Former Oath Keeper Testifies That Group Wanted ‘Armed Revolution’ On Jan. 6

·6 min read

A former spokesperson for the far-right paramilitary organization the Oath Keepers testified before the Jan. 6 House select committee on Tuesday that the group is “dangerous” and “violent” and that its leader, Stewart Rhodes, felt emboldened to lead an “armed revolution” at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

“I spent a few years with the Oath Keepers, and I can tell you that they may not like to call themselves a ‘militia,’ but they are,” said Jason Van Tatenhove, a former national spokesperson for the Oath Keepers. “They’re a violent militia.”

Tuesday’s hearing largely focused on former President Donald Trump’s close ties to right-wing extremist groups like the Oath Keepers, which played a major role in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) asked Van Tatenhove specifically about Rhodes’ rhetoric in the weeks leading up to the Capitol riot. 

“Stewart Rhodes implored President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, the 1807 law that allows the president to call up militias to put down a rebellion against the United States, and I want to get your thoughts about this in the context of your prior relationship with Rhodes,” Raskin said. “I understand that you had conversations with Rhodes about the Insurrection Act. Why was he so fixated on that, and what did he think it would enable the Oath Keepers to do?” 

Van Tatenhove replied that Rhodes wanted Trump to enact the Insurrection Act because it would’ve given the Oath Keepers “legitimacy” and a “path forward” and would’ve helped Trump stay in power. 

He also emphasized that Americans needed to understand how extreme the Oath Keepers are. 

“I think we need to quit mincing words and just talk about truths and what it was going to be was an armed revolution,” Van Tatenhove said. “I mean, people died that day. Law enforcement officers died that day. There was a gallows set up in front of the Capitol. This could have been a spark that started a new civil war, and no one would have won there. That would have been good for no one.”

“All I can do is thank the gods that things did not go any worse that day,” he said.

Stephen Ayres (left), who entered the U.S. Capitol illegally on Jan. 6, 2021, and Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers and close aide to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, are sworn before Tuesday's hearing of the House select committee investigating the U.S. Capitol riot. (Photo: Demetrius Freeman-Pool/Getty Images)
Stephen Ayres (left), who entered the U.S. Capitol illegally on Jan. 6, 2021, and Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers and close aide to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, are sworn before Tuesday's hearing of the House select committee investigating the U.S. Capitol riot. (Photo: Demetrius Freeman-Pool/Getty Images)

Stephen Ayres (left), who entered the U.S. Capitol illegally on Jan. 6, 2021, and Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers and close aide to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, are sworn before Tuesday's hearing of the House select committee investigating the U.S. Capitol riot. (Photo: Demetrius Freeman-Pool/Getty Images)

Van Tatenhove’s testimony came amid a presentation by the House select committee demonstrating the Trump administration’s extensive ties to the Oath Keepers. The group’s members have served as security for Trump adviser Roger Stone, and Rhodes was in an encrypted chat group with Stone and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, in the days before the Capitol attack. (Trump pardoned Flynn and Stone, who were major players in his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, before he left office.)

Van Tatenhove said that “the fact that the president was communicating, whether directly or indirectly messaging” with Rhodes before the insurrection, “kind of gave him the nod.”

Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers members were arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy for allegedly plotting violence on Jan. 6 to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. 

Federal investigators say Rhodes tried to communicate with Trump via an intermediary as rioters were storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. (The name of the intermediary is unknown.)

Van Tatenhove appeared before the committee wearing a jean jacket pulled over a black T-shirt for the band The Descendants. He explained that he first came into contact with the Oath Keepers in 2014 as an “independent journalist,” when he went to report on a series of armed standoffs between far-right militia groups and the federal government across the Western U.S.  

After developing a relationship with the Oath Keepers, he was offered a job running the group’s website and acting as its spokesperson, which he accepted. 

Soon after, Van Tatenhove recalled, Rhodes gave him an alarming assignment. 

“You may remember back to the conflict in the Middle East where our own military created a deck of cards, which was a who’s-who of the key players on the other side that they wanted to take out,” he testified, referring to the U.S. military’s list of alleged terrorists to kill in Iraq and Afghanistan. “And Stewart [Rhodes] was very intrigued by that notion, and influenced by it, and he wanted me to create a deck of cards that would include different politicians, judges, including Hillary Clinton as the Queen of Hearts.”

A video of Stewart Rhodes, head of the Oath Keepers, speaking during an interview with the Jan. 6 committee is shown at the hearing Tuesday. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)
A video of Stewart Rhodes, head of the Oath Keepers, speaking during an interview with the Jan. 6 committee is shown at the hearing Tuesday. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

A video of Stewart Rhodes, head of the Oath Keepers, speaking during an interview with the Jan. 6 committee is shown at the hearing Tuesday. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Van Tatenhove said he declined to do the assignment. He said he grew further disillusioned with the group as he saw it openly embrace white nationalism and “straight-up racists.” The breaking point came in a Montana grocery store, he recalled, when he heard Oath Keepers denying that the Holocaust happened. He says he left the group a short time later. 

When asked to describe the Oath Keepers’ vision for America, Van Tatenhove replied that it doesn’t include the “rule of law… it includes violence.” 

“It includes trying to get their way through lies, through deceit, through intimidation and through the perpetration of violence,” he said. 

At one point during the hearing, Raskin noted that the Department of Justice has evidence that the Oath Keepers brought firearms, tactical gear and explosives to Washington, D.C., ahead of the Jan. 6 attack. 

Van Tatenhove responded that “there was always the push for military training, including there were courses in that community that went over explosives training” in the Oath Keepers. 

“I think we’ve gotten exceedingly lucky that more bloodshed did not happen because the potential has been there from the start,” he told the committee. 

Van Tatenhove ended his testimony by saying he’s scared for the future of America.  

“I do fear for this next election cycle because who knows what that might bring if a president that’s willing… to whip up his followers using lies and deceit and snake oil, regardless of the human impact — what else is he going to do if he gets elected again?” he said. “All bets are off at that point, and that’s a scary notion.” 

“I have three daughters,” he added. “I have a granddaughter, and I fear for the world that they will inherit if we do not start holding these people to account.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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