Stewart Rhodesthe founder of the Oath Keepers, spoke in his own defense on Friday in the most important trial to date on the January 6 insurgency. Suffice it to say that he didn’t hesitate to spread deranged conspiracies on the election 2020 this helped fuel the deadly violence, though he seemed to stumble along the way.
“I’m ready to go,” Rhodes said in DC federal court, before launching into his personal story and his decision to start the far-right militia group.
His decision to testify comes after prosecutors spent weeks arguing that Rhodes and his fellow Oath Keepers spent months planning “an armed rebellion to smash a foundation of American democracy” in a vain attempt to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
Rhodes and four other members pleaded not guilty to seditious conspiracy, a rare charge dating back to the Civil War and carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. On Friday, Rhodes confirmed he was unhappy with the election and believed it was “unconstitutional”.
“It made it invalid,” he said. “And you really can’t have a winner of an unconstitutional election.”
“That would mean Donald Trump was not the winner either,” Rhodes added.
Prosecutors allege the plan to disrupt democracy began just days after Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election. For months, oath keepers allegedly sparred, discussed the need to do the war and even allegedly stockpiled weapons that would be held outside the DC area on Jan. 6 in case Trump invokes the Insurrection Act.
“Their objective was to stop the legal transfer of presidential power by any means necessary, including taking up arms against the United States government,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said in opening statements. “They didn’t go to the Capitol to defend or help; they went to attack.
For weeks, prosecutors showed jurors text messages, audio recordings and surveillance footage to demonstrate how far oath keepers allegedly went to execute their plan. On Wednesday, jurors listened to a recording of Rhodes four days after the uprising, where he is heard admitting that his only regret was not bringing guns to the Capitol.
“We could have fixed it on the spot. I would hang Pelosi from the lamp post,” Rhodes said.
Defense attorneys for the five individuals insist the group committed no crime at the Capitol and that Rhodes did not even enter the building. On trial with Rhodes is Kelly Meggs, a Florida Oath Keepers chapter chief; Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy intelligence officer; member Kenneth Harrelson; and Jessica Watkins, who led a militia group in Ohio.
Federal authorities have described the Oath Keepers group as “a vast but loosely organized collection of [the] militias who believe the federal government has been co-opted by a dark conspiracy trying to disenfranchise American citizens” and who are massively recruiting ex-military, law enforcement and first responders.
Rhodes told jurors on Friday several reasons why he founded the Oath Keepers, ranging from his anger at the George W. Bush era to helping veterans learn they don’t have to blindly obey the constitution. .
“I wanted to make sure they knew where the lines were and their duty to say no,” he said.
Describing the group’s intended function, Rhodes denied characterizations that the Oath Keepers are extremists, insisting that its members simply want to support the protests.
Then he seemed to skid.
“I support the right to riot,” Rhodes said, before adjusting his wording: “I support the right to demonstrate.”