Stewart Rhodes testified in his own defense at his federal trial that he had no involvement in the planning of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and that members of the far-right group Oath Keepers who broke into in the building made a “stupid” decision.
Rhodes and four other defendants are charged with seditious conspiracy in the most serious criminal case to date involving the seat of government. Prosecutors presented hundreds of text messages and witnesses who linked the defendants to sometimes violent rhetoric about former President Donald Trump’s continued power.
When questioned by his lawyer, Rhodes denied having a plan to “disrupt the Capitol”, saying that “it was nowhere within the scope of the mission”.
Breaking down the building “opened the door for our political enemies to persecute us,” Rhodes said, and he said that’s exactly what happened, pointing to the trial in its sixth week.
Rhodes said no when his attorney asked, “You did not control, request, or have anything to do with” the forces waiting in Virginia to bring weapons to Washington, D.C. Rhodes said he had delegated most of the oversight of Operation Oath Keepers that day and warned band members to be careful what they brought to DC, given the city’s strict gun laws.
Rhodes also denied having any communications with fellow defendants Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell on January 6. He said other members of the group were in charge of communications. He denied being an Oath Keepers micromanager, as he was portrayed by government witnesses.
Rhodes testified that he was in a hotel room when he received a call saying the Capitol had been breached and he asked, “Who?” He said the caller, another oath-keeper, answered, “Trump supporters.” Rhodes said he then went to the Capitol grounds.
He said he called the Oathkeepers to meet at a central point, but that was to keep them out of trouble, not to attack the Capitol. He said he did not receive messages on his mobile phone related to the events of January 6 until the following day.
After the attack, Rhodes said, a woman he describes as his lawyer but prosecutors refer to as his girlfriend ordered the oath keepers to remain silent about their activities. Rhodes said the woman, Kellye SoRelle, acted alone when she told Oath Keepers to delete text messages and other material that might incriminate them.
Rhodes said he ignored her warning that law enforcement would soon appear on his doorstep, describing himself as a “dissident” whom authorities know where to find if they want him.
The government rested Thursday on the biggest case yet in the Justice Department’s investigation into the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Rhodes and the other defendants are accused of conspiring to use force to prevent Joe Biden from taking office as president.
The jury heard a month of testimony from more than two dozen witnesses, including FBI special agents, United States Capitol police officers, former oath keepers and two members of the group who took stormed the Capitol and later pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Rhodes and his alleged co-conspirators – Jessica Watkins, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell – are charged with seditious conspiracy, obstruction and other offenses in connection with Jan. 6.