Last Friday marked the end of the first week of the seditious conspiracy trial of five members of the fascist Oath Keepers militia.
Besides the group’s founder, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, former Army Private Jessica Watkins, former Navy Commander Thomas Caldwell, former Army Private Kenneth Harrelson and Kelly Meggs, Chapter Leader of Florida of the Oath Keepers, are judged.
All defendants have pleaded not guilty to the Civil War-era charge, which carries a 20-year prison sentence. The defendants also face felony charges of conspiring to prevent certification of the election. If found guilty, they all face decades in prison.
By presenting a compelling case that Rhodes and the others hatched a plan to travel to Washington D.C. and engage in violence to prevent Congressional certification of the 2020 presidential election and keep Donald Trump in power, prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DoJ) presented text messages, audio recordings, phone calls and statements from FBI agents, as well as testimony from three former oath keepers.
Each day of the trial, prosecutors highlighted communications between Rhodes and Trump’s longtime political crony — and honorary member of the Proud Boys militia — Roger Stone.
During the first days of the trial, prosecutors interviewed FBI agent Michael Palian. Palian testified to text messages sent by Rhodes to the encrypted “FOS” (“Friends of Stone”) chat group on November 7, 2020, the day Joe Biden was declared the winner by major media outlets. In the messages, Rhodes asked the group, “What’s the plan? We have to ride.
Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper, former Republican Rep. Ron Paul congressman and Yale-educated lawyer, added, “I’m on my way to [D.C.] now with my Oath Keepers tactical leaders for a possible DC [operation] to reconnoitre leaders and make plans. I am available for a one-on-one meeting.
The Friends of Stone chat group is led by Roger Stone, who, like Trump, has yet to be charged with a crime more than 21 months after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Prosecutors said that during the group discussion, Rhodes presented a “step-by-step” action plan based on a video produced by Aleksandar Savić, a right-wing academic. In the video, Savić compares the 2020 US election to the 2000 election in Serbia, saying, “When they claim their fake victory, you need to start massive civil disobedience.”
Savić, however, said that was not enough and that Trump supporters needed to have the “stamina” to “go further”.
“Yes, I call you to violence, if that’s the only way. We do not care? Yes. Here: taboo, broken.
After presenting a plan to the FOS group that mirrored Savić’s proposed plan, Rhodes wrote: “So are you going to step in and push Trump to FINALLY take decisive action?
Prosecutors presented an audio recording of an Oath Keepers online meeting held on November 9, 2020, two days after Rhodes texted “the plan” to the FOS group. The Oath Keepers meeting included over 100 band members, including leaders such as Rhodes and Meggs.
It was recorded by Oath Keepers West Virginia Section Chief Abdullah Rashid, a US Marine Corps veteran. Rashid testified at trial that he started recording the meeting because what he was hearing from Rhodes sounded like “we were going to go to war with the government of the United States”.
Rashid said Rhodes outlined a plan “to overthrow the US government and start shooting everybody and beating Antifa and beating [Black Lives Matter]. That’s what I understood. »
He said he continued to attend Oath Keeper meetings throughout November 2020 and with each meeting the violent rhetoric became more extreme. “It looked awful. I didn’t like what I joined,” Rashid said, according to CNN.
After the November 9 roll call, Rashid decided to leave the Oath Keepers. Worried that Rhodes and others were planning violence in Washington D.C., Rashid wrote an email to United States Capitol Police in November 2020 describing Rhodes as “a friggin wacko”.
Rashid testified that after failing to receive a response from Capitol Police, he sent a full recording of the Nov. 9 meeting to the FBI’s Whistleblower Line on Nov. 25, 2020. Rashid said, and the agent of the FBI Palian confirmed, that the agency did not seek to interview Rashid until two months after the January 6, 2021 attack on Congress, after Rashid returned the tape to the FBI.
In his testimony last week, Michael Adams, former coordinator of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers and organizer of the Nov. 9 virtual meeting, said he too had become disillusioned with the group as certification approached. January 6. Adams said he decided to leave the group after Rhodes issued two public letters in December 2020 calling on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and federalize the Oathkeepers as his personal militia to oversee the ” resumption” of the 2020 elections.
