An attorney for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes argued Friday that despite his client’s “rhetoric and bombast,” he never instructed his followers to enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and never activated the so-called quick reaction force the far-right group had amassed in the Washington, DC, area.
In one of the most powerful cross-examinations from an Oath Keepers lawyer in the weeks’ long trial, attorney James Lee Bright prompted former FBI agent Whitney Drew to say that Rhodes never specifically directed the Oath Keepers to enter the Capitol building on January 6.
“There is no direct order from Mr. Rhodes to storm the Capitol?” Bright asked.
“In the thousands of messages I read, no,” Drew said.
“Signal chats?” Bright asked.
“In the thousands of Signal chats I read, no,” Drew said.
“Emails?” Bright asked.
Drew again said “No.”
In their historic seditious conspiracy trial against the Oath Keepers, prosecutors have likened Rhodes to a general surveying a battlefield on January 6, ordering his followers to keep Donald Trump as president by any means necessary. Bright’s line of questioning undercut that argument as he pointed out repeatedly that prosecutors have not introduced direct evidence that Rhodes was giving anyone orders.
Bright suggested that, in fact, Rhodes wasn’t even responding to messages from Edward Vallejo, one of the men allegedly in charge of the armed quick reaction force in Virginia. Vallejo allegedly sent at least two Signal messages on January 6 saying he was ready to deploy the so-called quick reaction force to DC, and told Rhodes at one point “just say the word.”
Rhodes never responded to any of Vallejo’s messages, Bright said.
“So during the biggest event in years, as the government alleged, the general is surveying his troops in the battlefield … Mr. Vallejo is chomping at the bit to bring weapons into DC,” Bright said. “And not only does he not do it, Mr. Vallejo doesn’t even get a response?”
“I have seen no response,” Drew said.
Instead, Bright argued, Rhodes spent the afternoon trying to reunite members of the group who he had lost contact with. Because Rhodes is from out of town, however, Bright said the leader bungled the effort by repeatedly giving people incorrect directions to the Capitol building confusing where on Capitol grounds he was located.
“It’s kind of hard to give instructions to your troops if you don’t know where you are,” Bright said.
“That is your opinion,” Drew responded.
Rhodes and four other Oath Keepers are on trial for seditious conspiracy in federal court in Washington, DC. They have pleaded not guilty. Vallejo also is facing charges including seditious conspiracy and has pleaded not guilty.