By Joseph M. Hanneman
Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes III testified on Dec. 19 in an Alaska civil trial that he never ordered anyone into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and that the nearly yearlong federal prosecution of him amounts to “persecution by our political enemies.”
Speaking from the Alexandria City Jail in Virginia, Rhodes told an Alaska Superior Court judge that the U.S. Department of Justice went after him because he exercised his constitutionally protected free speech.
Rhodes and one co-defendant were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. Three others were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but found guilty on other Jan. 6-related counts.
Rhodes vowed to appeal the guilty verdicts from the trial that ended Nov. 29, declaring, “I’m definitely going to fight this. I’m an innocent man, wrongly accused and wrongly convicted.”
The trial before Alaska Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna will determine if state Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) should be removed from office and his 24-point 2022 election win taken away because he is a life member of the Oath Keepers.
Brought by a former Republican, the July 2022 lawsuit challenged Eastman’s fitness for office under a Cold War-era amendment to the Alaska Constitution that bars from office anyone who advocates overthrow of the U.S. government or belongs to a group with that aim.
Plaintiff Randall Kowalke of Willow, Alaska, and attorneys from the Northern Justice Project argue that the Oath Keepers tried to overthrow the government on Jan. 6, although even those from the group who were convicted of seditious conspiracy were not accused of such acts.
Rhodes pushed back on testimony offered by the plaintiff’s witnesses in the Alaska case that the Oath Keepers are an anti-government militia that aimed to overthrow the government on Jan. 6.
He said he never ordered any Oath Keepers to go into the Capitol, an action he repeatedly called “stupid.”
Two groups of Oath Keepers entered the Capitol on the afternoon of Jan. 6. Prosecutors claim it was an attack on the Capitol in an attempt to overthrow the government, but the Oath Keepers have said the only actions taken inside were to help the Capitol Police.
‘That Was Stupid’
“They just decided to go inside. … After they got out and then they finally told me they had gone inside, I said, ‘That that was stupid,’” Rhodes said. “And I said, ‘Why’d you do that?’ And they told me they had heard someone had been shot and they went inside to render medical aid to assist law enforcement. That’s what they told me.”
“No, I did not direct them to do so,” Rhodes said. “And I did not know they had done so until afterwards. It was already done. So I told them it was stupid, and it was stupid for two reasons.
“One, it was not our mission that day, and two, them doing that exposed us to persecution by our political enemies who’ve taken advantage of that to persecute us, and this is what’s happened to me. That’s where I’m at. That’s why I’m here.”
Rhodes said the Oath Keepers never had a goal or plan to disrupt or delay the certification of the Electoral College votes by a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. Nor did it try to overthrow the government.
“No, of course not,” Rhodes told Eastman’s defense attorney, Joseph Miller. “Quite the contrary, to enforce the Constitution and preserve the government.”
Rhodes repeated what he has said since his arrest in January 2022: the Oath Keepers’ mission in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 was event security.
The group provided security for the Latinos for Trump event in Area 7 of the Capitol grounds and was scheduled to do the same for the Stop the Steal rally in Area 8, just across from the Supreme Court, he said. Members also served as personal security detail for VIPs, including political consultant Roger Stone, he said.
The cache of weapons stored at a Virginia hotel and the stationing of a quick-reaction force (QRF) was for use only if President Donald Trump invoked the Insurrection Act and called the Oath Keepers up as a militia to protect the White House, he said.
“In November, my primary concern when it comes to Oath Keepers was the danger of the White House being attacked,” Rhodes said. “And I think it was in August of 2020, during the summer, that there had been rioting and violence outside the White House so severe that the Secret Service had evacuated the president into the bunker under the White House.”
The QRFs were stationed “in the event of a worst-case scenario in D.C., such as a Benghazi-style assault on the White House by communist terrorists in conjunction [with] stand-down orders by traitor generals,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said his concern grew when seeing “multiple Antifa websites threatening to lay siege to the White House if Trump did not concede immediately. And they threatened to drag him out by the hair.
“And so we were prepared if the president invoked the Insurrection Act, only under those conditions would we be available to follow his orders to protect the White House.”
Rhodes described the Oath Keepers history since its 2009 founding, providing security, doing humanitarian missions, and supporting local law enforcement.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, he said, the Oath Keepers provided security escorts at Trump’s rallies to protect attendees from being attacked by Antifa as they returned to their vehicles.
“We did 12 Trump rallies, providing escorts outside the rally to escort Trump supporters back to their cars, back to their hotels,” Rhodes said, “because Antifa likes to attack people when they are leaving a venue. So we would have our guys standing outside.”