Ex-Oath Keeper: Group leader claimed contact with Secret Service

Edward Tarpley, attorney for Oath Keepers chief Stewart Rhodes, arrives at the federal courthouse during Rhodes' trial in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. The extremist group Oath Keepers founder and four associates planned a

Edward Tarpley, attorney for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, arrives at the federal courthouse during Rhodes’ trial in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. The extremist group Oath Keepers founder and four associates planned an “armed rebellion to keep President Donald Trump in power, a federal prosecutor argued Monday, as the most serious case to date came to trial in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

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Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes told a member of the extremist group ahead of the 2020 election that he had a Secret Service contact, a witness at the Rhodes Capitol riot trial said Thursday.

John Zimmerman, who was part of the North Carolina chapter, told jurors that Rhodes claimed to have the number of a Secret Service agent and to have spoken with the logistics officer from a September 2020 rally that the Then-President Donald Trump hosted in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The complaint came on the third day of testimony in the case against Rhodes and four others accused of seditious conspiracy in what authorities described as a detailed and drawn-out conspiracy to prevent the transfer of power from Trump to Democrat Joe Biden, who won the election.

Zimmerman couldn’t say for sure that Rhodes was talking to someone from the Secret Service – only that Rhodes told him he was – and it wasn’t clear what they were discussing. Zimmerman said Rhodes wanted to find out the “parameters” by which the Oathkeepers could operate during the election year rally.

The significance of the detail in the case of government is unclear. Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and the others are accused of spending weeks conspiring to use violence in a desperate campaign to keep Trump in the White House.

Trump’s potential ties to extremist groups were a focus of concern for the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Another oath keeper who is expected to testify against Rhodes claims that after the riot, Rhodes phoned someone apparently close to Trump and made a request: Tell Trump to call on the militias to fight to keep him down. in power. Authorities have not identified this person; Rhodes’ lawyer says the call never happened.

Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said it was not uncommon for “protest groups” to contact the agency with logistical questions about rallies. He noted that firearms are still prohibited in restricted areas secured by the agency. Guglielmi said he was not aware of any contact between Rhodes and an agency representative, but would not be surprised if Rhodes said he contacted the Secret Service before the event in Carolina North.

“I have no way of tracking this down without more information,” the spokesperson said.

The others on trial are Thomas Caldwell of Berryville, Virginia; Kenneth Harrelson of Titusville, Florida; Jessica Watkins of Woodstock, Ohio; and Kelly Meggs of Dunnellon, Florida. The trial is expected to last several weeks.

Authorities say the Oath Keepers staged paramilitary training and hid weapons with ‘quick reaction force’ teams at a Virginia hotel in case they were needed before members stormed the Capitol alongside hundreds of other Trump supporters.

Jurors also heard testimony from a man who secretly recorded a Nov. 9, 2020, conference call held by Rhodes in which the leader rallied his supporters to prepare for violence and travel to Washington.

The man, Abdullah Rasheed, said he started recording the call with hundreds of Oath Keepers members because Rhodes’ rhetoric sounded like ‘we were going to go to war with the government of the United States “.

Rasheed said he tried to contact authorities, including the United States Capitol Police and the FBI, about the call, but no one called him back before “when everything happened”. An FBI agent testified that the bureau received a tip about the call in November 2020, and when asked if the FBI had ever conducted an interview, he replied “not to my knowledge”. The man contacted the FBI again in March 2021, was interviewed, and gave authorities the call recording.

Lawyers for Rhodes said the head of the Oath Keepers would testify that his actions leading up to Jan. 6 were in preparation for orders he believed came from Trump, but never did. Rhodes said he believed Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act and call in a militia to support his bid to retain power.

The defense says oath keepers often field rapid reaction forces for events, but that they were only to be used to protect against violence from antifa activists or in the event Trump invokes the Oath Act. ‘insurrection.

Zimmerman, the former Oath Keeper of North Carolina, described preparing a quick reaction force for the “Million MAGA March” in Washington on Nov. 14, 2020, in case Trump invokes the Insurrection Act. Thousands of Trump supporters gathered that day at Freedom Plaza along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington to rally behind Trump’s false campaign claims.

Zimmerman told jurors that oath keepers hid at least a dozen rifles and several handguns in his van parked at Arlington National Cemetery to serve as a quick reaction force. He said they never took the guns to Washington.

Zimmerman was out of town Jan. 6 because he was recovering from the coronavirus and he said after the Nov. 14 event, the North Carolina Oath Keepers parted ways with Rhodes. Zimmerman said the split was due to Rhodes’ suggestion that the Oath-Keepers wore disguises to incite antifa activists to attack them so the Oath-Keepers could “beat” them.

Zimmerman said Rhodes suggested dressing up as old people or mothers pushing strollers and putting guns in the stroller.

“I said, ‘No, that’s not what we’re doing,'” Zimmerman said. ” It’s a trap. It’s illegal.

In a separate case Thursday, Jeremy Joseph Bertino of North Carolina became the first member of extremist group Proud Boys to plead guilty to seditious conspiracy in the January 6 attack. Three members of Oath Keeper also pleaded guilty to the charge.

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For full coverage of the Capitol Riot, go to https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege

This story was originally published October 6, 2022 3:41 p.m.

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