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Oath Keepers spent thousands of dollars to build arsenal before January 6, prosecutors allege

<i>Susan Walsh/AP</i><br/>Stewart Rhodes
Susan Walsh/AP
Stewart Rhodes

By Hannah Rabinowitz and Holmes Lybrand, CNN

Oath Keepers members spent tens of thousands of dollars in January 2021 on firearms, bullets and other equipment, according to prosecutors in Washington, DC, trying to prove members of the far-right extremist group were building an arsenal as it prepared to try to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power.

In all, prosecutors said Monday in federal court that nearly $200,000 in withdrawals were made from bank accounts connected to the Oath Keepers that month used for a wide variety of purchases, including guns. Prosecutors used evidence of the withdrawals, coupled with shopping receipts and text messages, to show how some members allegedly stockpiled the weapons.

Oath Keepers’ founder Stewart Rhodes, according to text messages showed to the jury, bought several firearms from online sellers in what prosecutors called “parking lot purchases.”

Prosecutors then showed the jury evidence that Rhodes withdrew money from ATMs by a Bass Pro Shop, a Lowe’s and a gas station near where he made the purchases. They also displayed receipts showing purchases of firearm accessories, including 14 magazines, eight sights and one scope leveling kit, at retail shops around the same time.

Prosecutors have not said what they believe Rhodes did with the weapons he amassed on his way to Washington, DC, or whether they were taken to a Virginia hotel where the group’s so-called quick reaction force amassed.

An FBI agent testified Monday that Rhodes does not appear on the hotel’s security footage and that the weapons were ultimately found in a storage unit belonging to Oath Keeper Joshua James, who has pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy.

The extensive withdrawals are part of prosecutors’ efforts to convince a jury that Rhodes and his organization were preparing for more than just a peaceful rally on January 6, 2021, and that they believed a violent conflict was imminent.

Prosecutors show sexually explicit messages between Rhodes and lawyer

According to prosecutors, Rhodes made the purchases both in his home state of Texas the week before the Capitol attack and on his road trip to the DC region. Rhodes embarked on the trip around January 3, 2021, according to cell phone data, traveling with lawyer Kellye SoRelle. SoRelle faces several charges in connection to January 6 and has pleaded not guilty in a separate case.

Attorneys for the defendants have repeatedly argued that SoRelle was the general counsel for the Oath Keepers organization. But, prosecutors suggested Monday, she was not acting in that capacity around the time of January 6 and was even exchanging sexually explicit messages with Rhodes.

“Speaking of f—ing…If you need some come on over,” Rhodes texted SoRelle on January 2. SoRelle declined, according to another text message. She allegedly later texted Rhodes that “You’re too good at what you do. Whole bad boy thing. I am a damn moth to a [fire emoji]. I really am replaying my teenage years.”

Prosecutors have relied heavily on messages and audio recordings so far to make their case against the five defendants and began to show the jury how those recordings captured the defendants actions on January 6 by calling a journalist to the stand Monday afternoon.

The journalist, Micah Loewinger, captured an audio stream from a walkie-talkie app on January 6 that allegedly shows Jessica Watkins, a defendant in this case, narrating the attack in real time.

“We’re boots on the ground here. We’re moving on the Capitol now. I’ll give you a boots-on-the-ground update here in a few,” Watkins allegedly said, according to court documents.

Rhodes, Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, Thomas Caldwell and Kelly Meggs have pleaded not guilty to several charges in this case, including seditious conspiracy.

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