Stewart Rhodes claimed Secret Service contact months before January 6 attack, former Oathkeeper testifies

WASHINGTON — The founder of the Oath Keepers indicated in the months leading up to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol that he was in contact with a member of the Secret Service, a former member of the far-right organization testified during a seditious conspiracy trial Thursday.

Former Oath Keepers member John Zimmerman testified that Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes told him he had a contact in the Secret Service, and Zimmerman said he overheard Rhodes speaking with someone who believed to be a member of the Secret Service in September 2020, just over three months before the January 6 attack. The reported call preceded a Trump rally in North Carolina, where Zimmerman was a county chief of Oath Keepers before leaving the organization.

Rhodes phoned the unknown to ask about “parameters” the oath keepers might operate during the rally, Zimmerman said. He said oath keepers attended the rally to escort participants from the rally site to their vehicles.

“From the questions Stewart — Mr. Rhodes — was asking, it looked like it might have been” a Secret Service agent, Zimmerman said.

In response to a request for comment, a Secret Service spokesperson told NBC News, “We know that members of the Oath Keepers have contacted us in the past to do some research.”

“As part of our mission to protect, we will establish a comprehensive security plan, including protocols for managing traffic and crowds at locations where a protected person needs to go,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “As part of this effort, it is not uncommon for various organizations to contact us regarding security restrictions and permitted activities near our protected sites.”

The spokesperson stressed that “regardless of organizational affiliation, no weapons of any kind are permitted inside any Secret Service protected site or location. Only sworn law enforcement officials who actively participate in the security plan are allowed to have weapons at these locations.

Another member of the Oath Keepers, one of three who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracytold the court that Rhodes attempted to contact Trump through an intermediary on the night of January 6 after the attack on the Capitol. It’s unclear who was on the other end of that Jan. 6 phone call. Another member of the Oath Keepers, Kellye SoRelle, was in contact with former White House aide Andrew Giuliani in November 2020, as reported by NBC News.

Zimmerman recalled going to a meeting of the Oathkeepers as they tried to revive a state chapter and being frustrated with a lack of organization. He ended up leading a county chapter of the Oath Keepers and traveled to the DC area with members of the organization to the Million MAGA Walk in November, after Trump’s electoral defeat.

Zimmerman testified Thursday in the trial of Rhodes and four other Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy: Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell. The trial — the Justice Department’s biggest challenge yet — is expected to last five or six weeks.

Image: Stewart Rhodes at the Capitol on January 6, in a photo presented as government evidence.
Stewart Rhodes at the Capitol on January 6, in a photo presented as government evidence.United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia

Rhodes frequently cited the Insurrection Act, according to evidence presented by prosecutors, and said in a November 2020 taped call that a “quick reaction force” with weapons stationed outside of DC for the November’s rally would only go to DC if Trump invoked the act to call militias to his aid, under an 1807 law that was supposed to help a president suppress a civil disorder, insurrection or rebellion. Zimmerman said he didn’t think Rhodes was necessarily in contact with Trump, but he thought Rhodes had a connection to the Secret Service and that’s how the oath keepers could find out that Trump invoked the Law on Intelligence. ‘insurrection.

Prosecutors said Rhodes’ references to the Insurrection Act in connection with Jan. 6 were nothing more than “coverfor the Oath Keepers conspiracy. Another former Oath Keeper, Michael Adams, testified on Thursday afternoon that he decided to leave the Oath Keepers in December 2020 after the group published open letters to Trump calling on the former president to invoke the Insurrection Act. One such letter stated that the Oath Keepers would have “mission-critical equipment stowed nearby just outside of DC, and we will respond to the call immediately, if you call us.”

Zimmerman testified at the test that he and other members of the North Carolina Oath Keepers fell out with the national chapter following the November trip.

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