After members of the far-right group Oath Keepers stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, their leader called someone on the phone with an urgent message for then-President Donald Trump, another extremist told investigators.
While gathering in a private suite at the Phoenix Park Hotel, a member of the Oath Keeper said he heard their leader: Steward Rhodeskeep urging the person on the phone to tell Trump to call on militias to fight to keep the president in power.
“I just want to fight,” Rhodes said after hanging up with the person who declined Rhodes’ appeal to speak directly with the president, court filings say.
Federal prosecutors have not said who they believe Rhodes was speaking to on the call, which court documents listed in the case of an Oath Keeper member who pleaded guilty to the riot. A lawyer for Rhodes says the call never took place.
But the story has raised questions about whether the extremist group’s leader might have had the ear of someone close to Trump on Jan. 6 — an issue that could take center stage if the House committee investigating the uprising, its next public hearing is Tuesday.
The Jan. 6 committee said it was investigating any links between people in Trump’s orbit and extremist groups accused of instigating the Capitol violence.
Top leaders and members of the Oath Keepers and another far-right group – the Proud Boys – were charged with seditious conspiracy In the most severe cases so far, the Justice Department has launched the Jan. 6 attack.
Neither federal prosecutors nor House investigators have claimed that anyone in the Trump White House was connected to extremist groups in the run-up to Jan. 6.
But at least two men close to Trump — longtime friend Roger Stone and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn — have known contacts with far-right groups and extremists, in some cases allegedly involved on Jan. 6.
Cassidy Hutchinsona former aide to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows also told the House Committee that she heard the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers mentioned ahead of the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington. But no further details about it have been revealed.
Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center who provided information about extremists to the committee, said she expects lawmakers to build on those statements and potentially more information about connections between people close to Trump and groups divulge like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
“Things are very blurry right now,” Miller said.
During the committee’s last televised hearing, Hutchinson told lawmakers Trump directed Meadows to speak with Stone and Flynn the day before the riot. Hutchinson said Meadows called both Flynn and Stone on the evening of January 5, but she said she didn’t know what they were talking about.
In posts on social media platform Telegram after the hearing, Stone denied ever speaking to Meadows on the phone. When asked by The Associated Press for comment on the call, Flynn’s brother responded in an email that the Jan. 6 hearing was “a clown show.”
Neither Stone nor Flynn have been charged in connection with the Capitol riot, and both have asserted their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before the House Committee. Trump pardoned each of them after they were convicted by juries or pleaded guilty in counts unrelated to January 6th.
During the events in Washington before the riot, Stone deployed members of the Oath Keepers — a far-right militia group that recruits current and former military, first responders, and law enforcement — as security guards.
Photos and video from January 5 and 6 show Stone flanked by people in Oath Keepers gear. Among them was Joshua James, then head of the group’s Alabama chapter, who has pleaded guilty to riot conspiracy and is cooperating with authorities investigating the riot.
Stone, an informal Trump aide, has denied having any knowledge of or involvement in anything illegal on Jan. 6.
“The Oath Keepers gave me security on a voluntary basis on January 5th. Nothing more, nothing less,” he recently wrote on Telegram.
On Friday, Rhodes’ attorneys told the committee that their client wanted to testify personally and publicly. A spokesman for the committee declined to comment, but lawmakers are unlikely to agree to Rhodes’ terms.
The committee has already interviewed Rhodes for hours behind closed doors, but he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination under the guidance of his attorneys when asked about the post-election time, said one of his attorneys, James Lee Bright, who AP. Bright said Rhodes now wants to “face the narrative that they represent,” which he says is “completely wrong.”
Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper, and four co-defendants are due to appear in court in Washington in September. The Oath Keepers have largely avoided public forums since Jan. 6, and it’s unclear who is handling the group’s “day-to-day” operations with Rhodes behind bars, said Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
The Oath Keepers have denied there was any plan to storm the Capitol. They say their communication and planning up until Jan. 6 was all about providing safety for right-wing figures like Stone before the uprising and protecting themselves from possible attacks by Antifa activists.
Stone also hasn’t been shy about a close association with Enrique Tarrio, the former leader of the Proud Boys, who is due to stand trial in December on sedition charges, along with other members of the extremist group, which bills itself as the politically incorrect “Western” men’s club chauvinists.”
In February 2019 — a month after he was charged with witness tampering and other crimes in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation — Stone was summoned again to respond to a post on his Instagram account that included a photo of the judge with what appeared to be contained crosshairs of a gun. On the witness stand, Stone publicly identified Tarrio as one of five or six “volunteers” who provided him with images and content to post on social media. Stone said his home acted as the headquarters for his volunteers.
The Proud Boys have tried to make connections with mainstream Republicans since Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes founded the group in 2016, Miller said.
A Proud Boys member told the Jan. 6 committee that membership in the group skyrocketed after Trump refused to directly condemn the group during his first debate with Biden. Instead, Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
And while extremist groups tend to collapse after law enforcement jails their top leaders, that doesn’t seem to have happened to the Proud Boys. Despite a brief lull in activity following the riots, Miller said 2021 was one of the most active years for the extremist group.
Flynn had also been in contact with some far-right groups before January 6. In the weeks following the election, Flynn became a leading figure in the campaign to cast doubt on the results and urge Trump to take extraordinary measures to stay in power.
Calling Trump’s loss an “ongoing coup d’état,” Flynn publicly suggested Trump seize voting machines and promoted the idea of martial law. He and several allies eventually took those ideas straight to Trump at a December Oval Office meeting. Flynn was also a keynote speaker at a large Washington rally on December 12, 2020, supporting Trump’s desperate efforts to undermine his election loss.
In text messages later filed in court, Rhodes – the leader of the Oath Keepers – and other members discussed how members of the group had worked with another far-right group, the 1st Amendment Praetorians, or 1AP, to ensure Flynn’s personal safety that day to offer. A photo taken from UPI shows Flynn leaving the rally with Rhodes and at least one member of 1AP.
The House Committee subpoenaed 1AP founder Robert Patrick Lewis and noted in a letter to Lewis that he claimed to coordinate regularly with Flynn and also claimed to be in contact with Rhodes prior to Jan. 6.
Lewis, who was not charged as of Jan. 6, said the group is made up of military and law enforcement veterans and provided pro bono security and intelligence in the months following the election. In a recent libel lawsuit, Lewis and another 1AP member, Philip Luelsdorff, have denied their involvement in planning or carrying out the attack on the Capitol, saying that 1AP was never a militia or paramilitary group.
Flynn pleaded guilty to previously lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation pardoned by Trump just over a month before the Capitol riot.
Richer reported from Boston, Smith from Providence, Rhode Island, and Kunzelman from College Park, Maryland. Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/07/11/trump-associates-ties-to-extremists-probed-by-jan-6-panel/ Trump associates’ links to extremists were examined by the panel on January 6