On Thursday, prosecutors meticulously guided jurors through the terrifying minutes and hours when Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes allegedly oversaw and coordinated a highly organized storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Aiding the prosecution at trial was Whitney Drew, an FBI agent who started investigating mere weeks after the Capitol attack. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler expertly laid out the Justice Department’s case with her sworn testimony and offered it right alongside numerous videos seized from Oath Keepers’ devices by the FBI, as well as footage obtained from closed-circuit security cameras posted in and outside of the Capitol. Video presented Thursday also included several moments captured by members of the press who were on site. Prosecutors also used animated graphics to map the route Oath Keepers took all the way from former President Donald Trump’s rally at the Ellipse to the Capitol’s interior.
Angle after angle, and minute after minute, prosecutors worked to establish the key elements of the alleged seditious conspiracy they say was painstakingly crafted by Rhodes and co-defendants now on trial including Jessica Watkins, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and Thomas Caldwell.
The Justice Department argues they were intent on stopping Congress from certifying the 2020 election and intended to do that by pulling off a heavily armed rebellion—whether former President Donald Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act to raise Oath Keepers to his side or not.
Trump had lost dozens of lawsuits by Jan. 6 where his lies of election fraud were summarily rejected by judges, including those he appointed. But by the time Congress would convene for its joint session, Rhodes appeared fully out of patience with Trump.
He had, after all, begged Trump twice in public letters to invoke the Insurrection Act so that they could stop what Rhodes believed was the impending “chicomm puppet” or “Chinese communist” puppet regime of Joe Biden.
The so-called “fraud” of the election was too much for Rhodes to bear. After Trump delivered his speech at the Ellipse, the Oath Keeper founder messaged his alleged co-conspirators at 1:38 PM.
“All I see Trump doing is complaining,” he said. “So the patriots are taking it into their own hands.’”
Trump had begun his speech at noon and concluded his remarks around 1:10 PM.
Minutes before he ended his speech, a message went to Rhodes from a user identified in an Oath Keepers Signal chat dubbed “DC OP Jan 6 21.”
Jurors were able to see and hear footage of the Oath Keepers reacting in real-time to then-Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to uphold his constitutional duty instead of acquiescing to the pressure Trump foisted on him to intervene at the joint session and reject the electoral slates.
Between 1:48 and 1:52 PM, messages flew furiously among Oath Keepers also chatting in Zello, a walkie-talkie app. Defendant Jessica Watkins, who set the channel up, used it to communicate with fellow members on the grounds as well as those who were not.
It was around this time that a user identified only as “1%watchdog” began railing in the Zello chat, telling Oath Keepers there was “no legitimate authority in federal government.”
“Congress has failed, the executive branch has failed—other than Trump—and the judicial branch has failed us in the courts. This is a civilian exercise of civilian power to alter and abolish this fucking tyrannical treasonous government,” the user said.
Watkins, prosecutors showed jurors, responded in kind.
“Trump’s been trying to drain the swamp with a straw. We just brought a shop vac,” she said.
In 1%watchdog’s eyes, Watkins wasn’t giving the Oath Keepers enough credit.
“I think instead of a shop vac you brought a fleet of A-10 Warthogs,” the user said, referencing planes used to support military operations.
Just minutes before the Capitol was breached, Watkins told defendant Thomas Caldwell “Pence punked out.’
Prosecutors have shown jurors extensive evidence that the Oath Keepers transported a huge number of guns, ammunition, and tactical gear from all over the country with singular intent. The Justice Department argues the group wanted to establish a “quick reaction force” with those guns at a hotel in northern Virginia. It would allegedly serve as an arsenal ready at a moment’s notice to support Oath Keepers in D.C. who would be in the thick of a brutal fight to keep Trump in power.
Defendant Thomas Caldwell, the federal government says, was instrumental in the coordination of the QRF.
FBI Agent Sylvia Hilgeman testified earlier this week that she believed the Oath Keepers did not merely intend to storm the Capitol because they were mad about the election results.
“I think the QRF was meant to occupy D.C.,” Hilgeman said.
At 2:05 PM, texts seized from Rhodes’ phone show him messaging fellow Oath Keeper Michael Greene aka “Whipp.” Greene was considered an operations leader for Jan. 6 by Rhodes.
Trump, Rhodes said, had “one last chance to man up and fulfill his oath.”
At the same time, in a video seized off her phone, Watkins is seen marching down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol with Oath Keeper Donovan Crowl and others.
Yet more Oath Keepers, like defendant Kenneth Harrelson and Jason Dolan—who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and testified at length this week—were meanwhile making their way up the Capitol stairs as officers were forced to retreat as the mob rapidly overwhelmed them.
By 2:07 PM, Oath Keeper Michael Greene messaged everyone in the “DC OP Jan 6 21” chat: “Patriots have taken the Capitol.”
