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Agent saw Oath Keepers leader with 90s-era badge to access US Capitol ‘unescorted’

A U.S. Capitol Police special agent testified that he noticed Stewart Rhodes wearing a now-expired congressional badge while speaking at a rally ahead of the Capitol riot.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The man accused of spearheading a seditious conspiracy last year had unescorted badge access to the Capitol building from his work as a legislative assistant in the 1990s, a Capitol Police special agent testified Friday.

One decade before he founded the Oath Keepers, and two before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes had unfettered access to the building from July 1998 until January 1999 while employed by then-Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican.

Rhodes, 57, of Granbury, Texas, is accused of orchestrating the insurrection with his Oath Keepers associates, four of whom are standing trial alongside him, as part of a larger plan to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.”

Although Rhodes did not physically enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6, prosecutors say he spent months planning, recruiting and stocking up on weapons with his co-defendants. Five people were killed in the insurrection, which delayed Congress’ certification of the 2020 election results.

Ryan McCamley, an 18-year veteran with the U.S. Capitol Police and the government’s sixth witness, told jurors Friday that he was doing covert countersurveillance in Washington on Dec. 12, 2020, the day of the March for Trump, when he noticed Rhodes giving the speech at the so-called “Jericho” rally wearing a now-expired congressional badge.

McCamley described how he recognized Rhodes — who was wearing a gray suit with a black cowboy hat and an eye patch — after having read about him and the Oath Keepers less than two weeks prior in Defense One magazine.

While he may have heard of the Oath Keepers prior to reading the article, McCamley told jurors he did not “know much about them.” McCamley worked his way up to special agent status within the intelligence operations division in 2015, having started as a uniformed officer,

At the Jericho rally, McCamley snapped a photo of Rhodes with what he described as a “small” group of Oath Keepers, the antigovernment group Rhodes founded in 2009. Prosecutors displayed the photo to the jury, which the agent said he sent to his intelligence team that day as part of their efforts to prevent clashes between various demonstrators in the city.

On cross-examination, Rhodes’ attorney James Bright tried to establish that the Capitol Police special agent did not see Rhodes and his associates do anything illegal while he was surveilling them in plain clothes on Dec. 12.

Bright asked what drew his attention to the rally, aside from his covert duties. McCamley explained that he saw a cameraman trying to take a photo and, when the “media gets stirred up about something, we kind of want to see what’s going on, too.”

The defense attorney probed further, asking two more times if there was anything else that drew his attention. But the agent did not budge and repeatedly said no.

And when the defense questioned if he saw any illegal behaviors or illegal confrontations, the agent conceded that he did not and that he would describe the Jericho rally as “peaceful.”

Rhodes is a veteran but his eye patch is said to have been a self-inflicted injury from 1993, after his military service, when he dropped a loaded gun and shot himself in the face.

Jurors also heard testimony Friday from FBI Agent Byron Cody, who testified about messages Rhodes sent to fellow Oath Keepers on the eve of the Jericho rally, including several discussing Rhodes’ desire for then-President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act.

Rhodes said in the letter that the Insurrection Act was the “only option” Trump had to stop Joe Biden from claiming what Rhodes erroneously insisted was an illegitimate victory.

“That’s all he has left,” Rhodes told his compatriots. And if Trump does not act, Rhodes said they will have to fight against an “illegitimate Biden regime,” and that it will be a “bloody and desperate fight.”

The agent also testified about two open letters Rhodes published on the Oath Keepers’ website before the Capitol riot in which he called for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act.

Rhodes posted his first open letter on Dec. 14, the day that the electoral college voted to certify Biden’s victory. He urged Trump to declare a coup was being undertaken by known and unknown foreign enemies and to call on the Oath Keepers as his militia.

In the second letter, posted days later on Dec. 23, the Oath Keepers’ founder implored Trump to uphold his oath to the Constitution and to “act now” as a “wartime president.”

“Please don’t do it,” Rhodes pleaded, “do not concede.”

He urged Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and said this could not wait until Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, 2021; Rhodes insisted he should instead “strike now.”

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, is presiding over the trial, which is expected to resume Tuesday and may last another five weeks.

Rhodes’ alleged co-conspirators set to stand trial alongside him in the Washington federal courthouse are Thomas Caldwell, 68; Kelly Meggs, 53; Kenneth Harrelson, 41 and Jessica Watkins, 40. 

A seditious conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison. It requires prosecutors to prove to the jury that an actual agreement — to "overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force" the U.S. government — existed among the accused Oath Keepers.  

The Justice Department has so far charged more than 870 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of last month, about 300 people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, 80 have pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 132 people have been sentenced to a period of incarceration. 

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