Oath Keepers leader Elmer Stewart Rhodes asked to speak with Donald Trump on January 6: court filing
"I just want to fight," the Oath Keepers leader said after failing to get through to Donald Trump.
The group's leader, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, spoke about the potential need for force on January 6.
The new details emerged as a third Oath Keeper pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy.
On the night of January 6, 2021, the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers armed group tried to speak with President Donald Trump and directly implore him to call on groups to help stop the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's electoral victory, according to court records.
In a court filing Wednesday, prosecutors said Oath Keepers leader Elmer Stewart Rhodes gathered with members of the far-right militia at a Washington, DC, hotel and placed a call over speakerphone to an unidentified individual. During the call, "Rhodes repeatedly implored the individual to tell President Trump to call upon groups like the Oath Keepers to forcibly oppose the transfer of power," according to the court filing.
After the recipient of the call declined to connect him with Trump, Rhodes told the group, "I just want to fight," according to the court filing.
The court filing came in the case of William Todd Wilson, an Oath Keeper who pleaded guilty Wednesday to seditious conspiracy and obstruction of a congressional proceeding — a pair of felonies each carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison — in connection with the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Wilson on Wednesday admitted that he entered the Capitol on January 6 and later gathered with Rhodes just blocks away, in a suite at the Phoenix Park Hotel, where he overhead the Oath Keeper founder's phone call.
Prosecutors said Wilson, 45, conspired with Rhodes and other Oath Keepers to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in January 2021. The plan included a cache of weapons stored in a hotel just outside Washington, DC, and so-called "quick reaction force" teams prepared to forcibly halt the certification of Biden's victory.
Wilson agreed as part of the plea deal to cooperate with the Justice Department's ongoing investigation into the January 6 insurrection and, if necessary, testify before grand juries and at future trials.
His lawyer declined to comment Wednesday.
The revelation of Rhodes' attempt to contact Trump offers insight into ties between the Oath Keepers and members of the then-sitting president's orbit. On the morning of January 6, Trump's longtime political ally Roger Stone appeared outside a hotel in Washington, DC, flanked by members of the Oath Keepers militia.
In previous court filings, Rhodes indicated himself that the Oath Keepers were awaiting some official action from Trump in the aftermath of January 6. Rhodes' lawyers said in a February court filing "that there was a belief that President Donald Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, necessitating a need for militias and other groups to defend that declaration" ahead of the inauguration set for January 20, 2021.
"When that invocation did not come, Rhodes took no action, before or after, that could be considered seditious by any rational observer," Rhodes' lawyers said.
The Insurrection Act allows the president to order the US military and National Guard troops to respond to rebellions inside the US, and does not pertain to armed civilian groups like Oath Keepers.
With his guilty plea Wednesday, Wilson became the third Oath Keeper to admit to engaging in a seditious conspiracy.
Brian Ulrich, 44, pleaded guilty last week to seditious conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, as part of a deal requiring him to provide "substantial assistance" to the Justice Department. Ulrich had been indicted in January along with 10 others, including Rhodes, on charges they coordinated a wide-ranging plot to forcibly impede the certification of the 2020 election results.
In March, Joshua James pleaded guilty as part of a similar deal with the Justice Department requiring him to cooperate with the January 6 investigation.
The seditious conspiracy charge is perhaps the most significant prosecutors have brought in the nearly 800 criminal prosecutions stemming from the January 6 attack on the Capitol. In the months since the insurrection, multiple members of the pro-Trump mob have pleaded guilty to charges related to the Capitol siege, and prosecutors have secured guilty verdicts in each of the four jury trials related to January 6.
In the new court filing, prosecutors said Wilson heard Rhodes discuss on multiple occasions the potential need to s to "engage in force, up to and including lethal violence, in order to stop the transfer of power."
Prosecutors have alleged that Rhodes and other Oath Keepers began plotting to oppose Biden's victory shortly after the 2020 election. Rhodes communicated directly over an encrypted messaging app with Wilson, whom prosecutors described as a "military and law enforcement veteran."
In one phone call, Rhodes confirmed Wilson's hotel accommodations and urged him to "come prepared," prosecutors said in the court filing. Based on that directive, prosecutors said, Wilson drove from North Carolina to Washington, DC, with an AR- 15-style rifle, a 9-millimeter pistol, about 200 rounds of ammunition, body armor, a camouflaged combat uniform, pepper spray, a pocketknife, and a large walking stick intended for use as a weapon."
Weeks earlier, on November 9, Wilson dialed into a "national call" Rhodes organized in which he outlined a plan to stop the certification of Biden's victory and urged other Oath Keepers to join him.
"You're from Oath Keepers. You got a responsibility and duty. You raised your freaking right hand. You swore that oath . . . You got to fight," Rhodes said, according to the court filing.
On Wednesday, Wilson raised his right hand as he was placed under oath and admitted to the facts laid out in the court filing.
"Are you pleading guilty because you are, in fact, guilty?" Judge Amit Mehta asked him.
"Yes, your honor," he replied.
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