Participants on that channel included Rhodes, Meggs, Harrelson, Watkins, Greene, Don Siekerman, Joshua James, Roberto Minuta, Brich Ulrich, Mark Grods, Paul Stamey, Doug Smith and Kellye SoRelle, Rhodes’s paramour and former counsel to the extremist network. Both James and Ulrich have pleaded guilty already and cooperated with the federal government.
Rhodes asked Greene to call him and within two minutes of that call, Greene told the “DC OP” chat they needed to regroup members who were “not on a mission.”
Meanwhile, SoRelle posted a stream to Facebook.
Jurors listened to SoRelle gush. “I want to show y’all something probably one of the coolest damn things I’ve ever seen in my entire life…you guys need to watch. They broke the line guys. People are going…This isn’t a bad thing and you cant be scared. This is what you do. Otherwise you end up as little communist peasants in little societies where you have no ability no voice no vote, you’re basically slaves.”
Walking behind Rhodes, SoRelle streamed from the base of the Capitol stairs, spewing Q-Anon rhetoric.
“They’ve got traffic, they’ve got emergency vehicles stopping them. But these are your patriots that got through. we’ll see what’s happening. The storm. The storm has arrived. It’s pretty balmy and blistery here in DC but the storm has shown up,” she said.
As the first Oath Keeper stack was forming, a cowboy hat-wearing Rhodes was seen in video footage walking around the Capitol as SoRelle kept streaming.
“They’ve occupied both sides now, thing we’re gonna hang until the [inauguration on January] 20th or what? You can see they had barricades up. Keeping us from the building was their goal,” SoRelle said.
Rhodes, prosecutors told jurors, was simultaneously making a phone call to defendant Kelly Meggs and instructing him to go to the Capitol’s south side.
At 2:28 PM, Rhodes sent a message to the “Friends of Stone” chat, shorthand for Friends of Roger Stone.
”Back door of U.S. Capitol,” Rhodes told the chat.
Participants in that channel included Rhodes, Roger Stone, Alex Jones, Ali Alexander, and SoRelle.
Minutes later, Kelly Meggs appears in footage suddenly donning a helmet. Footage from only an hour or so before as he marched toward the Capitol showed him in just a baseball cap.
By 2:30 PM, the DC OP chat was receiving word of pepper spray being deployed inside the Rotunda by a user identified as “Highlander.”
Oath Keeper Paul Stamey, who is not charged but has figured prominently in communications, responded to Highlander. The reports of pepper spray were “affirmative,” Stamey said.
It’s unclear how he would know this to be certain. Stamey wasn’t at the Capitol. He was at the hotel in Virginia.
Just before the first stack of Oath Keepers made it up the crowded steps with their hands resting on each other’s shoulder’s so their line could not be broken, footage of Rhodes and SoRelle was played in the courtroom.
Someone is heard speaking to Rhodes about the members of Congress inside. Their identity was not immediately clear.
“They gotta be shitting their pants,” the person said.
“Amen, they need to shit their fucking pants,” Rhodes replied.
Then, invoking the notorious last words of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes-Booth, Rhodes chortled and said: “Sic semper tyrannis.”
Jurors saw Oath Keeper Donovan Crowl, who goes to trial later, filming himself inside the Capitol while he celebrated.
“We took over the Capitol, we overran the Capitol,” Crowl jeered.
Standing over his shoulder jurors could see Watkins,
“We’re in the fucking Capitol, bro,” she yelled.
As police were fighting to keep the Capitol from being completely overrun and lawmakers, congressional staff, and the nation’s vice president were forced into hiding, Rhodes and Greene were still communicating.
“Were storming the Capitol,” Greene wrote. [sic]
A text from a phone number connected to an untraceable phone told Greene: “I see they are trying to get into the chamber… police pulled guns.”
Then, the person told Greene: “There in” [sic] and “Fucked up Nancy office,” in a reference to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi was a prime target for rioters and was despised by the Oath Keepers.
Defense attorneys for the Oath Keepers maintain that the group was there as a “peacekeeping force” and defendant Kelly Meggs in particular has claimed that he and other Oath Keepers were actually “assisting” Capitol Police inside the complex on Jan. 6.
In particular, Meggs has claimed that he was “helping” USCP Officer Harry Dunn.
On Thursday, jurors saw a video clip of Dunn at 2:45 PM on Jan. 6 as he was quickly surrounded by rioters and Oath Keepers alike. In the image, Dunn’s arm is extended high, motioning for the rioters to leave and back away.
Standing in front of Dunn were Kenneth Harrelson, Kelly Meggs, and Jason Dolan.
Agent Drew visited the exact spot in the Capitol where Dunn stood when she did her investigation last year. Right behind where he stood was the entrance to Speaker Pelosi’s office.
Details were extensive during the 12th trial day, so for a full experience, check out the Daily Kos live blog or the posts in this mega-thread on Twitter.
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