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Stewart Rhodes Spoke with Secret Service Agent During Trump Rally in North Carolina, Former Oath Keepers County Leader Testifies

Alleged members of the Oath Keepers militia group approached the Capitol in 'stack formation' on Jan. 6, 2021 (left); group leader Elmer Stewart Rhodes III (right).

Alleged members of the Oath Keepers militia group approached the Capitol in ‘stack formation’ on Jan. 6, 2021 (left); group leader Elmer Stewart Rhodes III (right).

A former member of the Oath Keepers says that Stewart Rhodes, the group’s founder and leader, was on the phone with a Secret Service agent during a Donald Trump rally in North Carolina in September of 2020.

The testimony from John Zimmerman, a prosecution witness in the seditious conspiracy trial against Rhodes and four co-defendants in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, suggests a direct line between Rhodes and the agency tasked with protecting the president.

Zimmerman, a 27-year Army veteran and one-time proprietor of an “emergency preparedness” store, was a member of the Oath Keepers for around three months toward the end of 2020. He first met Rhodes in September of 2020, as the group organized what Zimmerman said was essentially an escort team for VIPs attending a Trump rally in Fayetteville.

Rhodes, Zimmerman said, believed that the rally was an opportunity to show people what the group does.

Zimmerman said that he overheard part of a phone conversation with Rhodes and someone he says Rhodes claimed was a Secret Service agent. According to Zimmerman, Rhodes and the person on the phone were discussing the parameters of the Oath Keepers’ security function and which roads would be used to escort the VIPs. He testified that he could not hear what the person on the other end of the phone line was saying.

Zimmerman’s time with the Oath Keepers was relatively brief. While on the stand, he explained how he first became involved with the group and why he eventually left.

Zimmerman told Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy that he was basically appointed to run the North Cumberland, North Carolina chapter of the Oath Keepers after attending what he described as a disorganized meeting of the group.

He said that at the time, most of the discussions among members were about concerns over Black Lives Matter and “Antifa” violence: according to Zimmerman, Rhodes had told the group that members of those groups targeted and attacked elderly people and “single mothers pushing baby carriages.”

“At that time, if anyone was watching on TV that’s pretty much exactly what was happening,” Zimmerman said.

“Who do you understand ‘Antifa’ to be?” Rakoczy asked Zimmerman.

“Mostly BLM folks,” he replied.

“Who do you believe ‘BLM’ to be?” the prosecutor asked.

“Mostly people pretty much fighting racism,” Zimmerman answered it. “As I understood it, most people in BLM didn’t like Trump supporters.”

Zimmerman said that Rhodes’ plan to engage with “Antifa/BLM” was to essentially trick them into attacking them by dressing up either as elderly people or as a parent pushing a stroller — but instead of a baby, the stroller would be carrying weapons.

The gist of Rhodes’ plan, according to Zimmerman, was: “We could entice them to attack us [and] we could just give them a beat down.”

Zimmerman was troubled.

“Why I agreed to join them — let me take deep breath because I feel my blood pressure rise — the idea of the Oath Keepers, as described to me by Mr. Rhodes, [was that] Oath Keepers was a CERT — a Community Emergency Response Team,” Zimmerman said, adding that he is a CERT instructor himself. “That’s why I bought into the idea of what the Oath Keepers was.”

Zimmerman explained that the CERT “method” for responding to disasters is for a responder to first take care of their family. Then, if the family is safe, to reach out and take care of the neighborhood, expanding outward from there to provide assistance to those who needed it.

“I bought in, hook, line, and sinker,” Zimmerman said, adding that he believed that he was joining a group that acted like, essentially, an extension of law enforcement and first responder services when called upon for support.

“If we’re going to trick people into attacking us so we could give them a beatdown, that’s not what we do,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman also said that, under Rhodes’ instruction, the group was preparing for the possibility that Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, a series of laws dating back to the 1790s that purportedly allow the president to call up civilian militias to quell rebellions.

The purpose of invoking the act, Zimmerman said, would be to tamp down what he called a “rogue government.” Rakoczy asked Zimmerman to clarify what that meant.

“Pretty much what we’re seeing right now,” with Congress doing “whatever they want,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman was not in Washington on Jan. 6. Rather, he said he was at home in North Carolina recovering from Covid.

[Image of “stack formation” via FBI court filing. Image of Rhodes via Collin County (Tex.) Jail.]

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