Oath Keepers founder spoke of 'bloody' war ahead of US Capitol attack, court hears

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Pro-Trump supporters storm the US Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on 6 January 2021 in Washington, DC.
Pro-Trump supporters storm the US Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on 6 January 2021 in Washington, DC.
Samuel Corum/Getty Images
  • The founder of Oath Keepers told followers that there would be a war if Donald Trump failed to stop his 2020 election defeat, a court heard.
  • Stewart Rhodes is one of five people charged in relation to the attack on 6 January 2021.
  • People attacked the US Capitol in protest of Trump losing the election to Joe Biden.

US prosecutors showed a jury fresh evidence on Friday that Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes warned his followers there would be a "bloody" war if then-President Donald Trump failed to stop his 2020 election defeat.

In a series of text messages, online postings and speeches, Rhodes repeatedly promoted the use of force, and implored Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, an early 1800s law that empowers presidents to deploy troops to quell civil unrest.

"Show the world who the traitors are, and then use the ... Insurrection Act to drop the hammer on them," he said in a December 2020 speech. "If he does not do it now, while he is commander in chief, we are going to have to do it ourselves later, in a much more desperate, much more bloody war."

Rhodes and his four co-defendants - Thomas Caldwell, Kenneth Harrelson, Kelly Meggs and Jessica Watkins - are on trial on charges they conspired to prevent Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden's election victory on 6 January 2021, in a failed bid to keep Trump, a Republican, in power.

READ | US Capitol attack: Member of far-right group pleads guilty to seditious conspiracy

The five defendants are charged with several felonies, including seditious conspiracy, a rarely prosecuted Civil War-era statute defined as attempting "to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States." It carries a possible prison sentence of 20 years.

Prosecutors say some of the Oath Keepers were among the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol building after the then-president falsely claimed the election had been stolen from him through widespread fraud.

A member of another far-right group, the Proud Boys, on Thursday pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy for his role in the attack. Three Oath Keepers earlier this year pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy.

National Guard members staged on the U.S. Capitol Building grounds, as heightened security measures are in place nearly a week after the attack by a pro-Trump mob.

Prosecutors also say the Oath Keepers organised a "quick reaction force" of armed members who were kept on standby across the Potomac River in Virginia in case they were called upon to bring firearms into the capital.

Attorneys for the defendants have said the evidence will show they did nothing illegal and that the Oath Keepers are a peacekeeping group that has done security work at events around the country to protect speakers at political rallies.

Text messages, Facebook direct messages and audio recordings this week have shown the defendants vowing to reject Biden's election victory, planning to go to Washington and discussing what weapons they could bring, with Rhodes talking of possible "civil war."

In another private Facebook message shown to the jury earlier this week, Caldwell, who is accused of coordinating the quick reaction force, told someone on the day of the attack: "If we'd had guns I guarantee we would have killed 100 politicians."

Friday marked the fourth day of testimony from the government's witnesses, which so farhas included two FBI agents, a Capitol Police agent, and three former members of the Oath Keepers.

One witness on Thursday, former Florida Oath Keepers leader Michael Adams, said he had decided to quit in December 2020 when he became uncomfortable with the "rhetoric" coming from the group, in particular open letters that Rhodes had sent to Trump vowing to take action if he did not do so.

"If you fail to do your duty, you will leave We the People no choice but to walk in the Founders footsteps, by declaring the regime illegitimate," Rhodes wrote to Trump, according to one letter prosecutors introduced as evidence.

"We will take to arms in defense" of our liberty, the letter read.

The storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters failed to stop the congressional certification of Biden's election victory and resulted in Trump's second impeachment. Five people died during and shortly after the riot, and about 140 police officers were injured.

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