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Oath Keeper who took plea deal provides key testimony for government

Jason Dolan, 45, of Wellington, Florida, told jurors he joined the Oath Keepers because he wanted to vent to someone about his frustrations over then-President Donald Trump's false claim that the 2020 election had been stolen from him.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A 19-year Marine veteran who was set to stand trial alongside five Oath Keepers affiliates charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot, provided key testimony for the government on Tuesday as he described why he decided to plead guilty.

Jason Dolan, 45, of Wellington, Florida, pled guilty last year to obstruction and conspiracy charges, in exchange for other more serious offenses being dropped. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler asked him to tell the jury, in his own words, why he entered a plea agreement.

“I helped coordinate. I helped plan. I helped set up. I helped drive up to D.C.,” Dolan said. “I talked about my desire … [of] wanting to stop what I saw as an illegitimate government — or not dually-elected government — from taking power.”

Testifying for over an hour Tuesday, he described how he wanted members of Congress to hear the rage he felt as he stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with defendants Kenneth Harrelson and Kelly Meggs. At the time, Congress was ceremonially certifying President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.

“I wanted [members] to stop what they were doing,” he said. “I wanted them to be afraid of me.”

People will act out of charity and kindness, but they will also act out of fear, he said, so “maybe they could be scared into doing the right thing.”

Dolan was not charged with seditious conspiracy, but a superseding indictment charges five affiliates of the rightwing extremist Oath Keepers group with seditious conspiracy for allegedly orchestrating the insurrection as part of a larger plot to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.” They are accused of spending months planning the assault, recruiting members and stocking up on weapons. Five people died in the attack, which delayed the ceremony that Congress had scheduled to certify the 2020 election results.

On the witness stand Tuesday, Dolan described how his growing frustration with the 2020 election began in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 Election Day. He said he would consume “anywhere from a six pack of beer to a half bottle of vodka” on a typical night and would entertain himself by looking for news articles or videos that “kinda reinforced that idea in my mind that the election had been stolen.”

And he grew increasingly enraged after seeing media reports days after the 2020 election stating Trump was projected to lose. He told jurors he was “pretty pissed” because that outcome did not seem possible given all of the pre-election reports he saw projecting Trump as the winner.

While looking “for some way to vent” about his anger, Dolan said a friend told him about the Oath Keepers, which led him to contact the local Florida branch through their website and join.

By December, Dolan said he downloaded Signal and would spend his time in chats with members of the Florida Oath Keepers for hours at a time, sometimes more. He felt he identified with them because a lot of the members had a military or law enforcement background and agreed with the false claim that the election was stolen from Trump.

“I liked it. I didn’t feel like I was alone,” Dolan said, adding that he does not have many friends and his wife and daughter are “not really into politics at all.”

He recounted Signal messages from Dec. 12, 2021 — less than three weeks before Jan. 6 — in which defendant Meggs said it would be a “very, very bad thing” if there was no protection to the Constitution other than citizens.

Dolan said he is waiting for legal remedies form the courts to be resolved, but he has to be mentally prepared for how far he is willing to go to protect the Constitution.

Meggs said if Dolan will stand with this great lady liberty, “then we will be with you.”

“If I’m lucky I get a prison sentence tagged with … treason, or a bullet from the very people I would protect,” Dolan replied. “Yet I swore to defend this country against all enemies foreign and domestic. I think my biggest trouble is trying to convince myself to say goodbye.”

Meggs told Dolan to “stand ready but focus on that family” and that “fear needs to be your motivation.”

By Dec. 21, rhetoric in the Signal chats grew increasingly violent. Defendant Stewart Rhodes, who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, said they need to “push” Trump to do his duty and declare independence. “Defend, conquer or die,” Rhodes said at one point.

On Jan. 4, Dolan said he picked up Harrelson and another person and they drove with a “loose convoy” up to Whitesville, North Carolina, where they stayed in a grassy area and Dolan slept in a shed.

The next day he said they drove to the Comfort Inn Ballston in Arlington, Virginia, which he described as a “staging area for our gear.” Dolan said he dropped off his rifle and was told a man was waiting in a hotel room on standby to ferry weapons across the Potomac into Washington for a “Quick Reaction Force” if necessary on Jan. 6.

Come Jan. 6, Dolan told jurors he breached the Capitol yelling “Treason!” He identified himself and Harrelson in surveillance video which shows them walking around the Rotunda as the mob raged outside.

If Trump invoked the Insurrection Act, like Rhodes had suggested he might, Dolan said he assumed such orders would have come from Rhodes, to Meggs, to Harrelson then to him.

But he is glad that did not happen because he thinks there would have been “a lot of violence” if Trump did.

Dolan’s sentencing date has not yet been set, but he told jurors he faces up to seven years behind bars.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, is presiding over the trial, which is expected to resume Wednesday at the Washington federal courthouse and may last another three weeks.

Also standing trial with Rhodes, Harrelson and Meggs are Thomas Caldwell, 68 and Jessica Watkins, 40.

All jurors were tested for Covid-19 Tuesday morning after the judge dismissed one juror who tested positive for the virus. The remaining 15 jurors will be required to wear masks and undergo daily testing for the remainder of the trial, which may last another three weeks.

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 a period of incarceration.

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