Feds: Oath Keepers sought ‘violent overthrow’ of government

WASHINGTON — For weeks leading up to January 6, 2021, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four associates discussed using force to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and as rioters began to storm the Capitol, they saw one Opportunity to do so, a federal prosecutor told jurors Friday as the seditious conspiracy case came to a close.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy, in her closing argument before the jury after nearly two months of testimony in the high-stakes case, said Rhodes’ own words show that he is preparing to lead a rebellion to get Democrat Joe Biden out of the House to keep out of the White House. Rhodes and his co-defendants repeatedly called for the “violent overthrow” of the US government and took action on Jan. 6, she said.

“Our democracy is fragile. It cannot exist without the rule of law, and it will not survive if people unhappy with the results of an election can use force and violence to change the outcome,” Rakoczy said.

The final arguments began in federal court in Washington after the final pieces of evidence were presented in the trial alleging that Rhodes and his gang of anti-government extremists had been plotting for weeks to disrupt Republican Donald Trump’s peaceful transfer of power to Biden. Rhodes’ attorney tried to downplay his violent rhetoric leading up to Jan. 6, calling it a “venting” and insisting there was no settlement or conspiracy. Defense attorney James Lee Bright said Rhodes’ speech focused on convincing Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act over what he believed to be a stolen election.

Rhodes “didn’t hide his opinions, he didn’t hide any plans,” Bright told the jury. He was “as open as daylight with every plan he asked President Trump to come up with.”

Evidence presented by prosecutors shows Rhodes and his co-defendants discussing the prospect of violence and the need to keep Biden out of the White House in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 before stashing an arms cache described as a “rapid response.” Force” at a Virginia hotel across the Potomac River.

On Jan. 6, Oath Keepers wearing helmets and other riot gear were seen pushing through the pro-Trump mob and into the Capitol. Rhodes stayed out, like “a general surveying his troops on a battlefield,” a prosecutor told the jury. After the attack, prosecutors say, Rhodes and other oath-holders celebrated with dinner at a local restaurant. Defense attorneys have spent weeks feeding prosecutors relatively little evidence that the Oath Keepers had an explicit plan to attack the Capitol. Rhodes, who is from Texas, testified that he and his supporters were only in Washington to provide security for far-right figures like Roger Stone. Those Oathkeepers who entered the Capitol became apostate and “foolish,” he said.

Rhodes testified that the mountain of writings and text messages showing him rallying his band of extremists to prepare for violence and discussing the prospect of a “bloody” civil war ahead of Jan. 6 was just bombastic rhetoric .

Trying to refute suggestions that Rhodes’ rhetoric was just riotous, the prosecutor told the jury his messages weren’t “raging and raging” but “dead serious.”

“The way they determined themselves to be above the law is why they are here today,” she said. “The sense of entitlement that led to frustration, followed by anger and then violence — that’s the story of this conspiracy.”