Oath Keepers trial hears from members troubled by rhetoric before Jan. 6



“He thought we should dress up as the elderly or be like a single parent pushing a baby carriage. We could entice them to attack us,” Zimmerman said during the trial of Rhodes and four other Oath Keepers members in Washington.

“I told them that’s not what we do,” Zimmerman recalled. “That’s entrapment. We can’t do that. That’s illegal.”

Zimmerman said he joined the group of former military and police personnel believing that its purpose was to provide community emergency response and to provide security to supporters of then-President Donald Trump after run-ins with Antifa militants and Black Lives Matter supporters at Trump rallies.

“I bought into it hook, line and sinker,” said Zimmerman, who at the time owned a store catering to home-preparedness buffs known as “preppers.” He explained how he took his custom van to a Trump rally in North Carolina in September to provide security for attendees and then drove it to the vicinity of the post-election pro-Trump MAGA march in Washington. The van was loaded with a large stash of weapons of Oath Keepers members, but was kept in a parking lot at Arlington National Cemetery because of D.C.’s strict gun laws, Zimmerman said.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Zimmerman’s testimony was his claim that during the September event, Rhodes seemed to have the phone number of an unidentified Secret Service agent and was coordinating with him about where the Oath Keepers could be and what they could do.

Zimmerman said, however, that he grew estranged from Rhodes and other national leaders in the wake of his provocative remarks after the November rally.

“When he’s talking about … you should get dressed up and have people trick people to come in and attack you, so we can give them a beat-down? No, that’s not what we do,” said Zimmerman, who came in and out of the courtroom wearing a drab green face mask emblazoned with the words “Front towards enemy.”

Later in the day, jurors heard from Michael Adams, who stepped down from his position atop the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter shortly after the 2020 presidential election. He said he, too, was focused primarily on the preparedness aspect of the group and was troubled by language Rhodes used in open letters to Trump urging him to reject the election results.

“I found myself in a situation where I was questioning whether I needed to continue to be a member,” Adams said. “The letters indicate that if the president — the current president, Mr. Trump at the time — did not declare the Insurrection Act and call up militias … ’we’ would have to do something about it.”

“I was concerned about who ‘we’ is. … I’m not part of the ‘we,’” Adams testified. He read from one Rhodes letter that spoke of the need to “take to arms in defense of our God given liberty.”

“These are the words that helped me make my decision to resign from leadership position in the organization,” Adams declared. “That’s not my ideology and I did not want to be associated with that.”

During cross-examination, however, Adams acknowledged that he didn’t sever his ties with the Oath Keepers. After resigning his leadership role, he let Rhodes and other leaders use his online GoToMeeting account for video conferences.

Under questioning from defense attorney Juli Haller, Adams acknowledged that he was vague when he relayed his resignation to Rhodes via text. “I’m a proud lifetime member and will be in the back,” said Adams, who works as a trainer for commercial truck drivers.

Adams also said that, beyond extreme rhetoric from Rhodes and similar comments in the group’s online chat rooms, he didn’t know of any imminent plan for violence.

“I had no knowledge of any specific violent act that was being planned to be committed,” he said.

While much of the trial’s third day of testimony seemed damning for Rhodes, it was less clear how damaging it was to the four other defendants on trial for their alleged roles in the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The testimony from Zimmerman and Adams seemed to underscore the possibility that some of those who traveled to the Washington area in early January might have genuinely believed that they were taking part in security details for speakers or preparing to assist Trump supporters who might come under attack.

Prosecutors contend that the defendants came to Washington intent on using force to disrupt Congress’ certification of electoral votes and that a quick-reaction force holding weapons at a hotel in Arlington, Va., hotel was part of that plan.

While Zimmerman and Adams seemed affable and direct on the witness stand, a third prosecution witness presented a very different demeanor.

Abdullah Rasheed, who claimed to be the leader of the Oath Keepers’ West Virginia chapter, mumbled, fidgeted and stared at the floor as he explained that he used a spare phone to record about 25 minutes of one of the group’s conference calls six days after the 2020 election because he felt people were discussing some sort of insurrection.

“I was expecting to hear, yeah, Biden bad, Trump good. That’s OK. I agree. I don’t agree,” said Rasheed, who claimed to be a Marine Corps veteran and said he worked as a heavy equipment mechanic. “The more I listened to the call, it sounded like we were going to war against the United States government and I wasn’t comfortable.”

“The whole thing was so threatening,” Rasheed said. “It was scary what they were proposing be brought to the table, you know. … We’re going to take over the White House. … If you bring guns, it’s OK, kick Antifa’s butt. … It sounded horrible. It ain’t what I joined.”

Rasheed said he tried repeatedly in the days that followed to relay the recording to the FBI, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine’s office and the U.S. Capitol Police.

“Did anyone call you back?” prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy asked.

“Yeah, after it all happened,” Rasheed replied.

But during cross-examination, Rasheed acknowledged that he had used a series of names in recent years and that he had a felony conviction for aggravated sexual assault of a child. Defense attorney James Bright suggested that Rasheed was never really a leader of the group and noted that the Oath Keepers’ bylaws deny membership to anyone with a felony conviction.

“Are you aware of your history, sir?” Bright asked.

Rasheed insisted, however, that his civil rights had been restored so the prohibition did not apply to him.

Another defense lawyer, Jonathan Crisp, implied that the government might have encouraged Rasheed to record the call, but the witness denied that. A question about whether Rasheed asked the FBI to give him a new identity in exchange for his testimony drew this reply: “You mean like a Russian spy? I don’t even know what that is.”

While Rasheed’s responses were often perplexing, aspects of his testimony aligned almost directly with the grave charge of seditious conspiracy that the government has leveled at Rhodes and the four others now on trial.

“It sounded like we were going to war with — we’re going to overthrow the United States government and start shooting everybody,” Rasheed said of the November 2020 call he recorded.

He also said his requests for protection were amply justified given the violent language used by many Oath Keepers members.

“I don’t want my wife to have stitches,” Rasheed said. “You know?”

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