Secret recording played at trial shows Oath Keepers allegedly planning for violence in DC
Federal prosecutors played audio recording in court on Tuesday of an alleged November 2020 Oath Keepers planning meeting that discussed plans to bring weapons to Washington, DC, and prepare to “fight” on behalf of former President Donald Trump.
The meeting lasted about two hours and was secretly recorded by an attendee, FBI agent Michael Palian told jurors during the second day of the trial of far-right militia Oath Keepers leaders on seditious conspiracy charges.
The attendee, Palian said, sent a tip to the FBI later that month but was not contacted by agents. They then resubmitted the tip in March 2021, was interviewed with agents and gave them the recording.
The recording, which is primarily of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, is the first major piece of evidence that prosecutors have used to establish a plan by the far-right group to allegedly descend on Washington and oppose the transfer of power.
“We’re not getting out of this without a fight. There’s going to be a fight,” Rhodes said in the recording played in court. “But let’s just do it smart and let’s do it while President Trump is still commander in chief,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes repeatedly said that people should put pressure on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, and that the Oath Keepers would be “awaiting the president’s orders.”
“If the fight comes, let the fight come. Let Antifa go — if they go kinetic on us then we’ll go kinetic back on them. I’m willing to sacrifice myself for that,” Rhodes said in the recording. “If things go kinetic, good. If they blow bombs up and shoot us, great. Because that brings the President reason and rationale” to invoke the Insurrection Act.
He continued, “so our mission going to be to go into DC, but I do want some Oath Keepers to stay on the outside and to stay fully armed and prepared to go in if they have to. So, if the s**t kicks off, then you rock and roll.”
Two other defendants, Jessica Watkins and Kelly Meggs, are also on the recording discussing what weapons are legal to bring into the district, prosecutors said.
“Pepper spray is legal. Tasers are legal. And stun guns are legal. And it doesn’t hurt to have a lead pipe with a flag on it,” Meggs said on the recording.
After the meeting, Meggs and Watkins both told their state Oath Keeper delegations that they were going to go to Washington. Watkins wrote to Ohio members, “Anybody not on the call tonight. We have been issued a call to action for DC. This is the moment we signed up for.”
All five defendants have pleaded not guilty to the seditious conspiracy charge they face, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars.
CNN national security analyst Carrie Cordero said Congress should look at how the FBI handled the initial tip about the Oath Keepers tape.
That the Oath Keepers recording went uninvestigated by the FBI until after January 6 is an “additional piece of information that congressional investigators in particular on the January 6th committee and the other Homeland Security committees should be looking at to determine whether or not the FBI and other law enforcement organizations were doing enough on the prevention side,” Cordero told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on Tuesday.
Cordero said that “lots of information that has come to light over the course of the last year that indicates there were all sorts of other indications that there would be violence on January 6th raises the question of why there wasn’t better warning in advance to those who were responsible for protecting the physical security of the Capitol.”
During cross examination, attorneys for the defendants questioned Palian on the context of the recording.
“Isn’t it true that all of the talk that Mr. Rhodes and others are doing … is related to going to DC on November 14th?” Rhodes’ attorney Phillip Linder asked Palian, referencing the so-called Million MAGA March that took place in Washington in November 2020.
“I’d agree with that,” Palian responded. Prosecutors have previously said that some of the defendants, including Rhodes, Watkins and Thomas Caldwell attended the November march without incident.
Palian also testified that the recording did not mention the date January 6.
David Fischer, an attorney for Caldwell, asked Palian whether Caldwell explicitly stated that he was planning to attack the Capitol. Palian testified that “We have not come across a person that has told us that.”
Fischer pushed Palian on whether Caldwell was actually a member of the Oath Keepers, but Palian testified that he was “part of the group” even if he didn’t formally pay dues.
“It costs zero dollars to join a gang,” Palian testified.
This headline and story have been updated with additional developments from Tuesday’s court proceedings.
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