Four days after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes tried to tell President Donald Trump it was not too late to use paramilitary groups to stay in power by force, according to testimony Wednesday in federal court.
Rhodes made the violent comments at a meeting in Texas with Jason Alpers, who described himself on the witness stand as a military veteran and co-founder of Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG). That organization played a key role in spreading false claims about the 2020 election through misleading and inaccurate reports about voting machine software.
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.
On the stand, Alpers said he had an “indirect” line to Trump’s “inner circle,” without elaborating.
That apparent relationship is why Rhodes wanted to meet, Alpers testified. He said he recorded the meeting to accurately “provide information to President Trump.” What he got, he said, disturbed him enough to eventually go to the FBI.
Alpers took the stand in the sixth week of trial for Rhodes and four others accused of taking part in a seditious conspiracy against the U.S. government. He was one of the last witnesses put on by prosecutors seeking to prove the Oath Keepers’ actions on Jan. 6 were just one part of an attempt to prevent by any means necessary the lawful transition of presidential power.
Alpers’s testimony was followed by an FBI agent who displayed firearms, knives and tactical gear Rhodes purchased after Jan. 6 — over $17,000 worth, according to the testimony — and read messages in which the former Army paratrooper urged his followers to prepare for civil war.
Rhodes was hiding out in Texas, according to prosecutors, when he met with Alpers in an electronics store parking lot. Also present were Joshua James, an Oath Keeper who has pleaded guilty, and Kellye SoRelle, an attorney linked romantically to Rhodes.
As he had publicly before Jan. 6, Rhodes repeatedly said Trump should invoke the Insurrection Act, which he believed would allow militia groups to block President Biden from taking office.
Rhodes told Alpers on the recording that if Trump gave up power that “he and his family” would “wind up dead,” because Biden would “turn the Insurrection Act against us.” He compared the election to the overthrow of the czar of Russia in 1917, after which the entire royal family was slaughtered.
Alpers testified that Rhodes wrote a similar message for Trump: “You must use the Insurrection Act and use the power of the President to stop him. And all of us veterans will support you and so will the vast majority of the military.”
Rhodes has argued that he was only advocating for what he believed would be a lawful order from the president. But on the recording, Rhodes indicated he and his followers would act violently even if Trump did not give his approval.
Alpers said he did not deliver Rhodes’s words to Trump “because I didn’t agree with the message.” He also said he worried that being associated with these “extremist ideologies” would hurt his “relationships and credibility.”
“Here is the thing, we’re gonna fight,” Rhodes is recorded saying. “We’re not gonna let them come get our brothers. We’re going to fight, the fight’s going to be ours.”
And if he had known on Jan. 6 that Trump would never invoke the Insurrection Act, Rhodes said, he would have gone further that day — including assassinating a Democratic leader.
“If he’s not going to do the right thing, and he’s just gonna let himself be removed illegally, then we should have brought rifles,” Rhodes says on the recording. “We could have fixed it right then and there. I’d hang f----ing Pelosi from the lamppost.”
Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, is in the hospital after being attacked by a man who officials say was targeting her.
Rhodes in the recording, also called the riot “a good thing in the end,” because it “showed the people that we have a spirit of resistance.”
But he said that if Trump left office, “everyone that was at the Capitol” would be in danger of being charged with “felony murder … because someone died.” SoRelle is heard agreeing: “I know it’s gonna happen.”
Felony murder applies when a death results from the commission of another felony crime.
On the recording, Alpers told Rhodes he did not think Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act. He testified that while the law was being talked about in “election fraud circles,” his impression was based on the discussion in Trump’s “inner circle.”
Emails from Trump attorney John Eastman that were released Wednesday indicate the subject was debated by those close to the president. On Dec. 19, 2020, Eastman told an unknown correspondent to “desist from this path” because “it would lead to a constitutional crisis.”
Alpers told The Washington Post last year that as far as he knew, ASOG began its “election fraud project” after he left the company.
On a podcast last year, a former ASOG employee named Josh Merritt said Alpers connected the group to Phil Waldron, whom he served with in Afghanistan. “Alpers was psychological operations. Waldron had involvement with psychological operations,” Merritt said.
Waldron, a retired colonel, went to the White House multiple times to share purported evidence of election fraud; worked directly with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani on legal challenges to the vote count, and circulated a PowerPoint presentation before Jan. 6 arguing that Trump could use troops to seize ballots.
Waldron did not return a request for comment.
One ASOG report on software used in Antrim County in Michigan claimed to have found evidence of a sweeping conspiracy to fix votes. The report’s central claims were immediately debunked by independent experts and Homeland Security officials, but Trump claimed it was “absolute proof” of fraud that would keep him in office for a second term, former attorney general William P. Barr later told congressional investigators.
Alpers said he initially did nothing with the recording because he “didn’t want to get involved,” but that sometime in the spring of 2021 he met with federal law enforcement.
“Asking for civil war to be on American ground and understanding, being a person who’s gone to war, right, that means blood is gonna get shed on the streets where your family are,” he said. “It was at that point that I kind of step back and I’m really kind of questioning whether pushing this to President Trump is in the best interest.”
Four days after meeting Alpers, records show Rhodes told Oath Keepers leaders that “it is regretfully becoming clear that President Trump will not be taking the decisive action we urged him to take.” He urged the group to delete all communications related to Jan. 6 and “muster” against “an illegitimate regime.”
Texts read in court show other defendants reacting enthusiastically, discussing potential hideouts and weaponry to assemble.
Emma Brown and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.
The Oath Keepers trial
The latest: In a second sedition trial, four members of the far-right Oath Keepers group were convicted of seditious conspiracy. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.
How did we get here: Stewart Rhodes and other members of his group were charged with seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Who is involved: A 13-count indictment charges Stewart Rhodes and eight others with conspiring to use force to oppose the lawful transfer of power to President Biden. Here are the nine Oath Keepers on trial.