‘We must defeat them’: Stewart Rhodes urged allies to reject 2020 outcome hours after Election Day, trial hears

Far-right militia leader called on group to resist Biden’s victory – days before the results were in. Then he messaged Roger Stone: ‘We need to roll’

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 03 October 2022 23:59 BST
Oath Keepers Trial: 'Armed Rebellion' Plan, Prosecutor Says

Hours after Election Day on 3 November 2020, the leader of a far-right anti-government militia group called on his allies to resist a potential Joe Biden victory, which would not be declared until several days later.

“The left, including the Democratic Party … seek our destruction,” Stewart Rhodes allegedly wrote in a message on the encrypted chat app Signal after 1am on 4 November, just hours after polls had closed.

“We must defeat them,” the message continued. “Even if one of them occupies the White House.”

The revelations concluded a first day of opening arguments and testimony in a landmark trial weighing charges of seditious conspiracy against Mr Rhodes and four other defendants with ties to the Oath Keepers, in connection with the violent riots at the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021.

FBI Special Agent Michael Palian – the first witness– displayed several messages allegedly sent by Mr Rhodes in the weeks leading up to the attack.

Federal prosecutors have argued that members of the group spent weeks plotting an attempt to disrupt the joint session of Congress as a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the halls, fuelled by baseless claims of voter fraud and his persistent lie that the outcome was stolen from him.

On 4 November, a message to the group chat asked “how are we drawing our battle plans?” and stated that “we are now all going to be Public Enemy [No 1] by the tyrants.”

Mr Rhodes allegedly replied with a bulleted list: “It ain’t over till it’s over … Don’t give legitimacy to an illegitimate fraudulent (fraud infested) system. If that system declares Biden the winner I won’t recognize him as the legitimate president because of that fraud.”

On 5 November, two days before media outlets and election analysts began calling the race for Mr Biden, Mr Rhodes announced the creation of a “quick reaction force” in Washington DC and “regional” forces, “all either combat arms or [law enforcement] veterans with needed trained support [military occupational specialty] veterans. We will get it done.”

“We must refuse to accept Biden as the legitimate winner,” Mr Rhodes is alleged to have written to the group that day. “Call out the fraud and theft. Protect and defend all who are publicly standing against it.”

After the group received news of Mr Biden’s victory, he added: “Trump must not concede.”

He also suggested that they should convince Senate Republicans to reject the outcome.

Mr Rhodes also allegedly sent a message on 7 November to another channel, FOS, for “Friends of Roger Stone” – the longtime Republican operative and Trump ally – asking for the “plan”.

“We need to roll,” he wrote. “I’m on my way to DC right now with my [Oath Keeper] tactical leaders … to do recon.”

Federal law enforcement has arrested more than 800 people in connection with the Capitol attack.

Roughly 380 people have pleaded guilty to federal charges; 80 have pleaded guilty to felonies, and another 300 have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors.

The Oath Keepers trial involves the most significant charges and highest-profile case yet in the aftermath of the Capitol attack.

Mr Rhodes has pleaded not guilty. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Other defendants in the case include Kelly Meggs, who led the Oath Keepers chapter in Florida, and Florida member Kenneth Harrelson, as well as Thomas Caldwell, a retired US Navy lieutenant commander, and Jessica Watkins of Ohio.

US District Judge Amit Mehta is presiding over a trial he anticipates will last four to five weeks.

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