Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the right-wing Oath Keepers, who prosecutors said called for a “bloody revolution” to keep then-President Donald Trump in power, painted himself as an anti-racist libertarian who believed the 2020 election was unconstitutional. in his defense on Friday.
Rhodes is the first of five defendants charged with seditious conspiracy to testify in federal court in Washington, DC.
The courtroom was packed during his testimony, and Rhodes choked up several times discussing his family, suicide rates among veterans and other issues highlighted by his attorney, Phillip Linder. He spoke directly to the jury and appeared very comfortable on the stand.
Rhodes explained to the jury that he didn’t think Trump or Joe Biden would win in 2020 because the election itself was “unconstitutional.”
“I believe the election was unconstitutional, which rendered it invalid,” Rhodes testified. “You can’t have an unconstitutional election winner.”
Rhodes told the jury that, as far as he could see, the election laws of several states were changed by “executive fiat” and not by state legislatures.
“In multiple states, especially swing states … they put new rules on me in direct violation of state law,” Rhodes said.
“Everybody kept focusing on computers” and other theories of voter fraud, Rhodes said, instead of the constitutional issues that needed to be discussed before “whether or not there is fraud on the ground.”
Rhodes did not specify any specific laws that were changed. CNN has found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Prosecutors have alleged that Rhodes wanted Trump to stay in power and that the militia leader supported a “bloody revolution” to secure the presidency.
Rhodes told the jury Friday how he was honorably discharged from the military and studied law at Yale, focusing on the Bill of Rights – which Rhodes called “the crown jewel of our Constitution” – and protecting civil rights. From the attacks of September 11.
Rhodes, a self-described libertarian, testified that he founded Oath Keepers in 2009 to “reach, change and inspire” people about what the Constitution gives them.
Pushing back against narratives that the Oath Keepers were racist or white nationalists, Rhodes said the organization had traveled to several cities for racial justice protests, saying the group was protecting “minority business owners” in Ferguson, Missouri.
“We actually embarrassed the police,” Rhodes testified, “because we showed them how to do it right, protecting business owners, respecting the rights of protesters.”
The rules of the Oath Keepers, Rhodes said, prohibit any member who “advocates the subversion of the United States.”
In the first weeks of the sedition conspiracy trial against the far-right organization, prosecutors presented evidence that the Oath Keepers stockpiled weapons at a Virginia hotel on Jan. 6 as part of a so-called rapid reaction force. Prosecutors alleged that the five defendants planned to use those weapons in cases where Trump asked Biden to stop the transfer of power.
Rhodes told the jury that was not the case and said the QRFs were formed at an event attended by Oath Keepers “to respond in the event of an emergency,” including if his men were ever injured.
Oath Keepers also used QRFs whenever they provided security, Rhodes said, including several events in Washington, D.C. After the election, Rhodes testified that he was worried that Antifa would “attack the White House” and said that the left-wing organization was threatening to “grab” Trump if the president refused.
In November, “I was worried that this might actually happen,” Rhodes told the jury, referring to rhetoric during a taped meeting in which prosecutors showed the jury Rhodes believed “there’s going to be a fight.”
If Antifa tries to attack the White House, Rhodes said, “President Trump could use the Insurrection Act, declare this an insurgency and use myself and other veterans to protect the White House.”
No such attack took place at the White House.
Rhodes is expected to continue his testimony on Monday.