WASHINGTON — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes told jurors during his incendiary conspiracy trial Monday that other members of the far-right group that stormed the U.S. Capitol were “out of mission” and insisted he was not involved in an operation to forcefully oppose the federal government. government to oppose on January 6
“I had no idea a sworn officer would even think of going in or going in,” Rhodes said in his testimony in what has become a six-week trial for himself and co-defendants Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell.
During hours of testimony, Rhodes told jurors it was “stupid” to enter the Capitol because it “opened the door for our political enemies to persecute us, and that’s what happened, and here we are.”
Meggs, Harrelson and Watkins entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Rhodes said he was “concerned” on Jan. 6 that Oath Keepers would get caught up in “all the Trump support bullshit” around the Capitol and that he sent a message on the encrypted Signal app asking Oath Keepers to get together. at a spot near the Capitol for that reason.
“The goal was to make sure no one got caught up in that Charlie Foxtrot,” he said, using a military expression for “cluster f—.”
But when a pro-Trump mob stormed into the Capitol, Rhodes praised the “patriots” and compared their actions to those of the country’s founders, according to government evidence presented at the trial.
And just days after the attack on the Capitol, Rhodes said he thought they “should have brought guns.” He also continued to try to get President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and remain in office, speaking of his desire to “hang Pelosi on the lamppost,” evidence showed.
Rhodes began his testimony on Friday and was questioned Monday by assistant US attorney Kathryn Rakoczy.
“You’re the boss, aren’t you?” Rakoczy asked Rhodes.
“Not if they’re doing something outside of the mission that I’m sadly not in charge of,” he replied.
“Well, that’s handy,” Rakoczy said.
Tasha Adams, Rhodes’ estranged wife who filed for divorce in 2018, told NBC News on Monday that Rhodes would “fall apart” on cross-examination.
“I’ve never seen him suffer a consequence for anything,” Adams said. “He’ll wriggle out of it or he’d let me deal with it. … Now he’s there, he’s doing his thing, but it’s right after they played that awful, awful audio of the real him. So now this jury, they I see this side of him, but they must be fully aware of what a false sight it is compared to what they just heard.
“His biggest weakness is that someone confronts him with something, contradicts him, and he can’t shut it down immediately,” she added.
Rhodes stumbled upon parts of his testimony, even made some self-deprecating remarks about his weight and exposed his sexual relationship with Kellye SoRelle, the general counsel for the Oath Keepers, whom he accused of sending a message telling members of the organization to delete their communications.
Rhodes said he did not consider the Biden administration legitimized and that, in his view, the 2020 election was both unconstitutional and illegal. He also said he thought they might have to fight the government.
But a theme of his testimony was his claim that the fight would come later, after President Joe Biden took office.
“If he left, left office without exposing the corruption in our government, we would have no other choice, if need be, to fight,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said he and the oath officers were willing to walk the “founders’ path” but that even today he hopes conflict can be avoided.
“But having a government that goes outside the Constitution puts you in a bad position,” he said.
The trial continues on Tuesday, when the Rhodes defense team will call additional witnesses.