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Jurors hear more testimony in the trial against the Oath Keepers founder

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Days after the January 6 Capitol attack, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes tried to get a message to then-President Trump. That revelation emerged today in testimony in the most important January 6 trial to date. That is the seditious conspiracy case against Rhodes and four other members of his far-right group.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is covering the trial. He joins us from the courthouse. Hello, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hello there.

KELLY: So the government has been giving its side of the case for a month or so now. They are close to resting, but they had some big testimony today. What can you tell us?

LUCAS: Well, the jury heard from a witness named Jason Alpers. He's a former military special operations guy who now does software development in Texas. And he said that he met with Rhodes and a few other Oath Keepers in a Dallas-area parking lot just days after the Capitol attack. Rhodes wanted to get a message to then-President Trump, which is something Alpers says he could do indirectly.

Now, Alpers secretly recorded this parking lot meeting. The government played clips of it for the jury. And at the meeting, Rhodes typed out on Alpers' cell phone a message for Trump. And jurors saw screenshots of that message. And in that message, Rhodes calls on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to remain in power. Rhodes says that if Trump doesn't do so, Biden would jail Trump and his family, and he would kill them. He also says Americans would, quote, "die in combat on U.S. soil fighting against traitors" who Trump handed over power to.

Now, Alpers says Rhodes was asking for civil war in America. Alpers said he did not agree with Rhodes, so he didn't pass this message along to Trump. Instead, he gave it and the recording of the meeting to the FBI.

KELLY: Help me with the timeline here. This meeting, we said, was after January 6. How does this fit into the government's case?

LUCAS: Well, Rhodes and his co-defendants are accused of conspiring to try to prevent, with the use of force if necessary, Biden from taking office. And the government says that conspiracy continued after January 6 and the Capitol attack. This recording helps bolster their case. And it also goes to what the purpose of the alleged conspiracy was, which was to keep Biden from taking power.

KELLY: All right. OK. What else have we heard from the government as they have laid out their case over the past few weeks?

LUCAS: Well, jurors have seen a lot of Signal messages, Facebook messages from the defendants, some about the 2020 election and how they felt that Trump had actually won, how they thought that Biden would be an illegitimate president and how they needed to fight to keep Trump in office. The jury saw messages Rhodes sent in which he warns of a, quote-unquote, "bloody and desperate fight" if Biden's in the White House. Another defendant, Thomas Caldwell, talked about killing politicians. So there was a lot of inflammatory, bombastic talk that goes to the defendant's state of mind.

KELLY: And I'll just jump in. There was a lot of talk. But they also took action. That was clear as well?

LUCAS: That's right. That's right. The jury saw evidence of how the defendants recruited and trained and planned to come to Washington, D.C., for January 6; how they stashed guns at a hotel in Virginia for a quick reaction force to ferry weapons, the government says, into D.C. if necessary. And ultimately, of course, Oath Keepers, including three of the defendants here on trial, dressed in tactical gear and forced their way into the Capitol on January 6.

KELLY: The jury's also heard from cooperating witnesses, from Oath Keepers who also took part in the Capitol attack. What did they have to say?

LUCAS: That's right. There were two of them. One of the cooperators who testified was a Florida Oath Keeper named Graydon Young. And he told the jury that the decision to storm the Capitol was spontaneous. But he also said he believed there was an implicit understanding among Oath Keepers who were in those group chats with Rhodes about forcefully opposing Biden from taking office. He said that they were going to disrupt Congress, and the riot presented an opportunity to do something.

KELLY: All right. A sampling there of what the government has laid out for its case. And they rest the case tomorrow. The defense is up next. NPR's Ryan Lucas at the courthouse. Thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.