WASHINGTON, Nov 4 (Reuters) – The founder of the far-right group Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes tried on Friday to soften his image as a militant anti-government supporter of former President Donald Trump as he took the stand at his trial. accused of trying to block the peaceful transfer of presidential power in 2021.
Rhodes, a Yale Law-educated former U.S. Army paratrooper, teared up at times when he spoke about his decision to form Oath Keepers in 2009, saying it was a civic-minded group that welcomed people. volunteers of all races who help hurricane victims. and gives veterans returning home from foreign deployments a sense of purpose.
“The suicide rate is so high,” Rhodes said of the number of veterans who die by their own hands in the United States each year. “And to come home and see that they have no purpose. And the country doesn’t care anymore.”
Rhodes’ decision to take the stand is risky. In many cases, defense attorneys ask their clients not to testify because it has the potential to be recanted.
Rhodes and co-defendants Thomas Caldwell, Kenneth Harrelson, Kelly Meggs and Jessica Watkins face multiple charges in connection with the attack on the US Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021. where legislators and officials fled. their lives
The charges include conspiracy to riot, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors said Rhodes was a far-right figure who urged his followers to use any means necessary, including violence, to keep Trump in power and prevent Congress from confirming President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Trump supporters, including Oath Keeper defendants, gathered on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 as lawmakers gathered to confirm Biden’s victory after the Republican president falsely claimed the election was won by Democrat Joe Biden. It was stolen from him.
After the attack was over, Rhodes was secretly recorded making a distress call saying “we had to get guns” and that he would be glad to have House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress and a disgraced figure on the far right, out. light channel
While most of the rioters at the US Capitol said they were motivated by Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, Rhodes said he was not among them.
His concern, he said, was not about election fraud, but his belief that the election was unconstitutional because of a wave of new rules by state executives rather than legislatures to facilitate voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Did you believe the election was stolen?” asked one of Rhodes’ lawyers.
“I believe the election was unconstitutional … and that made it invalid,” Rhodes said. “You can’t really have a winner in an unconstitutional election.”
Rhodes is scheduled to begin testifying again on Monday.
Report by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell
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