A former member of the far-right Oath Keepers testified in federal court on Thursday that he believed the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, had a contact in the Secret Service.
Appearing as a witness in Rhodes’ Capitol riot trial, John Zimmerman “told jurors that Rhodes claimed to have a Secret Service agent’s number and to have spoken with the agent about the logistics of a September 2020 rally that then-President Donald Trump held in Fayetteville, North Carolina,” the Associated Press reported.
Zimmerman was part of the North Carolina chapter, and his testimony is based on what boils down to hearsay.
More from the Associated Press:
The claim came on the third day of testimony in the case against Rhodes and four others charged with seditious conspiracy for what authorities have described as a detailed, drawn-out plot to stop the transfer of power from Trump to Democrat Joe Biden, who won the election.
Zimmerman could not say for sure that Rhodes was speaking to someone with the Secret Service — only that Rhodes told him he was — and it was not clear what they were discussing. Zimmerman said Rhodes wanted to find out the “parameters” that the Oath Keepers could operate under during the election-year rally.
The news agency noted that the “significance of the detail in the government’s case is unclear,” but said the House committee investigating the riot at the Capitol has been focused on Trump’s potential ties to extremist groups.
According to another Oath Keepers member expected to testify against Rhodes, the founder supposedly called someone close to Trump and requested that the then-president be told to call on militia groups to fight to keep him in power.
“Authorities have not identified that person; Rhodes’ lawyer says the call never happened,” the AP reported.
A Secret Service spokesperson told the news agency that “individuals from the Oath Keepers have contacted us in the past to make inquiries,” further stating that it’s “not uncommon for various organizations to contact us concerning security restrictions and activities that are permissible in proximity to our protected sites.”
The defense is reportedly arguing that setting up a quick reaction force was common for the Oath Keepers but their presence was only to provide protection against violence from Antifa activists or in the event Trump invoked the Insurrection Act.
In related news, Jeremy Joseph Bertino, a Proud Boys member, pleaded guilty Thursday to seditious conspiracy in connection to the protest at the U.S. Capital, agreeing to a plea deal that requires him to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation — which means he could turn state’s witness against other members of the group.
Bertino, 43, was not even in DC on January 6 and he is the first Proud Boys member to plead guilty to seditious conspiracy, according to the Daily Mail, which noted that the charge is a rarely used Civil War-era offense that calls for up to 20 years behind bars.
“Prosecutors say that Bertino, also known as ‘Noble Beard’ was a member of an elite Proud Boys cell dubbed the ‘Ministry of Self Defense’ (MOSD), and participated in encrypted group chats discussing plans to disrupt Congress from certifying the 2020 election,” the British tabloid reported.
According to the DOJ, Bertino participated in group chats about the possibility of storming the Capitol, assisted by advising those on the ground to “form a spear,” applauded the attack from afar, and sent messages of encouragement.
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