Stewart Rhodes, a U.S. Army veteran and founder of the Oath Keepers organization, took the stand on Monday to testify that he never planned for the group’s members to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rhodes, who is on trial for seditious conspiracy, told a Federal jury in Washington D.C. that he had no idea that some Oath Keepers members were planning enter the U.S. Capitol at all that day. Rhodes testified that he was not even present when the building was first breached.
“There was no plan to enter the building for any purpose,” Rhodes said, the Associated Press reported.
During his testimony, Rhodes said he was in a hotel room when he first learned that members of the Oath Keepers organization had entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, NPR reported. Rhodes testified that when he got a call from a member of the organization that people had entered the Capitol, Rhodes asked “who?” to which the Oath Keepers member on the other end of the phone told him “Trump supporters.”
Rhodes admitted he appeared outside the capitol later on in the day. Though Rhodes never went into the building that day, prosecutors have characterized his behavior as that of “a general surveying his troops on a battlefield.”
Rhodes testified to the jury that he believed then-President Donald Trump would have been within his legal right to invoke the Insurrection Act in response to what he believed to be an “unconstitutional” and “invalid” election in 2020.
While prosecutors have presented messages from Rhodes, such as that then-President Donald Trump “needs to know that if he fails to act, then we will,” Rhodes testified that rather than physically assaulting the Capitol building, he was instead focused on Trump’s legal options to contest the 2020 election results.
“All of my effort was on what Trump could do,” Rhodes said.
While he didn’t say what he expected Trump could do after invoking the Insurrection Act, Rhodes insisted he did not intend to disrupt the process to certify election results for Joe Biden on Jan. 6, 2021. Rhodes said he expected that Congress would certify the election results.
Rhodes also said one of his co-defendants in the seditious conspiracy case, Kelly Meggs, went “off-mission” when he entered the Capitol.
“I said that was stupid,” Rhodes testified, referring to Meggs’ actions.
Rhodes also characterized the storming the Capitol as a counterproductive move, saying it “opened the door for our political enemies to persecute us.” Rhodes said that’s exactly what has happened.
While Rhodes distanced himself from any plan to attack the Capitol, prosecutors have presented messages he sent about bringing weapons and noted his failure to expressly condemn the incident on Jan. 6.
Prosecutors presented messages Rhodes sent referring to the those who entered the U.S. Capitol as “actual patriots.”
Prosecutors also argued that rather than telling Oath Keepers to avoid the Capitol, he called them to the area on Jan. 6, 2021. Rhodes argued he was only communicating a meet up point for Oath Keepers to gather before leaving the area.
Prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy argued Rhodes never condemned the riot at the Capitol and noted a message he sent hours after the building was breached saying “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
During his testimony, Rhodes also pushed back against the allegation he had a so-called “quick reaction force” waiting in Virginia and ready to bring weapons into Washington D.C. The Oath Keeper’s founder said he was not in command of this quick reaction force (QRF), that he had delegated away most of the oversight of the Oath Keepers activities that day and that he warned members of the group to be careful about what they brought into D.C., considering the city’s strict gun laws.
It is unclear if or how this QRF ever became involved in the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
NPR reported that in her prosecutor’s cross-examination, Rakoczy showed Rhodes and members of the jury a message Rhodes sent saying he has overall command for the Other Keepers operations.
Two of Rhodes’ former followers who have already plead guilty to attacking the Capitol and who have cooperated with prosecutors in hopes of reducing their sentences, have testified against Rhodes during his trial. One of the Rhodes’ former followers said the group was indeed preparing to stop certification of the 2020 election results for Biden by “any means necessary,” including armed force.