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Oath Keeper Leader: No Plans to Attack Capitol on January 6th


WASHINGTON (AP) — Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes told jurors Monday that his extremist group had no plans to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as he tries to clear his name in a sedition trial.

Speaking in his defense on the second day, Rhodes said he had no idea his followers were going to join a crowd of Trump supporters to storm the Capitol, and that he was upset when he learned some of them were.

Rhodes said he thinks it’s foolish for oath-keepers to go to the Capitol. He insisted that this was not their “mission”.

“There was no plan to enter the building for any purpose,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes is on trial along with four others in what prosecutors say was a plan to stage an armed rebellion to stop the transfer of presidential power from Republican Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden. The prosecutor’s office tried to show that for the sworn guards, the riots were not a spontaneous protest, but part of a serious week-long conspiracy.

Rhodes’ defense has largely focused on his idea that his rhetoric was aimed at persuading Trump to invoke the Sedition Act, which gives the president broad powers to decide when military force is needed and what constitutes military force. Rhodes told jurors he believed it would be legal for Trump to invoke the act and call the police in response to what he considered an “unconstitutional” and “invalid” election.

“All my efforts were focused on what Trump could do,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes did not specify what he would like the militia to do after being drafted by Trump. But he said disrupting voter certification was not one of his goals, and he expected it to be certified.

Prosecutors say Rhodes’ own words show he used the Sedition Act as legal cover and that he was going to act regardless of what Trump did. If they get a chance to question Rhodes this week, they are likely to highlight messages like one Rhodes sent in December 2020, in which he said Trump “must know that if he doesn’t act, then we will to act”.

Rhodes also touched on another key part of the prosecution’s case: the massive arsenal of weapons the Oath Keepers had at a hotel in nearby Virginia. Prosecutors say the weapons were part of a so-called rapid response force that the group could quickly deploy in Washington.

Rhodes claimed the weapon was not there for that purpose and said it would take a long time to load it into a vehicle to bring it into the city.

Rhodes did not enter the Capitol on January 6, and prosecutors described him as “a general inspecting his troops on the battlefield.” Rhodes said he simply went to the Capitol to find his Oath Keeper followers not on “security missions” protecting individuals like Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant. Rhodes said he didn’t even realize one of his men had walked into the Capitol until he saw him in an FBI photo.

Prosecutors have spent weeks methodically laying out evidence showing Rhodes and oath keepers discussing the prospect of violence before January 6 and the need to keep Biden out of the White House at all costs.

Among their key witnesses were two former followers of Rhodes, who pleaded guilty to the attack on the Capitol and agreed to cooperate with the investigation in the hope of receiving a lighter sentence. One told jurors that oath keepers were prepared to stop the certification of Biden’s election victory by “any means necessary,” including taking up arms.

The government did not bring to trial three jurors who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and entered into cooperation agreements with prosecutors. It is not clear why.

The defendants are the first among hundreds of people arrested during the Capitol riot to stand trial on Civil War-era charges that carry up to 20 years behind bars. The Justice Department last brought such a conviction in court nearly 30 years ago and plans to try two more groups on charges later this year.

On trial with Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, are Kelly Maggs, leader of the Florida chapter of Oath Keepers; Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath Keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led the Ohio militia group. In addition to seditious conspiracy, they have been charged with several other charges.

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