth Harrelson, one other Florida Oath Keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group.

Over a month of testimony, prosecutors sought to indicate that the riot for the Oath Keepers was not a spur-of-the-moment protest however a part of a severe, weekslong plot to cease the switch of energy.

Rhodes’ attorneys have signaled they are going to mount a novel protection with Trump on the middle. Rhodes is predicted to argue that his actions main as much as Jan. 6, 2021, have been in anticipation of orders he anticipated from Trump. Those orders by no means got here.

On the stand Friday, Rhodes described Oath Keepers’ occasions within the fall of 2020 earlier than the election. After the election, he issued a “name to motion” for the “Million MAGA March” in Washington on Nov. 14. Oath Keepers supplied safety for occasion audio system and Trump supporters who requested for his or her assist, Rhodes stated.

Rhodes stated the Oath Keepers supplied safety at Trump rallies, with unarmed members contained in the safety perimeter and armed members on standby exterior to escort Trump supporters and defend them from attainable assaults from antifa activists.

He tripped up at one level when discussing protests, some which turned violent, after George Floyd’s 2020 killing. Rhodes stated he helps “their proper to riot” earlier than rapidly correcting himself to say he helps their proper to protest, not riot.

Rhodes received emotional at instances throughout his testimony. He appeared to choke up as he recalled watching the Sept. 11, 2001, terror assault unfold on TV whereas he was a pupil at Yale La School, and as he talked about how navy veterans typically come residence and wrestle to seek out a new goal for his or her lives.

The portrayal of the Oath Keepers as disciplined contrasts with testimony on Thursday about Rhodes’ management in the course of the Million MAGA March in November of 2020. Watkins’ fiance, Montana Siniff, described it as “very disorganized” and instructed jurors he didn’t himself return to Washington on Jan. 6 partially as a result of he didn’t need to “repeat that have.”

Prosecutors say Rhodes started plotting to overturn Biden’s victory as early as November 2020. Messages proven to jurors present him calling on his followers to battle to defend Trump and hold Biden out of the White House in any respect prices.

Jurors have heard that Rhodes spent hundreds of {dollars} on weapons, ammunition and different gear earlier than Jan. 6, and that Oath Keepers stashed a large cache of weapons known as a “fast response power” at a Virginia lodge. The weapons have been by no means deployed.

Defense attorneys say there was no plan to assault the Capitol. The Oath Keepers say they have been in Washington on Jan. 6 to not cease the certification of Biden’s win however to offer safety for right-wing figures akin to Roger Stone. Their attorneys argue the Oath Keepers repeatedly had a “fast response power” for occasions however the weapons have been meant for use solely to defend in opposition to assaults or if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act.

Rhodes’ attorneys have stated that his protection will deal with his perception that Trump was going to invoke the Insurrection Act to name up a militia and put down what the extremist group chief seen as a coup by Democrats.

Rhodes repeatedly referred to as on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act within the weeks main as much as Jan. 6, however Trump by no means did. Rhodes’ attorneys say he can’t be discovered responsible of seditious conspiracy as a result of he was merely lobbying Trump to invoke the regulation, which supplies the president huge discretion to resolve when navy power is important and what qualifies as navy power.

Prosecutors are anticipated to spotlight messages they are saying present that Rhodes was utilizing the Insurrection Act as authorized cowl and was ready to behave no matter what Trump did. In one message in December 2020, Rhodes wrote that Trump “must know that if he fails to behave, then we’ll.”


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