Oath Keepers leader said Trump 'will need us and our rifles', US court hears

FBI special agent gives evidence and shares messages Stewart Rhodes sent in the months before insurrection

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Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes began planning to resist the result of the 2020 US presidential election days after the vote, telling followers that Donald Trump “will need us and our rifles”, an FBI witness testified on Tuesday.

Mr Rhodes and four others — Thomas Caldwell, Kenneth Harrelson, Kelly Meggs and Jessica Watkins — are on trial in federal court in Washington, accused of conspiring to prevent Congress from certifying the electoral victory of President Joe Biden in a failed bid to keep Mr Trump, a Republican, in power.

On Tuesday, the second day of the trial, FBI Special Agent Michael Palian read to the court messages that he said Mr Rhodes had sent to his followers on November 7, 2020, around the time media outlets were calling the race for Mr Biden, in which Mr Rhodes said that “the coup isn't over” and that Mr Biden's fellow Democrats would also “steal” a majority in the Senate.

“Think of all our Founding Fathers did to defy and resist the abuses of King George and Parliament,” Mr Palian, the government's first witness, cited Mr Rhodes as saying in an encrypted Signal message that referenced the leaders of the American Revolution who overthrew British colonial rule.

“Trump has one last chance, right now, to stand. But he will need us and our rifles,” Mr Rhodes said, according to Mr Palian's evidence.

In their opening statement on Monday, prosecutors told a jury that Mr Rhodes and the other accused had plotted to do whatever it took to prevent the transfer of presidential power.

Defence lawyers said the Oath Keepers were a peacekeeping group and vowed the evidence would show that the accused had done nothing illegal.

Mr Palian, giving evidence for a second day, said Mr Rhodes had organised an Oath Keepers conference call on November 9, 2020, during which he told members their mission was to go to Washington.

“We're very much in exactly the same spot that the Founding Fathers were in, like, March 1775,” Mr Rhodes said on the call.

He also said on the call that Mr Trump should invoke the Insurrection Act, Mr Palian testified. The Insurrection Act is a law that empowers the president to use the military to suppress civil disorder.

“And to get him to do that, he has to know that the people are behind him, and that he will not be deserted,” Mr Rhodes said on the call. “So we've got to be in DC.”

Trump supporters stormed the Capitol after the former president falsely claimed the election had been stolen from him through widespread fraud. Five people died during or shortly after the riot, and about 140 police officers were injured.

The five on trial face numerous felony charges, including seditious conspiracy — a Civil War-era statute that is rarely prosecuted and carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The government and extremist-monitoring groups have characterised the Oath Keepers as a far-right, anti-government group, some of whose members have ties to militias. Mr Rhodes, a Yale-educated lawyer and former US Army paratrooper, has disputed that characterisation.

Updated: October 04, 2022, 10:15 PM
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