- Defense lawyers argued at trial the Oath Keepers were a community-minded service group.
- A lawyer for one Oath Keeper said his client was “apolitical” and not invested in the 2020 election.
- That Oath Keeper, Kenneth Harrelson, “didn’t know” there was a House or Senate, his lawyer said.
Standing before the jury Thursday, defense lawyer Bradley Geyer hoped his client would forgive him for the story he was about to share in the trial of five Oath Keepers charged with plotting to prevent the peaceful transfer of power on January 6, 2021.
When he met Kenneth Harrelson more than a year ago, Geyer said, the Oath Keepers member hardly knew of the institutions or processes involved in the certification of the 2020 election.
“He didn’t know there was a House of Representatives and a Senate. He didn’t know anything about the Electoral College,” Geyer said, adding that Harrelson thought at the time it was a place where “politicians went to get educated or whatever.”
Geyer professed Harrelson’s ignorance in an opening statement defending him against charges he participated in a seditious conspiracy to interfere with the certification of the 2020 election and keep former President Donald Trump in power. In a half-hour address to the jury, Geyer argued that Harrelson was so disinterested in politics that he could not have had the intent to stop the transfer of power from Trump to n0w-President Joe Biden.
“Kenny is literally apolitical,” Geyer said, and holds “no deeply held political positions either way.”
“He had no anger about the certification,” Geyer added. “He frankly didn’t care.”
Geyer’s opening statement kicked off the Oath Keepers’ defense in a high-profile January 6 prosecution that involves the most serious charges brought to date in a case stemming from the Capitol attack. Earlier on Thursday, federal prosecutors rested their case after calling their final witness, FBI agent John Moore, to the stand.
In their month-long case, federal prosecutors presented text messages and other evidence detailing the Oath Keepers’ planning ahead of January 6. Prosecutors have shown jurors evidence that the Oath Keepers stockpiled weapons in a hotel outside Washington, DC, for so-called “quick reaction forces” that could be summoned into the nation’s capital.
At the conclusion of their side of the case, prosecutors presented a message Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes drafted urging Trump to take drastic action to overturn his loss to Biden in the 2020 election. Rhodes sought to warn Trump, “If you don’t then Biden/Kamala will turn all that power on you, your family, and all of us. You and your family will be imprisoned and killed.”
But the message, drafted in the days after the January 6 attack, was never sent.
Rhodes is standing trial alongside Harrelson and three other Oath Keepers members — Jessica Watkins, Kelly Meggs, and Thomas Caldwell — on charges related to January 6. His lawyer said at the outset of the trial that Rhodes would testify in his own defense.
Geyer on Thursday said the Oath Keepers’ “commitment to disaster-relief services” attracted Harrelson to the far-right group. Harrelson, he said, was drawn not to “politics and political rallies” but rather to what he saw as an opportunity to apply his past Army training to “service to his community.”
“Politics is not his thing,” Geyer said.
On January 6, he said, Harrelson entered the Capitol while serving as a “personal security detail.”
Prosecutors painted a starkly different picture of Harrelson’s conduct on January 6. On Monday, prosecutors called a former Oath Keepers member, Grayson Young, who recalled entering the Capitol in a military-style stack formation, with his hand on Harrelson’s shoulder.
Young, who pleaded guilty to felony charges linked to the January 6 attack, was pictured standing next to Harrelson as he took a picture inside the Capitol.
In another opening statement Thursday, a defense lawyer for Oath Keepers member Kelly Meggs argued that the group was providing security on January 6. The lawyer, Stanley Woodward, previewed what he called an “alternative theory, an alternative motivation for Mr. Meggs’ presence in Washington, DC, on January 6.”
“The testimony in this case will show the Oath Keepers chose community involvement, disaster recovery, security, personal security,” Woodward said.
Woodward noted that the Oath Keepers have provided security for prominent Trump allies, including the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Roger Stone. Of Stone, Woodward said he is “known for many things.”
“He has a tattoo of Nixon on his back,” Woodward said. “He’s an outspoken supporter of former President Trump.”