The Justice Department argues that the wealth of evidence it has amassed in its investigation of Jan. 6, including information seized right off of members' devices, has shown Rhodes to be at the center of plans to set up a weapons cache in northern Virginia ahead of Jan. 6.
He oversaw or was part of several group communications where Oath Keepers from multiple states discussed arrangements to procure everything from new recruits to weapons to transportation to military-style training.
In fact, at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, jurors heard how those coordination efforts were so successful that witness and Florida resident Terry Cummings came upon a spectacle that seared itself into his memory.
After he strolled into a Virginia hotel room on Jan. 4 where the group stockpiled weapons, he told jurors: “I had not seen that many weapons in one location since I was in the military.”
The hotel room, the Justice Department alleges, was where the self-stylized militia kept its “quick reaction force” or, in lay terms, its arsenal of weapons to be ready at a moment’s notice.
Cummings joined the Oath Keepers in 2020. He was upset over the rioting and clashing that had consumed parts of Oregon, his onetime home state. His relationship with the network blossomed when he first met defendant Kenneth Harrelson. He wouldn’t meet Rhodes until Jan. 6. Before that, he was included in some of the Oath Keepers group chats, though he never held any leadership position himself.
When talk quickened about going to D.C. on Jan. 6, Cummings said he was under the impression that Rhodes wanted members there so they could provide security to “VIPs” at the pro-Trump “Save America” rally at the Ellipse. Cummings said he met at least one of those VIPs. He could not recall her name but described her as a Latina woman. He also testified later that while he was asked to be on the security detail, he was not provided with any pertinent information about the protectee, not even a birth date or an emergency contact.
Cummings, though a veteran of the National Guard, admitted he had no security training, was not licensed to work as a security guard, and otherwise had no certification to do such work. But, he told jurors, he wanted to go to D.C. on Jan. 6 because he had never seen a sitting president before and it was “an opportunity to express my First Amendment rights,” he said.
Telling jurors that he left Florida on Jan. 4, Cummings recalled how he was joined by defendant Harrelson and another Oath Keeper, Jason Dolan. They stayed at a “rustic camp” in North Carolina with defendant Kelly Meggs, Meggs’s wife Connie, and a slew of other people. Cummings brought his AR-15 rifle.
But informed about the gun restrictions in D.C., Cummings would bring the gun no further than the hotel in Virginia.
Cummings is not charged with any crimes and he did not enter the Capitol on Jan. 6. He did, however, “observe” from just outside, he testified.
He saw Rhodes outside the Capitol and remembered him telling Oath Keepers, “Oh, just suck it up” when police attempted to repel the mob with chemical spray.
A couple of weeks before that on Dec. 14, Rhodes had made clear in a text what he wanted from his men.
“We armed Americans have one good trick left up our sleeve. It’s the same one Samuel Whitmore [sic] used long ago, right along with all the other farmers who fired the shots heard ‘round the world,” Rhodes wrote.
Samuel Whittemore, a nearly 80-year-old farmer, picked off British Redcoats in an ambush attack in 1775.
”May there be 10,000 Samuel Whitmores [sic] and a thousand Bunker Hills,” Rhodes wrote. “May the redcoats pay dearly.”
In addition to these messages, jurors also saw texts from Oath Keepers who pleaded guilty and ultimately flipped on the former ringleader.
In one message from Oath Keeper Brian Ulrich, Ulrich told Rhodes they would need to “unite the clans.” In particular, Ulrich referred to the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia group.
In another text from Dec. 20, 2020, Ulrich wrote to members in the Oath Keepers Old Leadership chat.
Rhodes had just published his first open letter to Trump demanding the 45th president invoke the Insurrection Act to raise the Oath Keepers to his side and help him reverse the “stolen” election. Ulrich lauded Rhodes for the Dec. 14 letter.
”Trump acts now maybe a few hundred radicals die trying to burn down cities. Trump sits on his hands, Biden wins, millions die resisting the death of the 1st and 2nd Amendment,” Ulrich wrote.
Oath Keeper Joshua James, who has already pleaded guilty and admitted to working as part of a security detail for Trump ally Roger Stone, sent dozens of texts to Rhodes.
“Our team plans on doing heavy recon when we arrive late on the 4th... early boots on the ground,” James wrote to Rhodes and others who were part of an encrypted text channel on Signal named “Jan 5/6 DC OK security/VIP chat.”
Several cell phone call logs belonging to James were also displayed on Wednesday. Many of the calls started out largely between Oath Keeper Roberto Minuta and James.
Minuta is also charged with seditious conspiracy and goes to trial in February 2023 alongside Oath Keepers Edward Vallejo, David Moerschel, and Joseph Hackett. All in that trial group have pleaded not guilty.
But as December wore on, the call logs showed that conversations among Oath Keepers ticked up rapidly and James started chatting with Rhodes directly, too. The men shared three phone calls in December. James was also in frequent contact with Oath Keeper Michael Greene, aka “Whipp.”
Greene had become an operations leader for the Jan. 6 mission, prosecutors say. And while Greene and James spoke twice in December, there were no less than five calls between James and defendant Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida Oath Keepers chapter, that same month. Then, in the first three days of January 2021, James was in closer touch with several other “ops” leaders including Greene as well as Oath Keeper Don Siekerman.
Defense attorneys argue that all of the Oath Keeper communications were innocuous or unrelated to Jan. 6. The defense has relied largely on what it argues is a lack of specificity. There was no discussion of attacking the Capitol per se, or attempting to overturn the election results or stop certification, they claim.
But prosecutors were quick to point out to jurors how this was not exactly true.
Brian Ulrich, who has already pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, wrote to Oath Keepers over text on Dec. 5: "I seriously wonder what it would take just to get every patriot marching around the Capitol."
While the trial has continued apace in Washington, USA Today reported Monday that Rhodes has been chatty on an InfoWars podcast known as The American Journal.
Rhodes slammed the prosecution in his appearance and said that agents for the FBI are akin to the Gestapo.
“All you have to do now is allege a conspiracy, a nonexistent conspiracy, and then trot out your statements, your otherwise protected free speech statements, as evidence of your ‘state of mind’ in support of the conspiracy charge,” Rhodes said on the podcast. “That’s what they’re doing for me … That’s the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ circumvention of the First Amendment.”
Rhodes, who is facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the sedition charge alone, said Americans “need to be willing to go to jail” to defend their personal beliefs.
”I think Americans need to lose their fear of being indicted or put in prison,” Rhodes said before drawing a comparison to a world-renowned activist for peace and equality, Nelson Mandela.
“Nelson Mandela was willing to go to jail for life—he did 20 years—you have to be willing to do that,” Rhodes said.
For more details from today’s hearing, check out the Daily Kos live blog here. Or check out the mega-thread on Twitter:
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