Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the right-wing Oath Keepers who prosecutors say called for a “bloody revolution” to keep then-President Donald Trump in power, presented himself as an anti-racist libertarian who believed elections of 2020 were unconstitutional as he testified in his own defense on Friday.
Rhodes is the first of five defendants charged with seditious conspiracy in federal court in Washington, DC, to testify.
The courtroom was packed during his testimony, and Rhodes choked up several times while discussing his family, veteran suicide rates and other topics highlighted by his attorney, Phillip Linder. He addressed the jury directly and was very comfortable on the stand.
Rhodes told the jury he didn’t believe Trump or Joe Biden won in 2020 because the election itself was “unconstitutional.”
“I believe the election was unconstitutional, and that rendered it invalid,” Rhodes testified. “You really can’t have a winner of an unconstitutional election.”
Rhodes told the jury that he believed several states’ election laws were changed by “executive decree” and not by the state legislature.
“In several states, especially in swing states … you had them pass new rules in direct violation” of state laws, Rhodes said.
“Everyone kept focusing on computers” and other voter fraud theories, Rhodes said, instead of constitutional issues, which they needed to discuss before determining “if there is fraud on the ground. “.
Rhodes did not detail the specific laws that were changed. CNN found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Prosecutors alleged that Rhodes wanted Trump to stay in power and that the militia leader was backing a “bloody revolution” to secure the presidency.
Rhodes told the jury on Friday how he was honorably discharged from the military and continued his law studies at Yale, focusing his attention on the Bill of Rights – which Rhodes called “the crown jewel of our Constitution” – and protecting the rights of civilians in the wake. of the September 11 attacks.
Rhodes, a self-described libertarian, testified that he founded the Oath Keepers in 2009 to “reach, change and inspire” people about their constitutional rights.
Pushing back against what he saw as narratives that the Oath Keepers were racist or white nationalists, Rhodes said the organization has traveled to various cities for racial justice protests, saying the group protects “homeowners of Minority Businesses” in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Frankly, we kind of embarrassed the police, Rhodes testified, “because we showed them how to do it right, protecting business owners while respecting the rights of protesters.”
According to Rhodes, the rules of Oath Keepers specifically prohibit any member who “advocates for the overthrow of the United States.”
In the first weeks of the seditious conspiracy trial against the far-right organization, prosecutors presented evidence that the Oath Keepers stored weapons at a hotel in Virginia on January 6 as part of an alleged rapid reaction force. Prosecutors alleged that the five defendants intended to use these weapons in case Trump asked to stop the transfer of power to Biden.
Rhodes told the jury that was not the case and claimed the QRFs were put in place at an event the Oathkeepers attended to “respond to emergencies”, including whether his men were injured.
The Oath Keepers also used QRFs whenever they provided security, Rhodes said, including at several events in Washington, DC. After the election, Rhodes testified that he feared Antifa would “attack the White House” and claimed the left-leaning organization was threatening to “out Trump” if the president refused to back down.
In November, “I was worried it might actually happen,” Rhodes told the jury, citing his rhetoric about a taped meeting prosecutors showed the jury in which Rhodes allegedly said “there’s going to be a fight “.
If Antifa tried to attack the White House, Rhodes said “President Trump could use the Insurrection Act, declare this an insurgency, and use myself and other veterans to protect the White House”.
No such attack on the White House took place.
Rhodes is expected to continue his testimony on Monday.
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