Politics

“The final defense is us and our rifles”: Oath Keepers leaders talked of taking up arms days after Biden’s victory

Washington – In the days after media outlets calculated that Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election, prosecutors allege members of the far-right Oath Keepers group, including founder Stewart Rhodes, were making calculations of their own: how best to mount a resistance to Joe Biden’s presidency and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

FBI Special Agent Michael Palian — assigned to investigate the group’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack – told a Washington, D.C., jury on Tuesday that records and text messages from Nov. 9, 2020, show that Rhodes and other Oath Keepers convened a call to discuss where their fight would go next. 

Attributing Biden’s victory to unfounded claims of voter fraud, Rhodes allegedly stated that the voter fraud was an “insurrection that needed to be suppressed.” 

Rhodes and codefendants Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, Thomas Caldwell and Kelly Meggs are on trial for numerous felony counts including seditious conspiracy, the most serious charge so far levied in the Justice Department’s Jan. 6 probe. All have pleaded not guilty. 

In a recorded portion of the Nov. 9, 2020 call played in court on Tuesday, Rhodes allegedly told attendees, “You gotta be willing to go to D.C. and street-fight Antifa…If the fight comes, let the fight come.” They were allegedly planning to be in Washington, D.C. for a rally in support of Donald Trump on Nov. 14, according to the FBI agent. 

“I’m willing to sacrifice myself for that…Let the fight start there,” Rhodes said on the recording. “That would give President Trump what he needs.” 

Prosecutors allege that the Oath Keepers were hoping that the former president would invoke the Insurrection Act, a centuries-old statute that calls upon citizens to stand up as members of an armed militia and fight. Violence in the streets, Rhodes contended on the call, would have given  Trump that opportunity. Defense attorneys agree that that was the hope of the Oath Keepers, but they maintain that the members of the group did little wrong, since Trump never invoked the act.

In a text message sent to alleged Oath Keepers leaders around the same time – days after the 2020 election – Rhodes is accused of writing, “The final defense is us and our rifles,” indicating that if Trump failed to act, the Oath Keepers would step in. 

The text messages, extracted by investigators from the defendants’ phones in the months after the Jan. 6 attack, were shown to the jury Tuesday. 

In other texts, Meggs is accused of writing to an uncharged individual that they could amass weapons and supplies in nearby Virginia, where firearms laws are less strict, and respond to Washington, D.C., if Trump were to call upon them — and “not a minute sooner.” 

“If it gets bad, a QRF for us with weapons to us,” read a text message written by Meggs and presented Tuesday. Prosecutors allege that it alludes to so-called “Quick Reaction Forces” the Oath Keepers planned on bringing to the D.C. area both before and during Jan. 6.  

Defense attorneys say the Oath Keepers’ attention to firearms laws in the area and their reliance on the hope of the Insurrection Act prove the defendants’ intended to abide by the law.

But in opening arguments on Monday, prosecutors told the jury that Rhodes, Meggs, and their codefendants planned and briefly carried out a rebellion against their government, one that targeted the peaceful transfer of power from then-President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden.  

The five defendants are part of a group of nine alleged Oath Keepers who are accused of seditious conspiracy — resisting by force the proper function of government. 

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