Days after Joe Biden was declared the victor of the 2020 presidential election, Stewart Rhodes and fellow members of his far-right militia group talked like they were going to war.
"We're not getting out of this without a fight. There's going to be a fight," the founder of the Oath Keepers said in a recording of the Nov. 9 meeting revealed in federal court on Tuesday. "But let's just do it smart, and let's do it while President Trump is still commander in chief."
Later in the meeting, Rhodes warned the group-which prosecutors say was composed of Stop the Steal diehards determined to keep Trump in the White House no matter what-to have "discipline" when discussing their plan and thoughts about the election.
"Don't make it easy for them to pop you with a conspiracy charge," Rhodes added.
Federal prosecutors now say that the two-hour meeting, which was secretly recorded by an attendee and passed along to the government, was the start of a concerted planning process to stop the election certification of Biden's win over Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. The argument is at the crux of the seditious conspiracy case against Rhodes and four other Oath Keepers members on trial for their role in the Capitol insurrection. All five members have pleaded not guilty to the rare Civil War-era charge that means a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The November 2020 recording of Rhodes, prosecutors say, is the first major piece of evidence establishing a months-long plot to stage "an armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy." In the recording played in court Tuesday, Rhodes also repeatedly says that people should pressure Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, which he suggested would allow the militia to use force to fight on his behalf.
"If the fight comes, let the fight come. Let antifa go-if they go kinetic on us, then we'll go kinetic back on them. I'm willing to sacrifice myself for that," Rhodes said. "If things go kinetic, good. If they blow bombs up and shoot us, great. Because that brings the president reason and rationale."
Rhodes-who is not charged with entering the Capitol himself-adds in the recording that the group's mission is "going to be to go into D.C.," before noting he wants some armed members outside of the D.C. area to be "prepared to go in if they have to."
"So, if the shit kicks off, then you rock and roll," Rhodes added.
Standing trial with Rhodes are Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida Oath Keepers chapter; member Kenneth Harrelson; Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy intelligence officer; and Jessica Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group.
Federal authorities have described the Oath Keepers as "a large but loosely organized collection of [the] militia who believe that the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights" and who heavily recruit former military, law enforcement, and first responders. They have repeatedly inserted themselves into unrest over police violence and other flashpoints in American life in recent years-but never garnered systematic attention from federal law enforcement until the riot.
In the recording, Meggs is heard saying that pepper spray, tasers, and stun guns are legal to bring into D.C.
"And it doesn't hurt to have a lead pipe with a flag on it," he adds.
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