Oct 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Oath Keepers founder's Jan. 6 legal defense hinges on Trump

Stewart Rhodes.

Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP via Getty Images

The seditious conspiracy trial for the founder of the extremist group Oath Keepers begins next week, and his legal team is staking his freedom to an unusual defense, the Associated Press reports.

Driving the news: Lawyers for Stewart Rhodes are prepared to argue that their client was anticipating former President Trump would use powers under the Insurrection Act to form a militia, and that is why Rhodes and his group made preparations to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Flashback: Rhodes was the most prominent of 10 defendants charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in the lead-up to and day of the Capitol riot. He is among the first Jan. 6 defendants to be tried on the charge.

  • The Department of Justice alleged that after the 2020 presidential election, Rhodes "conspired with his co-defendants and others to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power by Jan. 20, 2021."

What’s they’re saying: Even though Trump never invoked the Insurrection Act, Rhodes’ attorneys say that their client was “actually lobbying and [preparing] for the President to utilize” the law, AP reports.

  • Rhodes' defense hinges on persuading jurors that he was awaiting direct orders from Trump.
  • “This is an incredibly complicated defense of theory and I don’t think that it’s ever played out in this fashion in American jurisprudence,” said James Lee Bright, one of Rhodes’ lawyers, per AP.

Yes, but: Prosecutors are prepared to demonstrate Rhodes’ group was preparing for the Capitol siege regardless of Trump’s intentions.

  • In an open letter on the Oath Keepers’ website, Rhodes called on the then-president to use the Insurrection Act to “stop the steal and defeat the coup.”
  • In a court filing, prosecutors have referenced a message Rhodes wrote saying Trump “needs to know that if he fails to act, then we will,” AP reports.

What we’re watching: Opening statements in Rhodes’ trial are scheduled for Monday.

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