Stewart Rhodes Lawyer Tries to Downplay Quick Reaction Force

Thomas Caldwell and Kenneth Harrelson

Oath Keepers members Thomas Caldwell and Kenneth Harrelson move a cart allegedly carrying guns at a Comfort Inn in Virginia for their so-called “Quick Reaction Force.” Prosecutors claim they were planning to ship those firearms across the Potomac if then-President Trump called them. (Photo via DOJ)

During several days on the witness stand, an FBI agent provided detailed testimony about the so-called “rapid reaction force” the Oath Keepers, an offshoot within the extremist group that prosecutors say were ready to ship guns to Washington, DC, to the former president to deliver Donald Trump’s Command.

On Monday, lawyers for several Oath Keepers downplayed the rapid reaction force, or QRF, as the group’s “standard practice” when attending protests across the country.

During her testimony, FBI agent Sylvia Hilgeman authenticated cell tower recordings, surveillance cameras, bank records, text messages and other exhibits supporting the government’s case. Cell phone records showed the group traveling from across the country and gathering at a Comfort Inn in Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC. Inside the hotel, CCTV video showed members of the QRF entering the hotel, walking through the hallways and undetected pushing packages onto trolleys. Bank records showed Rhodes purchased thousands of dollars worth of guns and components.

After days of this presentation, defense attorneys for the five leaders and members of the Oath Keepers who were on trial in the first phase took turns trying to undermine the revelations.

Rhodes’ attorney James Lee Brights The questioning often became contentious when he argued that the so-called QRF was “standard practice” for the Oath Keepers.

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Bright said the group had a QRF in Louisville at a protest against the deadly raid that killed BreonaTaylor. There was another QRF in a van in Northern Virginia for the Million MAGA March, the attorney said.

During his cross-examination, Bright also grilled Hilgeman about her knowledge of firearms and gun laws. Rhodes allegedly made some of these purchases on a website called GunBroker, using his own account in a hand-to-hand transaction. Bright said his client, a Yale-trained attorney, openly participated in these transactions because they were not illegal.

Bright also attempted to distance Rhodes from the Comfort Inn, where the Oath Keepers QRF are said to have congregated.

“How many of the rooms at the Comfort Inn bore Mr. Rhodes’ name?” Bright asked.

“None,” confirmed Hilgeman.

Rhodes himself did not appear in any of the CCTV footage presented by the FBI agent.

Bright also emphasized that the QRF was never activated. Despite alleged plans to ship the weapons across the Potomac by boat, no ship was ever docked for the Oath Keepers. The Oath Keepers defendants have not yet denied they were willing to activate the QRF on Trump’s orders, but the former president has never called them.

“The ‘armed’ rebellion was not armed,” Bright claimed.

“The armed rebellion wasn’t over yet,” Hilgeman replied, noting that the alleged conspiracy extended weeks before January 6, 2021 — and after.

The extremist group has claimed that it believed it could lawfully have served as Trump’s paramilitary force if he invoked the Insurrection Act.

The jury also heard briefly from reporters Micha Loewinger, a correspondent for New York public radio station WNYC’s “On the Media” show. Loewinger recorded the Oath Keepers’ communications on Zello for a report on how militia groups used the walkie-talkie app to orchestrate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. He played some of these recordings on the show’s podcast entitled How Zello Became a Recruitment and Organizing Tool for the Far-Right.

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Explaining why he needed a government subpoena to take him to the witness stand, Loewinger said, “I’m a strong believer in journalistic independence and integrity.”

Earlier in the day, jurors were shown sexually charged text messages between Rhodes and the attorney Kelly Sorellewho is threatened with prosecution himself.

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