Oath Keepers trial witness: Stewart Rhodes urged Trump to stay in power by force

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On January 6, 2021, four days after the riots at the US Capitol, Oath Keepers founder Stuart Rhodes tried to tell President Donald Trump that it was not too late to use paramilitary groups to stay in power by force, according to testimony in federal court on Wednesday.

If he hadn’t, the protesters “should have brought rifles” to Washington and “we could have fixed it right there,” Rhodes said during a Jan. 10 recorded meeting that he told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.). .

Rhodes made the violent comments at a meeting in Texas with Jason Alpers, who described himself on the witness stand as a military veteran and co-founder of the Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG). That organization played a key role in spreading false claims about the 2020 elections through misleading and inaccurate reports about voting machine software.

On the stand, Alpers said he had an “indirect” line to Trump’s “inner circle,” without elaborating.

This apparent relationship is why Rhodes wanted to meet, Alpers testified. He said he recorded the meeting to “provide information to President Trump.” What he found, he said, disturbed him enough to eventually go to the FBI.

Alpers took the stand in the sixth week of the trial for Rhodes and four others accused of participating in a treasonous conspiracy against the US government. On Jan. 6, he was one of the last witnesses to be called by prosecutors seeking to prove the Oath Keepers’ actions were part of an effort to block the president’s legitimate transition of power by any means necessary.

Oath Keepers Cooperator Says He Saw January 6 as ‘Bastille-Type’ Moment

It was Then on 6 January by an FBI agent. Then displayed the weapons, knives and tactical gear Rods bought — worth more than $17,000, according to testimony — and read messages in which the former Army paratrooper urged his followers to prepare for civil war.

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According to prosecutors, Rhodes was hiding in Texas when he met Alpers in an electronics store parking lot. Also present were Joshua James, an Oath Keeper who has pleaded guilty, and Kelly Sorrell, an attorney romantically linked to Rhodes.

As he said publicly before January 6, Rhodes has repeatedly said that Trump should use the Sedition Act, which he believes would allow militia groups to block President Biden from taking office.

Rhodes told Alpers on the recording that “he and his family” would “die” if Trump left office, because Biden would “turn the law against us.” He compared the election to the overthrow of the Czar of Russia in 1917, after which the entire royal family was slaughtered.

Alpers testified that Rhodes wrote a similar message to Trump: “You should use the Sedition Act and use the power of the President to stop it. And all our veterans will support you and so will most of the military.”

Rhodes has argued that he was only advocating what he believed to be a legitimate order from the president. But on the recording, Rhodes indicated that he and his followers would behave violently even if Trump did not allow them.

“Here’s the thing, we’re going to fight,” Rhodes is recorded saying. “We are not going to let them come and take our brothers. We are going to fight, the fight will be ours.

And if he had known on Jan. 6 that Trump would never use the INS Act, Rhodes said, he would have gone further that day — including killing the Democratic leader.

“If he’s not going to do the right thing, and he’s just going to allow himself to be illegally removed, then we should bring in the rifles,” Rhodes says on the recording. “We could have fixed it right then and there. I’ll hang Pelosi from a lamppost.”

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Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, is currently hospitalized after being attacked by a man who authorities say wanted to kill him.

Rhodes, in the recording, also called the riot “a good thing in the end” because it “shows people that we have a spirit of resistance.”

But he said that if Trump leaves office, “everyone in the Capitol” will be “at risk of being charged with felony murder … because someone died.” Sorrell is heard agreeing: “I know it’s going to happen.”

Criminal homicide applies when the death results from the commission of another felony.

On the recording, Alpers told Rhodes that he didn’t think Trump would enforce the sedition law. He testified that while the law was being talked about in “election fraud circles,” his impressions were based on discussions in Trump’s “inner circle.”

Emails released Wednesday from Trump’s attorney John Eastman indicate the topic was discussed by people close to the president. On December 19, 2020, Eastman told an unidentified reporter to “stay off this course,” because “it would lead to a constitutional crisis.”

Alpers said he did not convey Rhodes’ words to Trump “because I didn’t agree with the message.” He also said he was worried that his “relationships and credibility” would be damaged by being associated with these “extremist ideologies”.

Alpers told The Washington Post last year that as far as he knew, ASOG started his “election fraud project” after he left the company.

On a podcast last year, Josh Merritt, a former ASOG employee, said Alpers connected the group with Phil Waldron, who served in Afghanistan. “Alpers was a psychological operation. Waldron was involved in psychological operations,” Merritt said.

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Waldron, a retired colonel, visited the White House several times to share alleged evidence of election fraud; Trump worked directly with attorney Rudy Giuliani on legal challenges to the vote count and before January 6 circulated a PowerPoint presentation arguing that Trump could use the military to confiscate ballots.

Waldron did not return a request for comment.

An ASOG report on software used in Antrim County, Mich., claims to have found evidence of a widespread conspiracy to fix votes. The report’s central claims were immediately dismissed by independent experts and Homeland Security officials, but Trump claimed it was “absolute evidence” of fraud that would keep him in office for a second term, former Attorney General William P. Barr later told congressional investigators.

Alpers said he initially did nothing with the recording because he “didn’t want to be involved,” but he met with federal law enforcement sometime in the spring of 2021.

“Asking for a civil war on American soil and understanding, a person who has gone to war, right, that means blood will be spilled in the streets where your family is,” he said. “At that point I’m kind of pulling back and I’m really kind of questioning whether it’s in the best interest to push this on President Trump.”

Four days after meeting with Alpers, records show Rhodes told Oath Keepers leaders that “it is becoming regrettably clear that President Trump will not take the decisive action that we have urged him to take.” He urged the group to delete all communications related to January 6 and to “muster” against the “illegal regime”.

Texts read out in court showed other defendants reacting enthusiastically, discussing possible hiding places and weapons to gather.

Emma Brown and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

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