“My only regret is that they should have brought guns” – Mother Jones

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes at an event in 2017. Susan Walsh/AP

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those of the Ministry of Justice The trial of five members of the Oath Keepers militia group is so extensive that it is expected to last a month. But it’s also pretty simple: members of the far-right militia arrived in Washington on January 6 with a plan to use force to keep Donald Trump in power.

On the first day of the trial, we got a glimpse of how the DOJ intends to prove this: by citing the Oath Keepers’ own words – particularly those of their founder, Stewart Rhodes. “My only regret is that they should have brought guns,” Rhodes said in a previously unreported Jan. 10 recording played by prosecutors Monday. “We can’t get through this without a civil war,” Rhodes wrote in an Oath Keepers chat two days after the election.

At first glance, the Oath Keepers trial involves charges against five defendants of conspiracy to obstruct Congress and other crimes. But it will also help establish which narrative of January 6th prevails. While prosecutors have charged more than 900 people with crimes related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, the Oath Keepers trial is their first attempt to prove that a plan to use force contributed to the attack.

“These defendants hatched a plan for armed rebellion to shake a very foundation of American democracy,” Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Nestler, the lead prosecutor in the case, said in his opening remarks Monday. “They have combined to do whatever is necessary — including violence — to stop the transfer of power from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden.”

The Oath Keepers’ defense is also pretty straightforward. They allege members of the group came to Washington to protect speakers at events supporting Trump and in hopes Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, a law that allows presidents to take emergency measures to prevent Put down rebellions, defenders said.

“There was no plan,” said Philip Linder, one of Rhodes’ attorneys, in his opening statement. “They were there to work security.”

“The Oath Keepers are basically a peacekeeping force,” he added.

Defense attorneys for Rhodes and the four other defendants — Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell — argued that prosecutors singled out their clients’ most inflammatory texts and statements. “They selectively edit social media statements that politically minded and politically active people make,” said David Fisher, Caldwell’s attorney.

The five defendants collectively support the argument, also put forward by Trump and his supporters, that the federal response to Jan. 6 was a massive overreaction in which nonviolent protesters were persecuted. “What happened to these people is an absolute outrage,” Fisher said.

Fisher said Caldwell, who did not storm the Capitol but is accused of involvement in the riot conspiracy, was in Washington on Jan. 6 to “see his wife.” Jonathan Crisp, an attorney for Jessica Watkins, another defendant, said Watkins was a “protest junkie” who went to DC hoping to serve as a paramedic. Crisp also said Watkins’ identity as a “transgender woman” helps explain her actions. “A lot of what she did that day was try to fit in, for better or for worse,” Crisp said.

Lawyers for several of the defendants, including Rhodes, Meggs and Harrelson, have received financial support from a nonprofit founded by Sidney Powell, the prominent pro-Trump attorney who has propagated false and outlandish conspiracy theories about voter fraud after 2020 Election before January 6, as Mother Jones has called. Prosecutors have argued that these payments could create conflicts of interest for defense attorneys. In any case, such payments could also incentivize lawyers to participate in a full defense of the January 6 attacks.

But the government seemed ready to break these claims in Rhodes’ own words.

In a message in late December 2020, Rhodes specifically said he had no plans to wait for Trump to call the group to action, stating, “He needs to knows the if he fails to Plotthen we will. “

Nestler also played a recording of a November 2020 online meeting in which Rhodes told members of his group that his claim that the Quick Reaction Force was set up in the event Trump invoked the Insurrection Act was “our official.” position”. Rhodes continued, “The reason we have to do it this way is because it gives you legal protections.”