A key government witness in the seditious conspiracy trial of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four other members said defendants on Jan. 6, 2021, were prepared to stop Congress from confirming the 2020 election result “by any means necessary” — including armed combat — and understood their plans to be potentially “treasonous.”
The testimony Tuesday by Jason Dolan was the first in the trial from several cooperating Oath Keepers witnesses who have pleaded guilty in the Capitol attack investigation. The Florida man and others are expected to be critical to the prosecution because they have admitted under oath to what Rhodes and co-defendants are charged with: plotting to obstruct and disrupt Congress by, as Dolan put it in plea papers, “intimidating and coercing governmental personnel.”
Prosecutors must show that even though Rhodes did not enter the building that day, he and co-defendants conspired to oppose by force the lawful transition of presidential power, culminating in the Capitol attack, making Dolan a direct witness.
Dolan, a 19-year former Marine and infantry unit leader, recalled to jurors how he sent an encrypted message to other Oath Keepers members in Florida on Dec. 6, 2020, agonizing over whether after serving five overseas deployments he should ask his family to let him go into combat again. But this time it would be against fellow Americans, “with no pay, no coming back, no awards, no homecoming and if I’m lucky I get a prison sentence, tagged with treason, or a bullet from the very people I would protect.”
On the stand, Dolan said he understood it “would be treasonous fighting against what I saw as an illegitimate form of government,” but that Oath Keepers had discussed and Rhodes had declared that even if President Donald Trump took no action, they would. That meant, Dolan said, “We will act to stop the certification of the election … by any means necessary. That’s why we brought our firearms.”
Dolan said his understanding was that if Trump called on a private militia to keep him in office, “We would be fighting with pro-Trump forces basically against pro-Biden forces.”
“Within the United States government?” U.S. prosecutor Jeffrey S. Nestler asked.
“Yes,” Dolan answered, saying the pro-Trump side would have battled forces loyal to Congress and Democrats on the other.
Dolan, 46, pleaded guilty in September 2021 to conspiracy and aiding and abetting the obstruction of Congress’s confirmation of the 2020 election results.
A former security guard and head of shipping and receiving for a Four Seasons resort in Palm Beach, Fla., Dolan admitted being among a group that forced entry through the Capitol’s East Rotunda doors after marching single file up the steps, wearing camouflage vests, helmets, goggles and Oath Keepers insignia.
Cooperating in hopes of trimming a likely prison term of five to seven years, Dolan said he brought a rifle, pistol and ammunition to the Washington area with others in the group who were stashing weapons at a Ballston hotel in case a “Quick Reaction Force” (QRF) was needed. Dolan said he communicated, met with and identified at the defense table Rhodes and Florida co-defendants Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson.
Inside the Capitol, Dolan testified, he repeatedly chanted “Treason!” He also believed lawmakers could be “scared into doing the right thing,” and later obstructed the investigation by resetting his cellphone, deleting photographs from inside the Capitol and encrypting communications, he said.
Dolan’s appearance at Rhodes’s trial, now in its third week, and testimony by any of three others who have admitted to seditious conspiracy, could be central to whether prosecutors can distinguish Rhodes’s and his co-defendants’ actions from those of nearly 300 who are accused of trying or conspiring to obstruct Congress, but not using force to oppose the government. .
Only 19 people — all affiliated with the extremist right-wing groups Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — have been charged with seditious conspiracy, accused of playing an outsize role in mobilizing and planning for violence that day. Both conspiracy and seditious conspiracy charges are punishable by the same maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Rhodes and four co-defendants have pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys have said the QRF was for defensive purposes only if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act to mobilize the military and militia to stay in power. Their attorneys have also said that they complied with all firearms laws and that they came to Washington as a peacekeeping force and security guards for Republican VIPs.
What to know about the Oath Keepers sedition trial
- Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
- He is accused of guiding a months-long effort to unleash politically motivated violence to prevent the swearing-in of President Biden.
- Where do things stand now? Some Oath Keepers have been convicted and others still face trial.
- Rhodes is the most high-profile person charged in the investigation so far.
- The Oath Keepers trial is the highest-profile prosecution to arise from the 2021 Capitol chaos.
- The trial is an important step in the wider probe, analysts say.
Through more than a dozen witnesses so far, prosecutors have shown jurors many of the military-style rifles Oath Keepers members brought to the area, including Dolan’s, which he said he recognized because he built it himself.
On Monday, FBI Special Agent Sylvia Hilgeman testified that Rhodes spent as much $20,000 on his way to Washington to purchase at least three rifles and a semiautomatic shotgun, part of $150,000 he withdrew from an Oath Keepers bank account for January 2021.
“The point of the QRF was to prevent Biden from taking power in whatever form that took,” Hilgeman testified. “I think the QRF was meant to occupy D.C.”
Dolan testified that he was prepared to take up arms with divided federal forces. But he said his path to that point was “pretty naive and downright stupid” in hindsight. He said he was thankful Trump did not unleash further violence.
Dolan was not charged with seditious conspiracy, an offense that, if he had been convicted, would have ended his military benefits, which help support his wife and daughter. He said he left his hotel job just before undergoing hip-replacement surgery in 2018 or 2019 — the culmination of five or six procedures for “long-term issues, gut issues and really bad hip and feet injuries” from military service.
In 2020, he said he spent “a lot of time in the garage in the evenings drinking and trying to kill the pain” with anything from a six-pack of beer to a half-bottle of vodka by himself before discovering the Oath Keepers.
“It felt good to know there were other people out there who felt the same way I did,” Dolan said. He viewed the group as “patriotic for our country” and believed “The same idea of the election having been stolen, or at least thinking that it had been stolen.”
Dolan said if a handful of people fight against what they see as “an illegitimate form of government, [they] would be tossed in prison.”
By contrast, the Oath Keepers said on Signal, “10,000 people” would get you a war. As he headed to the Capitol on the afternoon of Jan. 6, Dolan told jurors: “Here you had 100,000 people who looked like they were [angry] that day. For me at least, it seemed if anything was going to happen to stop the certification of the election, that was going to be it.”