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Message to Trump from head of Oath Keepers takes center stage

Four days after the Capitol riot, Stewart Rhodes tried to relay a call to action to the outgoing president.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A man who claimed he could get a message to Donald Trump in the final weeks of Trump's presidency testified Wednesday at the trial of Stewart Rhodes and four associates of his right-wing militia group charged with seditious conspiracy.

Jason Alpers did not elaborate about his connection to Trump on the witness stand — “indirectly, yes,” he said of his relationship to someone who could apparently relay information to Trump. Whatever the connection was, Alpers said it was enough for Rhodes to request a meeting with him in mid-January 2021 because he had a message “he wanted to give Trump.”

Alpers agreed to the meeting to appease their mutual acquaintance, a friend he described as Chad, who used to work security at a company Alpers co-founded called Allied Special Operations Group. Though he had not yet decided whether he would relay the message from Rhodes to Trump, Alpers said he drove alone to meet Rhodes in the middle of the night on Jan. 10.

Before getting out of the car — the meeting was in the parking lot of a Fry’s electronics store in Texas — Alpers activated a covert recording device disguised as a thumb drive.

“The reason I had the recording device,” Alpers told the jury, was because he knew he would be learning information that might be provided to the then-president, “and as a result of that I wanted an accurate representation of what was being said.”

Alpers offered similar reasoning when questioned about his decision to have Rhodes type the message for Trump into the notes section of a cellphone.

“Again,” he told jurors, “this is me wanting to have an accurate representation of what was stated" before providing it to the president — "so I asked him to write down the message on a phone that I had.”

The message from Rhodes — which Alpers ultimately brought to the FBI instead of to his purported White House connections — implored Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, which would authorize the president to call on militias to enforce federal laws or suppress a rebellion. Rhodes insisted that this move was necessary to stop the transfer of power to the Democratic president-elect, whom Rhodes described as an “illegitimate Chicom puppet" — an apparent reference to the Communist Party of China.

“President Trump,” Rhodes wrote on the phone provided by Alpers, “You can save the Republic by doing your duty as commander-in-chief.”

“If you don’t,” Rhodes continued, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would “turn all that power” on Trump and his family would be “imprisoned and killed just like the Romanovs in Russia.”

“You and your children will all die in prison,” Rhodes said, adding that “us vets” will die in combat on U.S. soil fighting against traitors “who you turned over all the power of the presidency to.”

Rhodes, 56, and four affiliates of his Oath Keepers group are accused of orchestrating the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as part of a larger plot to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.” Five people died in the attack, which forced Congress to delay its certification of the 2020 election.

The prosecution on Wednesday provided jurors with a transcription of Rhodes’ message for Trump as well as recorded audio clips from the parking lot meeting between Rhodes and Alpers.

Rhodes said he heard Trump had “dropped the Insurrection Act, now we’re hearing he didn’t drop it.”

Alpers responded that Trump “had not and was not going to.” Pressing for more details, the Oath Keepers leader asked Alpers what, exactly, was he hearing. Alpers again said that Trump “hasn’t dropped it.” Rhodes wondered if it was because he is never going to or because someone “talked him out of it.”

“In my opinion,” Alpers said, “I don’t think the Insurrection Act’s gonna get signed, me personally. That doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna take what we’re talking about and provide it to the right place.”

As their conversation continued, Rhodes insisted there was going to be combat “here on U.S. soil no matter what,” and there is no way out “without fighting.”

And while Alpers said he did not condone what happened four days earlier at the Capitol, Rhodes said, “you know what came out of it though … so it turned out to be a good thing in the end.”

When Alpers told Rhodes that he thought “it played right into their hands,” Rhodes responded that may be true, but “it also showed” that people have a spirit of restraint.

If Trump is not going to “do the right thing” and is just going to let himself be removed from power illegally, Rhodes said, “then we should have brought rifles.”

“We could have fixed it right then and there,” he said. “I’d hang fuckin’ Pelosi from the lamppost.”

Alpers said he thought the ideology being pushed in that moment “was way off base.”

As to why he never passed on Rhodes’ message, Alpers said it was because he found it to be “one-sided” with extremist ideologies wrapped throughout. Passing it along to Trump’s inner circle would have wrapped him into “agreeing with that ideology in some way — which I did not.”

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, is presiding over the trial of Rhodes in Washington alongside four alleged co-conspirators: Kelly Meggs, 53; Thomas Caldwell, 68; Kenneth Harrelson, 41, and Jessica Watkins, 40.

Prosecutors have brought counts for seditious conspiracy, saying the defendants communicated about their plans via encrypted chats, stocked up on weapons and traveled across the country to carry out the Jan. 6 attack.

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

The Justice Department so far has charged more than 880 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of Oct. 6, about 313 people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, about 99 have pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 152 people have been sentenced to prison time.

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