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No plot, only bombast, ops leader for Oath Keepers testifies

Prosecutors held up the massive weaponry Stewart Rhodes bought for the Capitol riot to contrast defense testimony painting him as an aging provocateur.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The face of the Oath Keepers rested his defense Wednesday with testimony from a man said to have served as the operations leader for the far-right militia on the day of the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Michael Greene offered a pragmatic if not entirely flattering image of Stewart Rhodes, likening the 57-year-old's irascible rhetoric to barbershop bluster from an old man. And when the prosecution insinuated that a lot of old timers aren't conspiring against their governments, Greene, 39, noted that his own record tells a different story.

“I’m on a docket with two old people,” the witness added. “I’m indicted with them. They’re old. They’re old as shit.”

Separate from the ongoing trial of Rhodes, where he and four fellow affiliates of the Oath Keepers stand charged with seditionist conspiracy, Greene was indicted for conspiracy this past June alongside another seven people tied to the group. Like Rhodes, Greene is not accused of physically breaching the Capitol. Rather, he is accused of helping to plan to bring weapons to the Washington, D.C., area on Jan. 6, 2021, as part of operations to stop the transfer of presidential power.

The government has likened Rhodes' decision to stay outside of the Capitol building to that of military general. While the riot was underway, a so-called “quick reaction force” of the Oath Keepers was standing by in Virginia at the Comfort Inn Ballston, just across the Potomac River from seat of the U.S. government. Prosecutors say Rhodes only had to give the order for that team to ferry the weapons into the riot scene.

Greene, who also goes by Michael Simmons, answered in the affirmative when U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler asked if his apparently older co-defendants also brought weapons into the capital area on Jan. 6.

But when asked if it was so they would have them at the ready to bring into the capital, if necessary, Greene said, “it’s not ready if it’s not with you.”

Set to go to trial in spring, Greene waived his Fifth Amendment right before taking the witness stand on Wednesday and tried to distance himself from the Oath Keepers organization throughout his testimony. The dues-paying members of the Oath Keepers tend to be volunteers, but Greene said it was Rhodes who paid him for each security detail he served on, making him more of a private contractor. Greene denied being a “mercenary” for Rhodes, however, and said he quickly returned the $4,000 that Rhodes paid him for his work on Jan. 6.

Greene's focus on Jan. 6 was security detail, he testified: “Everybody else was out of my scope of command." He denied having any knowledge of the team on stand-by with the weapons. He also repeatedly denied that he heard any Oath Keepers members, either before or on Jan. 6, discuss storming the Capitol, mounting an insurrection or overturning the electoral college results.

When Rhodes first reached out to Greene some time after Jan. 1, Greene said, the mission was to help organize close-protection security detail for people who would be speaking at the rally for the outgoing president, Donald Trump. Insisting that he did not know anything about what the Oath Keepers' plans were until “damn near” the day before the riot, Greene said that was because Don Siekerman, the individual whom Rhodes first tapped to be operations leader, fell ill with Covid-19.

Nestler questioned Greene about a three-way call that happened on Jan. 6 between Greene, Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, one of the defendants on trial with Rhodes. The timing of that call, close to 2:30 p.m., coincides with when the government claims that the Oath Keepers breached the Capitol in a military stack formation.

Rhodes testified earlier this week that he could not hear anything during the phone call. Greene confirmed only that he spoke with Rhodes several times on Jan. 6, denying that he was on a three-way call with Rhodes and Meggs.

“I don’t remember being on the phone with Kelly and Stewart like ever on the 6th,” he said.

Greene was also confronted with a photo he snapped outside the Capitol at about 3:15 p.m. Nestler said it shows the same location and time that the second military-style stack of Oath Keepers entered the Capitol. Several members of that stack are charged alongside Greene.

Greene did not deny taking the picture but attempted to raise doubt about whether he would have even been able to see what was happening since the picture was taken so far away.

The prosecution also asked Greene about a call during which Rhodes told Greene and Oath Keepers affiliates they need to be willing to “die and fight” to save the republic.

Greene downplayed it. “To me it sounds like Stewart Rhodes speaking the same speech Stewart Rhodes gives,” Greene said, adding that members of the media who have interviewed Rhodes would probably agree.

Aside from Meggs, who led the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, Rhodes is standing trial alongside Thomas Caldwell, 68, Kenneth Harrelson, 41, and Jessica Watkins, 40. The Obama-appointed U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta is presiding over their trial.

Prosecutors say 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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