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Nov 18, 2022
Oath Keeper ‘Called for War’ to Oppose Biden’s Election, Prosecutor Tells Jurors
(Bloomberg) -- Oath Keepers’ founder Stewart Rhodes “called for war with all of its horrors and all of its violence” as the “architect” of a conspiracy to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power that included the US Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, a federal prosecutor told a Washington jury.
“On Jan. 6 our democracy was under attack,” Assistant US Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy said during closing arguments Friday in the trial of Rhodes and four others on seditious conspiracy charges. “For these defendants, it was ‘everything we trained for.’”
Rakoczy cited testimony by Rhodes during the seven-week trial to show that he was serious in his calls to oppose the government by force. She argued that Rhodes and his co-defendants believed they were “self-anointed” to uphold their version of the election and the law. For example, Rakoczy said Rhodes wanted Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to let the military and militia throw out the election results, in which President Joe Biden beat his predecessor Donald Trump.
“Mr. Rhodes told you in his own words he was prepared to start a rebellion the day that Biden took office,” Rakoczy said. “Rhodes admitted on that stand that is what he was going to do. What that tells you is that he was serious.”
James Bright, a defense lawyer for Rhodes, told jurors Friday that the evidence and testimony from 50 witnesses showed no plan to stop the transfer of power or attack the Capitol. He argued the Oath Keepers lacked coordination and suggested that members were “either the Keystone Cops of Insurrectionists or there was no Insurrection.”
Each defendant’s attorney will have the opportunity to present closing arguments.
The trial is the first involving seditious conspiracy, the most serious charges to come out of the Justice Department’s expansive investigation into the Capitol riot. The attack by thousands of Trump supporters resulted in 140 police officers assaulted and more than $2 million in damage on the building. It occurred as Congress met to ratify the presidential election results.
The government solicited testimony from witnesses, including FBI agents, a civilian who recorded a meeting with Rhodes after the riot and two Oath Keepers who pleaded guilty to conspiracy. To win a conviction, prosecutors must convince jurors that two or more people conspired to stop the transfer of presidential power.
For weeks, the government displayed chat messages, video footage and call logs to show coordination between defendants -- Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell -- before, during and after the attack. Government evidence showed some of them traveling together, stashing weapons in a Virginia hotel and breaching the Capitol in a single file line.
Defense attorneys have denied there was any plot to stop Biden from becoming president, claiming that their clients traveled to Washington to provide security for prominent individuals during pro-Trump events. They argued that the firearms were intended for an emergency situation such as an attack by left-wing activists or if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act, which gives the president authority to mobilize armed forces. The defense team presented testimony from both government and defense witnesses that no explicit plan was communicated to attack the Capitol or stop the transfer of power.
But two Oath Keepers who pleaded guilty to conspiracy testified that a plan to act could be implied from violent messages from members in the group.
Bright highlighted on Friday to jurors that both of those Oath Keepers had testified that their decision to enter the building was spontaneous rather than based on orders.
Civil War Warning
During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence of Rhodes warning of a civil war and threatening to act if Trump didn’t do his duty to stop what he saw as an illegitimate Biden regime. Rhodes had repeatedly called for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act.
“It was horribly heated rhetoric. That is not indicative of an agreement,” said Bright during closings.
While Rhodes never entered the Capitol building, the government showed him calling for Oath Keepers to meet him on Capitol grounds during the riot.
Rhodes, who testified in his own defense, has sought to distance himself from the other defendants, claiming that he was uninvolved in the stockpiling of firearms in a Virginia hotel and calling some of the Oath Keepers “stupid” for entering the Capitol building.
To rebut that claim, Rakoczy on Friday showed jurors a time line of the Capitol siege. Before some Oath Keepers entered the building, Rhodes said he didn’t see Trump taking action, and that the patriots would take matters into their own hands. Based on past remarks by Rhodes, co-conspirators knew that since the president and vice president didn’t stop the election, that it was their call to duty, Rakoczy said.
She also reminded jurors of a 90-second call between Rhodes and Meggs, shortly before the Florida Oath Keeper leader entered the building with others in the group. Rhodes had testified earlier that he couldn’t hear Meggs.
She said Rhodes’s explanation on the stand that he was protecting members from the riot by asking them to gather on the Capitol grounds made no sense. “If you were trying to protect someone from a riot situation would you bring them to the scene of the riot?”
Bright contested that Rhodes’s attempt to gather members was part of an effort to “re-group” for entering the Capitol. Rhodes didn’t know where the other Oath Keepers were or even his own location on the Capitol grounds, said Bright. “That is the worst coordination any general has ever had,” he said.
The case is US v. Rhodes, 22-cr-00015, US District Court, District of Columbia.
(Updates with comments from defense lawyer.)
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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