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Oath Keepers push back at trial: No plan, no smoking gun

One of their own took the stand for the government this week, but the Oath Keepers insist his testimony fails to show they intended to overthrow the government on Jan. 6.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Defense attorneys for five Oath Keepers associates charged with seditious conspiracy fought Wednesday to poke holes in the government’s core claim that they had a plan ahead of Jan. 6, 2021, to breach the Capitol building.

The government’s case hinges on the theory that the indicted members of the far-right militia group planned, recruited and stocked up on weapons after the 2020 election as part of a larger plot to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.” Five people died in the attack, which caused Congress to postpone its ceremony certifying the 2020 election results.

To prove the charge of seditious conspiracy, however, prosecutors must show that the five defendants had an actual agreement to "overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force" the U.S. government. Meanwhile the defense says there is no evidence to establish that the Oath Keepers were in Washington on Jan. 6 for any reason other than to provide security detail for speakers at events throughout the city that day, like they have done in the past.

That narrative came into play Wednesday as the defense cross-examined key government witness Jason Dolan, 45, of Wellington, Florida. Dolan copped a plea deal with the government last year and testified Tuesday about why he joined the Oath Keepers and what led him to breach the Capitol with defendants Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson.

Juli Haller, who represents Meggs, asked Dolan on Wednesday if he had any discussions with Meggs or Harrelson about violence, forcible entry into the Capitol, or forcibly overthrowing the government.

“No,” Dolan said, “we never talked about forcing our way into the Capitol or overthrowing the government.”

Phillip Linder, who is counsel for defendant Stewart Rhodes, likewise asked the witness if Rhodes had communicated a plan along the lines of, “hey, we’re going to the Capitol.” Dolan said that never happened.

Dolan also noted that his phone was on airplane mode on Jan. 6, so he could not say whether Rhodes put out a message on Jan. 6 to the effect of, “hey, everyone’s going in, let’s go.”

Even when he took his phone of airplane mode, Dolan agreed with Linder's insistence that he did not see a text from Rhodes like, “hey, this is our opportunity to go seize the day."

That day, Dolan, Meggs and Harrelson were among the first of the rioters to breach the Capitol building.

Dolan had testified Tuesday for the prosecution that the Oath Keepers did not “target” police on Jan. 6, but that law enforcement were an obstacle to the Capitol building. He also described to jurors how he wanted members of Congress to hear his chants of “treason,” to be afraid of him, and to stop certifying the election while he stormed the seat of the U.S. government.

As the defense tried to shift that narrative on Wednesday, they showed jurors a selfie Dolan had snapped with Meggs and Harrelson inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 as the mob raged outside.

Haller asked Dolan to confirm that the Oath Keepers had their backs to the officer, and that the officer had his arms down and was “in a relaxed pose.” Dolan conceded it appears that was true.

“In fact,” Haller continued, what the group of Oath Keepers are doing in the photo is actually “protecting this officer from other protesters.” Dolan agreed and admitted he heard Harrelson say, “we are not here to hurt you.”

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, is presiding over the trial, which may last another three weeks.

Also standing trial with Harrelson, Meggs and Rhodes, who founded the Oath Keepers organization, are Thomas Caldwell, 68, and Jessica Watkins, 40.

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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