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Trial Evidence Shows How Oath Keepers Founder Spent Thousands on Weapons and Components in Cross-Country Travel to D.C.

Stewart Rhodes firearms purchases

This government illustration shows the cross-country purchases of weapons and components made by Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes before Jan. 6. (Image via DOJ)

Days before the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol building, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes spent thousands of dollars on weapons, components and gear during a cross-country buying spree from Texas to Washington, D.C., according to evidence presented in his seditious conspiracy trial.

The government’s illustration of the trek shows Rhodes making pit stops in Texas, Mississippi and Virginia.

FBI agent Sylvia Hilgeman authenticated the reams of bank records, private messages and travel records over the course of several days on the witness stand. Rhodes completed some of these transactions through a company called GunBroker, which facilitates hand-to-hand transactions.

A Yale-educated attorney, Rhodes has not been charged with illegal weapons purchases or possession. The government entered the transactions into evidence in seeking to persuade jurors that several Oath Keepers members engaged in a seditious conspiracy to block the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

Five of the group’s leaders and members — Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell — are currently standing trial in a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.

The spate of purchases began on New Year’s Day of 2021, when Rhodes allegedly arranged for the $1,900 purchase of two bolt carrier groups in a private purchase and spent $2,989.51 on ammunition and equipment — including 14 magazines, three sights, two optics, one bipod and one scope leveling kit — at Academy Sports in Georgetown, Texas.

According to evidence submitted in court, Rhodes left Granbury, Texas, to begin his journey to the nation’s capital on Jan. 3, 2021. On the first day of his trip, Rhodes made two stops for weapons and components at established stores: He paid $5,737.02 for two triggers, six sights, two scope mounts, a sling and a mount at Superior Outfitters in Tyler, Texas, and $4,521.54 for sights, mounts, optic plates, ladder rail panels, magazines, lights, charging handles, a bipod and other equipment at The Range @ 601 in Meridian, Mississippi.

Rhodes also arranged on Jan. 3, 2021, to buy an AR rifle via a text message and withdrew $1,900 that same day.

“I just got your message regarding the AR I have listed on guntrader,” an unidentified seller wrote to Rhodes in a text message released by the government.

The day before the attack on the Capitol, a woman named Marsha Lessard — who ran an organization called the Virginia Freedom Keepers — received two night vision devices and a night vision compatible weapons sight in Virginia, according to the government. Prosecutors say that Rhodes bought those devices for $7,273.64 from Kerif Night Vision on Dec. 30, 2020.

Rhodes’ lawyer James Lee Bright emphasized that the purchases were legal and tried to undermine FBI Agent Hilgeman’s knowledge of firearms. Neither she, nor anyone else in the government, had ever alleged that the purchases themselves were illegal.

After waves of cross-examination by multiple defense attorneys, Hilgeman ended her stint on the witness stand. Following her testimony was Capitol Police Capt. Ronald Ortega, who described the chaotic scene at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, for the jury. Through him, the government introduced several surveillance videos from that day into evidence.

[Image via DOJ.]

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."