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

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Four days after the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol, Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes tried to tell President Donald Trump that it was not too late to use paramilitary groups to stay in power by force, of according to testimony Wednesday in federal court. .

If he didn’t, protesters should “bring rifles” to Washington, and “we could fix it then and there,” Rhodes said during a taped meeting on January 10, claiming he had killed the Speaker of the House of 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 Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG). That organization played a key role in spreading false claims about the 2020 election through misleading and inaccurate reports about the voting machine software.

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

That apparent relationship is why Rhodes wanted to meet, Alpers said. He said he recorded the meeting to “provide information to President Trump” accurately. 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 horrific conspiracy against the US government. He was one of the last witnesses brought forward by prosecutors trying to prove that the actions of the Oath Keepers on January 6 were only one part of an effort to prevent any necessary means of the legal transfer of presidential power.

The Oath Keepers co-operative says it saw January 6 as a ‘Bastille-type’ moment

He was then an FBI agent showed Rhodes firearms, knives and tactical gear purchased after Jan. 6 — 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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Rhodes was hiding in Texas, according to prosecutors, when he met Alpers in an electronics store parking lot. Also present were Joshua James, an Oath Keeper who pleaded guilty, and Kellye SoRelle, an attorney who is romantically involved with Rhodes.

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

Rhodes told Alpers on the recording that if Trump left power “he and his family would end up dead,” because Biden would “turn the Sedition Act against us.” He compared the election to the overthrow of the Russian czar in 1917, after which the entire royal family was killed.

Alpers confirmed that Rhodes wrote a similar message to Trump: “You have to use the Sedition Act and use the power of the President to stop it. And all of us veterans will be supporting you and so will the vast majority of the military.”

Rhodes insisted that he was only advocating what he believed to be a lawful order from the president. But on the recording, Rhodes indicated that he and his followers would act violently even if Trump did not give his approval.

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

And if he had known on January 6 that Trump would never invoke the Sedition Act, Rhodes said, he would have gone further that day – including the assassination of a Democratic leader.

“If he’s not going to do the right thing, and he’s going to allow himself to be removed illegally, we should have brought rifles,” Rhodes says on the recording. “We could fix it every now and then. I’d hang f—— Pelosi from the lamppost.”

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Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, is currently in the hospital after being attacked by a man who officials say was trying to kill her.

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

But he said if Trump left office “everyone at the Capitol” would be at risk of being charged with “felony murder … because someone died.” SoRelle can be heard agreeing: “I know it’s going to happen.”

Felony murder applies when death occurs as a result of the commission of another felony crime.

On the recording, Alpers told Rhodes that he did not think Trump would invoke the Sedition Act. He asked that while the law was being discussed in “election fraud circles,” his opinion was based on the discussion in Trump’s “inner circle.”

Emails released Wednesday from Trump attorney John Eastman indicate that people close to the president discussed the matter. On December 19, 2020, Eastman told an unidentified correspondent to “get off this path,” because “it would lead to a constitutional crisis.”

Alpers said he didn’t give Rhodes’ words to Trump “because I didn’t agree with the message.” He also said he was concerned that being associated with these “extremist ideologies” would damage his “relationships and credibility.”

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

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

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

Waldron did not return a request for comment.

One ASOG report on software used in Antrim County, Mich., claimed to have found evidence of a major vote-fixing conspiracy. Independent experts and Homeland Security officials immediately dismissed the report’s central claims, but Trump claimed it was “absolute proof” of fraud that would keep him in office for a second term, said former attorney general William P. Top with congressional investigators.

Alpers said he didn’t do anything with the recording at first because he “didn’t want to get involved,” but met with federal law enforcement sometime in the spring of 2021.

“Wanting a civil war on the ground and the understanding of America, as a person who has gone to war, rightly so, means that there is blood to be shed in the streets where your people are,” he said. “It’s at that point that I step back and question whether it’s the best thing to push this on President Trump.”

Four days after meeting with Alpers, records show Rhodes told Oath Keeper leaders that “it is becoming increasingly clear that President Trump is not going to take the decisive action that we have urged him to take.” He urged the group to delete all communications related to January 6 and “mass gathering” against an “illegitimate regime.”

Texts read in court show that other defendants are responding enthusiastically, discussing possible weapons and fodder together.

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

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