After a month of testimony, the government closed its case on Thursday in the seditious conspiracy trial against Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four other members of the far-right group.
The lawsuit is the largest to date in the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation into the January 6, 2021, deadly attack on the United States Capitol. Rhodes and the other defendants are accused of conspiring to use force to prevent Joe Biden from taking office as president.
The jury heard testimony from more than two dozen witnesses, including FBI special agents, United States Capitol police officers, former oath keepers, as well as two members of the group who took stormed the Capitol and later pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Jurors also saw tons of Signal chats, Facebook messages and other communications sent by the defendants, as well as videos and audio recordings that show what the defendants were saying and doing before Jan. 6, the same day, and then.
Rhodes and his alleged co-conspirators – Jessica Watkins, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell – are charged with seditious conspiracy, obstruction and other offenses in connection with Jan. 6.
Watkins, Meggs and Harrelson donned tactical gear and made their way up the Capitol steps that day and into the building. Rhodes and Caldwell were on the Capitol grounds, but did not enter the compound.
As part of the alleged conspiracy, prosecutors presented evidence that the Oath Keepers stashed guns in a hotel in Virginia just outside Washington, DC, for a quick reaction force to rush into the area. city on January 6, if necessary.
Prosecutors say the conspiracy did not end on Jan. 6, but rather continued until Biden’s inauguration. The government called in one of its last witnesses to present crucial evidence in this regard.
Prosecutors called Jason Alpers, a military veteran who now does software development in Texas, testified Wednesday that days after the attack on the Capitol, he met Rhodes and a few other Oath Keepers in the parking lot of an Oath Keeper. electronics in the Dallas area.
Rhodes wanted to send a message to then-President Donald Trump, which Alpers said he would be able to do “indirectly”. Alpers testified that he secretly recorded the meeting because he wanted to be sure he had an accurate recording of what was said to relay to the president.
Alpers said that during the meeting, Rhodes typed a message for Trump on Alpers’ cell phone, in which Rhodes urged Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to stay in power.
“If you don’t, then Biden/Kamala will turn all of this power back on you, your family, and all of us. You and your family will be jailed and killed,” Rhodes wrote in the message, which was shown to the jury. . “And we veterans will die in battle on American soil, fighting against traitors to whom YOU ceded all the powers of the presidency.”
Rhodes urges Trump to be the “savior of the Republic, not a man who delivered it to traitors and mortal enemies, who then enslaved and murdered millions of Americans.”
Prosecutors also released excerpts from Alpers’ recording of the meeting. In one excerpt, Rhodes can be heard saying, “If he’s not going to do the right thing and he’s just going to get himself kicked out illegally, then we should have brought guns. We could have fixed it on the spot. -champ. I’d hang f****** Pelosi on the lamppost.”
On the stand, Alpers told jurors he didn’t agree with Rhodes’ comments or message.
“Asking for Civil War to be on American soil and understanding, being a person who went to war, that means blood is going to spill on the streets where your family lives,” Alpers said. “That’s when I took a step back and wondered if it’s in the best interest to push this on President Trump.”
In the end, Alpers did not deliver the message to Trump. Instead, he provided the recording of the meeting along with the note Rhodes wrote to the FBI.
In their cross-examination of the government witnesses, the defense lawyers were able to score a few points.
When questioned, FBI agents testified that in the thousands of text messages sent by the defendants, they found no concrete plan – or order – to storm the Capitol. The two cooperating witnesses from Oath Keeper also said there was no specific plan to do so, although they testified that they understood they wanted to shut down Congress on January 6.
They suggested that all of the inflammatory rhetoric in the texts and posts was explosive, but largely just hot talk.
Now that the government has rested, the defendants will have the opportunity to present their own case.
It’s unclear how long the defense of the five defendants will take, but one thing is clear: Stewart Rhodes should testify on his own behalf.