“My Only Regret Is That They Should Have Brought Rifles”

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At the first day of the Oath Keepers’ trial, the Department of Justice attempted to show how the militia came to the Capitol on January 6 with a plan.

The Justice Department’s case against five members of the Oath Keepers militia group is so extensive that it is expected to take a month lay out. But it is also pretty simple: Members of the far-right militia came to Washington on January 6 with a plan to use violence to keep Donald Trump in power.

During the first day of the trial, we got a glimpse of how the DOJ intends to prove that: by citing the Oath Keepers’ own words—especially those of its founder, Stewart Rhodes. “My only regret is that they should have brought rifles,” Rhodes said in a previously unreported recording from January 10 played by prosecutors Monday. “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” Rhodes wrote in an Oath Keepers chat two days after the election.

On its face, the Oath Keepers trial is about charges against five defendants for conspiring to obstruct Congress, and other crimes. But it will also help determine what narrative of January 6 prevails. While prosecutors have charged more than 900 people with crimes related to the January 6 riot on the Capitol, the Oath Keepers trial is their first effort to prove that a plan to use violence helped cause that attack.

“These defendants concocted a plan for an armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy,” Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Nestler, the lead prosecutor in the case, said in his opening statement on Monday. “They banded together to do whatever was necessary—up to and including force—to stop the transfer of power from President Donald Trump to president-elect Joe Biden.”

The Oath Keepers’ defense is also fairly straightforward. They claim members of the group came to Washington to help protect speakers at events supporting Trump and with the hope that Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, a law that allows presidents to use emergency measures to put down rebellions, defense lawyers said.

“There was no plan,” Philip Linder, one of the lawyers for Rhodes, said in his opening statement. “They were there to work security.”

“The Oath Keepers are basically a peacekeeping force,” he added.

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