WASHINGTON — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes had already begun talking about revolution and urging his followers to prepare for a fight just days after the 2020 election was called for President Joe Biden and long before former President Donald Trump ever tweeted about a Jan. 6 rally, an FBI special agent told jurors Tuesday.
Special Agent Michael Palian was the first witness called by prosecutors in the trial of five members of the Oath Keepers militia. The defendants, which include Rhodes, face a slew of criminal charges alleging three interlinking conspiracies targeting Congress and the certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6.
Palian testified Monday that he was one of the Washington Field Office agents who responded to the Capitol during the riot. He was later assigned as a case agent and one of the lead investigators on what became the government’s marquee Jan. 6 case against nearly two dozen Oath Keepers. On Tuesday, prosecutors had Palian walk jurors through some of the voluminous pre-Jan. 6 communications investigators uncovered – including a recording of a Nov. 9 GoToMeeting in which Rhodes exhorted other Oath Keepers to prepare for an event similar to the overthrow of the former Serbian president in 2000.
During the meeting, Rhodes told other Oath Keepers they needed to be willing to “go to D.C. and street fight with antifa,” something he told them could provide the basis for his ultimate goal of Trump invoking the Insurrection Act.
“I’m willing to sacrifice myself for that. Let the fight start there, okay,” Rhodes said. “That would give President Trump what he needs, frankly.”
Rhodes also used the meeting to lay out his plans for an armed quick reaction force (QRF) to be stationed outside of D.C., which he later described to InfoWars host Alex Jones as a “nuclear option” in case of a “Benghazi-type attack” and a “stand-down order from traitor generals.” In the Nov. 9 meeting, Rhodes told Oath Keepers their public position was the QRF was simply waiting for Trump’s orders.
“And the reason why we have to do it that way is because that is your legal cover,” Rhodes said. “Because otherwise this kind of goes back to what Mike was saying about guys being hot on the forums. I get it. We’re all pissed off. But we’re in an era now where everything you say is being monitored – by now this phone call’s being recorded by the NSA and FBI and CIA, I’m sure. And everything you say can and will be used against you. So you guys need to have discipline. Don’t make it easy for them to pop you with a conspiracy charge and do to you what they did to those guys from Michigan because they got them hot under the collar, probably after a few beers, and got them talking smack.”
Though little in the communications presented by Palian had not been previously released in court filings, they served to show jurors Rhodes’ mindset just two days after major media organizations called the 2020 election for Biden. Notably, the Nov. 9 meeting came more than a month before Trump sent his infamous tweet urging supporters to come to D.C. on Jan. 6 – telling them it would "be wild.”
Rhodes, who was the first Jan. 6 defendant indicted on seditious conspiracy charges in January, has argued the unilateral ability of the president to call up militias via the Insurrection Act means the Oath Keepers’ preparations in late 2020 were not an effort to attack the government, but to “bolster” it, as U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta, who is presiding over the case, summarized during a pretrial conference. Rhodes and his four co-defendants will have the opportunity to make that argument over the next six weeks as their trial unfolds.