Oathkeepers claim to be a veteran support group but are a dangerous militia, former member tells January 6 panel
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes claimed to run a veterans’ support group but actually ran a dangerous militia and aspired to be a paramilitary leader, a former member told a House panel investigating the case on Tuesday. January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
Jason Van Tatenhove, who was a spokesperson for the group, described during his testimony how Rhodes had hoped then-President Donald Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act – a law allowing the president to deploy troops into the land – like the opening salvo of an “armed revolution” in which Rhodes and the Oath Keepers would rise to power.
The hearing was the latest in the House’s Jan. 6 committee investigation into the violent 2021 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, including veterans of extremist groups Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, as Trump sought to overturn the results of the election that put President Joe Biden in the White House. Rhodes and 10 members of his group were indicted in January on federal sedition charges related to plans to stop the peaceful transfer of power following Biden’s election victory.
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Prior to the attack, Rhodes had always looked for ways to legitimize what he was doing in the public eye, said Van Tatenhove, who testified that he eventually left the group due to anti-Semitism among its members.
Rhodes “was always looking for ways to legitimize what he was doing, whether it was wrapping him in the trappings of ‘this is not a militia. This is a community prep team; we are not a militia. We’re an educational outreach group. It’s a veterans support group. But again, we have this dishonesty and the hashing of words about who they are,” Van Tatenhove said. “You know, he’s a militia leader. He had these big visions of being a paramilitary leader.”
Five of the charged oath keepers, including Rhodes, served in the military.
Extremist groups played key role in attack on Capitol after Trump called for mass protest in Washington to reject peaceful transfer of power; it included a Jan. 6 speech that urged his armed supporters to march on the Capitol, according to the Jan. 6 committee and federal indictments.
The House panel presented evidence and testimony from former Trump officials claiming that the former president made various failed attempts to overturn the election results after November 2020 and ultimately turned to his angry supporters and its armed extremist groups as a way to disrupt the vote. certification.
Most of Trump’s advisers had believed that any chance for a legitimate challenge to the election results was over by mid-December when the U.S. Electoral College named Biden president-elect and dozens of Trump’s legal objections were overruled, according to the committee.
Federal prosecutors allege Rhodes and his fellow Oath Keepers hatched a plan to breach the Capitol, spent weeks training, and deployed heavily armed “quick reaction forces” to the area in anticipation of a conflict as they were converging on Washington to prevent Biden from taking office.
Members of the group can be seen in video of the Jan. 6 attack climbing the steps of the Capitol through crowds of rioting Trump supporters in a “stack” formation used by the military.
Five members of the extremist group Proud Boys, including former president Enrique Tarrio, were charged with seditious conspiracy in June. All of the charged members except Tarrio were military veterans. Federal authorities say they were the vanguard of rioters who first broke through Capitol police lines and broke through the Capitol.
“We were extremely lucky there wasn’t more bloodshed because the potential was there from the start,” Van Tatenhove said. “A loss of life, however tragic, we saw on January 6 that the potential was so much more.”
Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran, was shot dead by Capitol security as she tried to break into the House chamber where lawmakers were barricaded from rioters. A Capitol Police officer who was injured in the attack later died. More than 140 officers were injured on January 6, according to police.
Van Tatenhove, a former freelance journalist, said he decided to leave the Oath Keepers after witnessing a discussion while living with the group in Montana among Holocaust-denying members.
Before leaving, he said Rhodes had asked him to create a deck of playing cards with the faces of American politicians that would mimic the cards issued to American troops during the Iraq war. These cards, issued by the army, showed photos of the most wanted fugitives such as Saddam Hussein, who was eventually captured and executed.
“Stewart was very intrigued by this notion and influenced by it, I think, and he wanted me to create a deck of cards that would include different politicians, judges…Hillary Clinton as the Queen of Hearts,” he said. “It’s a project I refuse to do.”
Related: Oathkeepers militia members, including 5 veterans, charged with sedition over Jan. 6 riot
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