Defense rests in Capitol riot trial of Oath Keepers leader
WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes rested their case Wednesday in his Capitol riot trial after a man described as the far-right extremist group’s “operations leader” for Jan. 6, 2021, told jurors that he never heard anyone discussing plans to storm the building.
Michael Greene, who is also facing charges in the insurrection, waived his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to testify in Rhodes’ defense in the seditious conspiracy trial. He was the final witness for the defense before Rhodes’ team rested its case, which included testimony from Rhodes himself.
Greene, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, said he came to Washington to oversee the Oath Keepers’ security services for right-wing figures such as Roger Stone, longtime Donald Trump confidant, at events before the siege.
Seeking to counter the testimony of government witnesses, Greene told jurors that there wasn’t even an “implicit” plan to attack the Capitol.
“Did you put anyone on mission that day to enter the Capitol?” defense lawyer James Lee Bright asked him. “No,” said, Greene, 39, of Indianapolis.
Greene took the stand in the sixth week of testimony in the case accusing Rhodes and four co-defendants of a violent plot keep Democrat Joe Biden from the White House. Prosecutors have argued that the Oath Keepers came to Washington intent on stopping Biden from becoming president at all costs and sprang into action when the pro-Trump mob started storming the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Messages read to jurors show Rhodes in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 repeatedly warning of violence and the rallying his followers to fight to keep Trump in power. Authorities say Rhodes continued plotting even after the insurrection, presenting testimony that shows the extremist group leader was trying in mid-January to get a message to then-President Trump urging him to continuing fighting to hold his office.
In a risky move, Rhodes chose to take the witness stand in his defense, telling jurors there was no plan to attack the Capitol. Rhodes tried to distance himself from the Oath Keepers who did go inside, saying he believed doing so was “stupid.” On cross-examination, prosecutors questioned Rhodes about his own messages and statements, including when he lamented days after the riot that the Oath Keepers “should have brought rifles” on Jan. 6.
Lawyers for the four other defendants still get to call witnesses and the government has the right to introduce rebuttal testimony.
On trial with Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, are Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers; Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath Keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group. They face several other charges in addition to seditious conspiracy. The rarely used charge calls for up to 20 years behind bars.
Greene told jurors that he wasn’t a dues-paying member of the Oath Keepers but worked essentially as a contractor, handling security operations. He is not charged with seditious conspiracy but other felony offenses stemming from the Capitol attack. Rhodes told jurors he tapped Greene as an “operation leader” for Jan. 6 after meeting Greene in 2017, when they helped with disaster relief after Hurricane Harvey.
Greene testified about how Rhodes, before the “Million MAGA March” in Washington on Nov. 14, 2020, set up a “quick reaction force” that could speed weapons into Washington if necessary. He said Rhodes was concerned at the time that left-wing protesters would storm the White House and forcibly remove Trump. Greene said he told Rhodes that was “crazy.”
“They have a (expletive) arsenal, they’ll slaughter everybody,” he recalled telling Rhodes.
Rhodes’ lawyers never called another man they floated as a potential witness — an Oath Keeper who had been working as a government informant.
The New York Times reported this week that Greg McWhirter was secretly providing information about the Oath Keepers to the FBI in the weeks before Jan. 6.
Prosecutors late Tuesday night inadvertently filed a motion in public that was meant to be under seal, asking the judge to question defense lawyers about whether they had leaked that information. Prosecutors wrote that the lawyers had received that information from the government under a protective order and it should not have been publicly released.
They noted that McWhirter had expressed “tremendous anxiety about his status as a confidential informant being publicly revealed.” The man ended up in the hospital after suffering “medical distress” upon boarding a plane to Washington to testify in the case, prosecutors wrote.