WASHINGTON — Days after the Capitol riot, Stewart Rhodes held a parking lot meeting in Dallas where he attempted to pass a message to former President Donald Trump – warning that if he didn’t prevent President Joe Biden from being elected there would be a civil war.
The meeting, which was held in a Fry’s Electronics parking lot, was recorded by Jason Alpers. Alpers testified Wednesday that he was a military special operations veteran who now owns a software development and data analytics company in the Dallas area.
Alpers said he was connected to Rhodes through an associate of a company he helped found, Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG) – a company tied to unfounded election fraud claims championed by attorney Sidney Powell. ASOG was also selected by Michigan’s Republican-led State Senate to examine election equipment in Antrim County. The company ultimately produced a report that included claims about Dominion Voting Systems that have been widely debunked by federal officials and by both the Michigan Department of State and the Michigan attorney general’s office, according to the Associated Press.
The purpose of the meeting, according to Alpers, was for Rhodes to provide a message that Alpers would pass along to Trump through an “indirect” channel he had. The nature of that communications channel was not explained during testimony. Alpers said he carried a recording device in his pocket, which he did not inform Rhodes about, to produce an accurate account of the conversation.
In the recording, Rhodes can be heard directing other people in his group – which included attorney Kellye SoRelle and fellow Oath Keeper Joshua James – to store their cell phones in a vehicle. He then took a phone provided by Alpers and typed a message he hoped would be transmitted to Trump.
Rhodes used the message to repeat his demand that Trump invoke the Insurrection Act, which he believed would allow the military, the Oath Keepers and other militias to act under Trump’s command to seize voting machines and take other steps to overturn the 2020 election. Rhodes also warned in stark terms about the violence that would follow if Trump didn’t heed his call to action.
“If you don’t, you and your family will be imprisoned and killed just like the Romanovs in Russia,” Rhodes wrote in the message. “And us veterans will die in combat on U.S. soil fighting traitors who you turned over all of the power of the presidency to.”
After writing the message, Rhodes continued describing to Alpers what he should convey to Trump.
“If I was you right now I would tell him that it’s like the Czar in Russia,” Rhodes said. “That’s what’s going to happen to the Trump family too. You know. It might be in prison – could be raped and shanked in prison – but they’ll still wind up dead.”
Alpers said he began to look for an off-ramp from the conversation, believing he’d walked into something far more extreme than he was interested in participating in.
“The ideology that was being presented really made me step back a bit,” Alpers said. “Asking for civil war to be held on U.S. soil… that means blood is going to be shed on the streets where your family lives. Not a distant land. That’s the point at which I’m stepping back and asking if pushing this to President Trump is really in the best interest.”
In the recording, Alpers can be heard telling Rhodes point-blank that he didn’t want a civil war. Rhodes replied, “Well, you’re gonna have it bud.”
“There’s gonna be combat here on U.S. soil no matter what,” Rhodes said. “No matter what you think they’ll do. It’s coming. No way out it without fighting – you can’t get out of this. It’s too f***ing late.”
Rhodes and Alpers also briefly discussed the assault on the Capitol that had happened four days earlier. Alpers said he didn’t agree with what had happened, but Rhodes had a different view – saying his only regret was that rioters didn’t bring rifles.
“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 said. “We could have fixed it right then and there. I’d hang f***in’ Pelosi from the lamppost.”
Alpers' testimony came as prosecutors wrapped up their case-in-chief against Rhodes and four co-defendants on trial facing seditious conspiracy charges. The final witnesses in the case have focused on the statements and actions of the Oath Keepers in the days after Jan. 6. Those actions include more than $17,000 in firearms parts, ammunition, camping gear and food purchased by Rhodes in the two weeks immediately following the Capitol riot as well as a discussion by two other militia members, Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl, about building North Vietnamese-esque fighting tunnels to continue opposing the incoming Biden administration.
Through testimony by another witness, FBI Special Agent John Moore, jurors also saw discussions between members of the groups and and order prosecutors say came from Rhodes himself to delete possibly incriminating messages.
According to Signal messages obtained by the FBI, on Jan. 8, 2021, Oath Keepers general counsel Kellye SoRelle sent a message to the group's leadership chat purporting to be from Rhodes. The message, which was written in all caps, read, "STEWART: YOU ALL NEED TO DELETE ANY OF YOUR COMMENTS REGARDING WHO DID WHAT."
In a follow-up message, Rhodes, allegedly via SoRelle, reiterated that order.
"Each of you go back to before the event and scroll forward and hunt down any comment you made that can be used against you, other Oath Keepers or the org and delete them," the message read.
Jurors saw similar messages from other Oath Keepers as well. On the same day as SoRelle/Rhodes' message, Alabama Oath Keeper Joshua James wrote to another member of the group, Mark Grods, "We need to make sure all Signal comms about the op has been deleted and burned."
Nearly a month later — after multiple members of the group had been indicted — on Feb. 4, 2021, Florida Oath Keepers Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson had a similar discussion. Harrelson sent a message to Meggs reading, "Is there any way we can clear out the messages in our chats? I don't think it would be a bad idea. Clear out all the talk of hiding the tools and s***."
Harrelson added in a second message a short time later, "I don't want the boys to have anything to look at if you know what I mean."
Prosecutors were expected to rest their case on Thursday after cross-examination of Moore was complete. Two defendants, Harrelson and Meggs, reserved their opening statements at the beginning of the case and were expected to deliver those Thursday afternoon.
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