On Monday, federal prosecutors had their first opportunity to cross-examine Stewart Rhodes, the founder and head of the far-right group Oath Keepers, who claimed he never directed its members to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Federal prosecutors spent nearly five weeks arguing that Rhodes and four co-defendants are guilty of seditious conspiracy for their alleged efforts to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from then-President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden. Rhodes testified in his own defense for a second day after federal prosecutors made their case for nearly five weeks. The defense attorney asserts that the Oath Keepers were volunteering as security guards in Washington, D.C. on the date in question, and all defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Rhodes stated that he did not realize until after the violence that Oath Keepers, commanded by co-defendant Kelly Meggs, had entered the Capitol building alongside rioting Trump supporters. Rhodes told the jury that Meggs’ actions were “dumb” and contrary to their mandate, which he claimed did not include operations on restricted premises. “Quite the contrary,” Rhodes stated. Our objective was to prevent anyone from becoming entangled in the Charlie Foxtrot encircling the Capitol. “Charlie Foxtrot” is slang meaning “clusterf***” in the military.
Prosecutors contested Rhodes’ description of the Oath Keepers’ objective by citing various texts and open letters written by Rhodes prior to January 6 that supported rebellion.
“We must now do what the people of Serbia did when Milosevic stole their election,” Rhodes said on November 7, 2020, citing advice he claimed to have gotten from an unknown Serbian videomaker. “Watch the video I uploaded above. This is the method. And it must occur IMMEDIATELY.”
Multiple times between the 2020 presidential election and the attack on the Capitol, Rhodes released open letters urging Trump to annul the previous election and order a new one under the supervision of the U.S. military. On the witness stand, Rhodes maintained his erroneous view that the 2020 election was “unconstitutional” and asserted that Trump could have delegated the Oath Keepers to reveal the nation’s leaders as pedophiles and Chinese Communist Party agents, echoing elements of the fake QAnon conspiracy.
“Either Trump invokes the Insurrection Act to fight the ChiCom puppet coup, or we will revolt against the ChiCom puppet Biden. Take your pick,” Rhodes wrote to other Oath Keepers in a December 2020 group conversation, erroneously suggesting that President Biden is a Chinese Communist Party agent.
During the trial, Rhodes also claimed that Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was “in part” untrustworthy due to his marriage to former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, a naturalized Taiwanese-American.
Later, prosecutors questioned Rhodes about messages sent by his fiancée and Oath Keepers attorney Kellye SoRelle, which purportedly reveal that she relayed his instructions to other Oath Keepers members, instructing them to conceal their text message histories after January 6. Rhodes denied instructing members to destroy their phone records, stating SoRelle operated independently.
After making sexually graphic comments in court, Rhodes said of SoRelle, “She can be a real pain in the neck at times.” After Rhodes’ statements, the presiding judge, Amit Mehta, had to refocus the courtroom. In this case, SoRelle is not on trial, but she has pled not guilty to obstruction of justice accusations.
Prosecutors also analyzed Rhodes’ orders to Oath Keepers during prior battles in Ferguson, Missouri, and Louisville, Kentucky, where out-of-state militia members had stationed themselves during public upheaval protesting police shootings of African Americans.
“Being upfront about wanting to break heads is what led to the prosecution of the Proud Boys,” Rhodes wrote regarding the groups’ activities.
The prosecution and Rhodes fought about the meaning of his texts. In contrast to the neo-fascist Proud Boys, he stated the Oath Keepers were really concerned about safeguarding property from anti-fascists. The government maintained that the group had a habit of inciting violence and claiming self-defense by entering unstable locations against the wishes of local law enforcement.
The government concluded its cross-examination by examining Rhodes’ claimed lack of remorse for the attack on the Capitol. When asked, Rhodes refrained from expressing sorrow for the incident, stating only that he was sorry for any harm caused to law enforcement officials. Four officers who responded to the attack on the Capitol committed themselves in the months that followed the riots.
Rhodes stated, “I believe that anyone who assaulted a police officer should be prosecuted.” “We [the Oath Keepers] have zero tolerance for anyone touching a police officer, unless you’re saving someone’s life, as in the case of George Floyd’s murder,”
The Department of Justice asserted contrary evidence exists by presenting a note written by Rhodes after law enforcement retook control of the facility. He wrote, “I hope [Trump] got the message.” “Patriots, it was a long day, but patriots began to stand on that day. Stand or kneel for eternity. Respect your oaths. Don’t forget your legacy
»Stewart Rhodes denies Capitol entry«