By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN and ALANNA DURKIN RICHER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes took the witness stand on Friday in his high-stakes seditious conspiracy trial as he tries to counter allegations that his far-right extremist group planned an armed rebellion to stop the transfer of presidential power.
Rhodes began testifying after prosecutors spent weeks laying out their case against him and four others accused of a violent plot to keep Democrat Joe Biden out of the White House.
Rhodes’ attorneys have signaled they will mount a novel defense with former President Donald Trump at the center. Rhodes is expected to argue that his actions leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, were in anticipation of orders he expected from Trump, a Republican. Those orders never came.
Rhodes’ decision to take the stand carries enormous risks and will open him up to fierce cross-examination by prosecutors, who will try to rattle him or catch him in a lie.
Prosecutors say Rhodes, who’s from Granbury, Texas, spent weeks mobilizing his band of extremists, stockpiling weapons and preparing for violence with the goal of stopping Biden from becoming president after the 2020 election. On Jan. 6, 2021, Oath Keepers dressed in battle gear stormed the Capitol alongside hundreds of other angry Trump supporters.
Rhodes and his co-defendants are the first people arrested in the Jan. 6 attack to stand trial on the charge of seditious conspiracy, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years behind bars upon conviction.
The others on trial are Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers; Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath Keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group.
Follow the AP’s coverage related to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol at https://apnews.com/hub/capitol-siege.
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