Trump previously threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act in June 2020 during mass protests against police brutality. Since the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the Oath Keepers have worked hand-in-hand with local police departments, from which they recruit heavily, to terrorize peaceful protesters against police violence.
In key testimony on Thursday highlighting the close ties between the Trump White House and the militia, another government witness turned oath-keeper, John Zimmerman, said Rhodes told him he had the phone number of a Secret Service agent he had previously told about a September 2020 Trump rally for which the Oath Keepers were providing “security.”
Zimmerman also testified that the Oath Keepers previously used “QRFs” (quick reaction forces) at pro-Trump rallies held in Washington in November and December 2020. It’s unclear what coordination the QRFs had with the Secret Service.
Zimmerman, the former North Carolina Oath Keepers chapter leader and a U.S. Army veteran, said the QRF on the Nov. 14 “Million MAGA March” had a stockpile of at least a dozen rifles and several handguns stowed in a van parked at Arlington National Cemetery.
Refuting the lie promoted by Trump-aligned politicians and complacent middle-class elements that Jan. 6 was merely an ‘uncontrollable’ protest, prosecutors focused on the former commander’s role of Navy Thomas Caldwell in the extensive planning of the attack.
They presented photos they said Caldwell took on “scouting trips” to DC between the November 2020 election and Jan. 6, 2021. Prosecutors say Caldwell provided Oath Keepers leadership with maps of the city and possible routes for the QRF to deploy to DC He is accused of offering his Virginia home as a base of operations and suggesting that the QRF use boats to transport weapons across the river Potomac to the capital.
Prosecutors say that in a Facebook post posted on January 6 after the failed coup attempt, Caldwell wrote, “If we had had guns, I guarantee you we would have killed 100 politicians. They fled and were swept into their underground tunnels like the rats they were.
While some members of the Oath Keepers parted ways with the group as Jan. 6 approached, other high-profile members of the group, including Rhodes and former Oath Keeper lead attorney Kellye SoRelle, continued to stand together. organize as part of Trump’s coup plot. the Friends of Stone discussion group. In addition to right-wing media figures and Republican operatives, the group included former Proud Boys president Henry “Enrique” Tarrio among its members.
Tarrio, like Rhodes, was charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in Trump’s failed coup. The trial of Tarrio, a known FBI informant, and four other high-profile members of the Proud Boys – Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola – is set to begin in December.
Last Thursday, 43-year-old Jeremy Joseph Bertino became the first member of the Proud Boys to plead guilty to seditious conspiracy. The former North Carolina Proud Boy was one of Tarrio’s top lieutenants. He agreed to testify against his former comrades in the hope of getting a reduced sentence.
Bertino participated in several Trump “Million MAGA March” rallies in November and December 2020. During December’s Million MAGA March in Washington DC, Bertino was stabbed, which prevented him from actively participating in the assault on the Capitol on January 6.
However, in his plea agreement, he said he was “continuing to participate in planning sessions as he recovers from his injuries,” according to a DoJ press release.
“As early as January 4, 2021, he received encrypted chat messages indicating that members of the MOSD leadership were discussing the possibility of storming the Capitol,” the DoJ said.
Bertino was part of the encrypted “MOSD” (Ministry of Self Defense) discussion group Proud Boys reserved for leading members. During the attack on the Capitol, Bertino sent a text message to the MOSD group stating that those in the Capitol should “form a spear” to enter the building.
After the attack on the Capitol, which left hundreds injured and multiple dead, Bertino messaged Tarrio, telling him, “You know we made this happen” and “1776 motherfucker.”
Bertino previously testified before the House Select Committee on Jan. 6. In a public hearing, the committee released a brief tape of testimony in which Bertino said Proud Boys membership grew “exponentially…probably tripled” after Trump ordered the group to “back off.” and stay away” during his September 2020 debate with Biden. .