WASHINGTON — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes told jurors at his seditious conspiracy trial Monday that other members of the far-right group who stormed the U.S. Capitol were "off-mission" and insisted he was not engaged in any operation to forcefully oppose the federal government on Jan. 6.
“I had no idea that any Oath Keeper was even thinking about going inside or would go inside,” Rhodes said in his testimony in what has become a six-week-long trial for himself and co-defendants Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell.
During hours of testimony, Rhodes told jurors that going into the Capitol was "stupid" because it "opened the door for our political enemies to persecute us, and that’s what happened, and here we are."
Meggs, Harrelson and Watkins went inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rhodes said that he was "concerned" on Jan. 6 that Oath Keepers would get caught up "in all the nonsense with the Trump supporters" around the Capitol and that he sent a message on the encrypted app Signal asking Oath Keepers to gather at a spot near the Capitol for that reason.
"The goal was to make sure that no one got wrapped up in that Charlie Foxtrot," he said, using a military expression for "cluster f---."
Yet as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, Rhodes praised the "patriots" and compared their actions to those of the country's founders, according to government evidence presented at trial.
And just days after the Capitol attack, Rhodes said he thought they "should have brought rifles." He also continued to try to get President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and remain in office, and he spoke about his desire to "hang f---in' Pelosi from the lamppost," evidence showed.
Rhodes began his testimony Friday and was cross-examined by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy on Monday.
"You're in charge, right?" Rakoczy asked Rhodes.
"Not when they do something off-mission I'm not in charge, unfortunately," he replied.
"Well, that's convenient," Rakoczy said.
Tasha Adams, Rhodes' estranged wife who filed for divorce in 2018, told NBC News before Monday that Rhodes would "fall apart" on cross-examination.
"I've never seen him have to face a consequence for anything," Adams said. "He either wiggles out of it or he would make me deal with it. ... Now he's there, he's doing his thing, but it's right after they played that awful, awful audio of the real him. So now this jury, they're seeing this side of him, but they've got to be just completely aware of what a false face it is compared to what they just heard.
"His greatest weakness is anyone confronting him with anything, contradicting him, and him not being able to immediately shut it down," she added.
Rhodes stumbled over parts of his testimony, even made a few self-deprecating remarks about his weight and made light of his sexual relationship with Kellye SoRelle, the general counsel to the Oath Keepers, whom he blamed for sending a message telling members of the organization to delete their communications.
Rhodes said that he didn't think the Biden administration was legitimate and that, in his view, the 2020 election was both unconstitutional and illegal. He also said he thought they might have to fight the government.
But a theme of his testimony was his claim that the fight would come later, after President Joe Biden took office.
“If he were to leave, leave office without exposing the corruption in our government, then yes, down the road, we would have no choice, if we have to, to fight,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said that he and the Oath Keepers were prepared to walk the “founders' path” but that even today he hopes conflict can be avoided.
“But when you have a government that steps outside the Constitution, it puts you in a bad place,” he said.
The trial continues Tuesday, when Rhodes' defense team will call additional witnesses.