Prosecutors press Rhodes on inflammatory messages to fellow Oath Keepers
During cross-examination Monday in his trial on seditious conspiracy charges, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes likened his militia group to the patriots who fought in the American Revolution.
“We are finding ourselves in a situation similar to what the Founders found themselves in 1776,” Rhodes responded to questions from federal prosecutors about how the Oath Keepers’ role in the events surrounding the contested 2020 presidential election and protest led by then-President Donald Trump. “We were prepared to walk the Founders’ path.”
Under questioning from his own defense lawyer, Phillip Linder, Rhodes testified that he believed the election results naming Joe Biden the winner of the November 2020 election were “invalid.” He also denied that he had instructed Oath Keeper members to participate in the riot at the Capitol that sought to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power from Trump to Biden.
“I never had any plan or intention to have my guys try to prevent certification of election results,” Rhodes told the jury.
During cross-examination, Kathryn Rakoczy, one of the federal prosecutors in the case, used messages sent by Rhodes to undercut the defendant’s claims. In a Jan. 10, 2021, message sent by Rhodes, he posited that if Trump was “not going to do the right thing,” meaning invoking the Insurrection Act to prevent Biden from taking office, and “he’s just going to let himself be removed illegally, then we should have brought rifles” to the Capitol.
Rakoczy cited a statement Rhodes posted on the internet on Nov. 9, 2020, less than a week after the election. “We’re very much in exactly the same spot that the Founding Fathers were in like March 1775 ... and Patrick Henry was right,” the statement read. “Nothing left but to fight. And that’s true for us too. We’re not getting out of this without a fight. There’s going to be a fight. But let’s just do it smart and let’s do it while President Trump is still Commander in chief.”
Weeks later, on Dec, 29, Rhodes wrote a message to Kellye SoRelle, an Oath Keeper lawyer and close companion. “I’ll turn my attention to what i need to do as the founder and leader of Oath Keepers to prepare for what comes after Trump fails to do his duty,” he wrote in the message shown to the jury by Rakoczy. “But most of my focus will be on presuming he won’t. And preparing for the worst.”
Two days later, Rhodes issued another assessment that prosecutors say helped set the stage for the riot at the Capitol. “On the 6th they are going to put the final nail in the coffin of this Republic, unless we fight our way out. With Trump (Preferably) or without,” Rhodes wrote.
Witnesses and investigators have described how members of the Oath Keepers participated in the riot at the Capitol, forming a “stack” formation on the east side of the building and pushing their way inside. Rhodes, however, was not among the group that entered the Capitol.
“I think it was stupid to go into the Capitol. It was not our mission. If they had asked me, I [would have] said ‘Don’t,’” Rhodes testified Monday.
Prosecutors presented a message traced to a phone believed to be owned by SoRelle that they said had been sent by Rhodes to the group on Jan. 8.
“Stop chatter and listen. THIS IS STEWART. SO YOU SEE THIS MESSAGE? Do NOT chat about OK [Oath Keepers] members allegedly doing anything at capitol Go dark on that,” the message said. “Do not discuss.... Let me put it in infantry speak. SHUT THE F*** UP!"
Under questioning from Rakoczy, Rhodes acknowledged that he had been financially dependent on funds given to the Oath Keepers by donors, and that he used an Oath Keepers credit card to pay for travel, guns and food. When asked directly whether he regularly used the credit card for personal expenses, Rhodes replied, “I wouldn’t say that.”
Rhodes admitted, however, that some members of the Oath Keepers had raised questions about his use of the group’s funds, and that at least one member of its board of directors had resigned over Rhodes’s spending.
Three other Oath Keepers have already pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy charges, and another major trial of group members is scheduled to begin in December.