(Bloomberg) -- A former member of the Oath Keepers testified for the US government that the group’s founder suggested entrapping left-wing rioters to provoke violence a few months before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Stewart Rhodes discussed with members impersonating older people or a parent pushing a baby carriage stocked with weapons in the belief that Antifa attacked “weaker people” and that might incite a clash, John Zimmerman, who led a North Carolina chapter of the Oath Keepers, testified Thursday.
“That’s not what we do,” Zimmerman said, adding Rhodes’ suggestion was odds with how he perceived the right-wing group’s mission, which was to respond to emergencies in communities.
Zimmerman and other former Oath Keepers testified about their concerns over Rhodes’ rhetoric in the weeks leading up to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Rhodes and four others are on trial for several charges, including seditious conspiracy, which is the most serious to come out of the government’s investigation into the attack.
The defendants have denied any conspiracy, saying that they traveled to Washington to provide security for authorized events and were preparing for Trump to invoke a law that would authorize them to bring weapons into the city.
During his testimony, Zimmerman said he volunteered his van after Rhodes asked members to carry weapons on the outskirts of Washington during the Nov. 14, 2020 Make America Great Again rally as part of a “quick reaction force.” Rhodes explained that the weapons would be needed in case Trump invoked the Insurrection Act, Zimmerman testified. Zimmerman said he understood the insurrection to be “just a rogue government.”
The Insurrection Act, which was signed into law by Thomas Jefferson in 1807, gives the US president power to call on armed forces in certain situations.
Michael Adams, a former leader of the Florida Oath Keepers, testified that he quit the group because of Rhodes’ rhetoric after the 2020 election. He pointed to letters that Rhodes addressed to Trump warning that if he failed to do his duty they would, like the founding fathers, have to take matters into their own hands to fight for liberty.
“This is not my ideology,” Adams said.
On cross examination, Adams testified that he had no knowledge of any specific violent act that was planned for Jan. 6. He also testified that a meeting held by Rhodes on Nov. 9 was in preparation for the Nov. 14 rally. He earlier testified that the group planned to provide security and support for that event.
Another government witness, Abdullah Rashid, secretly recorded that meeting in which Rhodes stated that their “mission” would be to travel to Washington to stand up against a stolen election. The government played the recording for jurors earlier this week. In it, Rhodes said he hoped that left-wing activists would become violent to give former President Donald Trump a reason to invoke the Insurrection Act, according to the transcript of the recording.
“The more I listened to the call it sounded like we were going to war with the United States’ government,” Rashid said.
Rashid said he passed the tip to law enforcement a few weeks after the meeting, but didn’t hear back until after the Capitol riot.
On cross examination, defense attorneys raised questions about his legitimacy as a true Oath Keeper and inquired into why he made several name changes over the years. In response to one question, he stated that he has no federal income if he was being accused of being a government agent.
Rashid testified under questioning that he had been previously convicted of sexually assaulting a child. He also confirmed that he asked the government to change his name in exchange for his testimony.
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