Oath Keepers founder testifies in trial of Rep. David Eastman

Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, testified Monday morning
Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, testified in Rep. David Eastman's trial Monday.
Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 11:21 PM AKST
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Witness testimonies continued Monday morning in the trial surrounding Rep. David Eastman’s eligibility to hold public office.

The lawsuit, filed by one of Eastman’s constituents, challenges a disloyalty clause in the Alaska Constitution and with it, Eastman’s eligibility to hold public office after he was outed as a member of the Oath Keepers organization, widely known as an anti-government militia.

Monday afternoon in what might be considered a bold move by the defense, the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, took the stand. Rhodes was recently convicted of seditious conspiracy along with additional charges related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and remains incarcerated.

Rhodes, however, testified that there were never any plans for members of the Oath Keepers to enter the Capitol building that day. The role of the Oath Keepers, he said, was to escort speakers from the VIP section of the ellipse — where then-President Donald Trump gave his speech — to the northeast corner of the Capitol grounds.

“I did not direct them to do so, and I did not know that they’d done so until afterward,” Rhodes testified, speaking about members entering the Capitol building. “I told them it was stupid, and I told them it was stupid for two reasons: One, it was not our mission that day, and two, in doing that, exposed us to persecution by political enemies who have taken advantage of that to persecute us, and this is what’s happened to me. That’s why I’m here.”

Rhodes called into the courtroom telephonically from his jail cell in Virginia after getting cut off from his initial connection through his lawyer’s line.

Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna opted to postpone the cross-examination of Rhodes by the opposing counsel to Tuesday morning, when Rhodes will again be able to use his attorney’s line instead.

Prior to Rhodes’ testimony, Patrick Martin took the stand for the defense. Martin is a long-time friend of Eastman who accompanied him on his trip to Washington D.C. in January 2021. Martin described the rally similarly to previous witnesses called on by the defense, while drawing comparisons to other violent protests in Portland and Seattle, when he said the events on Jan. 6 should not be labeled as a “riot.”

Eastman also took the stand – the second time in this trial – for the defense, during which he reinforced his commitment to the Oath Keepers organization.

“In 1995, I was required to take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution,” Eastman said. “I did so, and I maintain my fidelity to that oath.”

Eastman, who has said he was in Washington, D.C., at the time of the attack on the Capitol, has maintained that he never entered the building itself.

The defense still has a number of witnesses it has indicated it plans to call on, and expects to wrap up evidence by the end of Tuesday. Closing arguments are now anticipated to take place Wednesday morning.

It is not clear when McKenna might make a final ruling in the case.