A former spokesman for the far-right paramilitary organization Oath Keepers testified Tuesday before the House select committee on January 6 that the group is “dangerous” and “violent” and that its leader, Stewart Rhodes, was emboldened. to lead an “armed action”. revolution” at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“I spent a few years with Oath Keepers, and I can tell you that they may not like to call themselves ‘militia,’ but they are,” said Jason Van Tatenhove, a former national spokesman for Oath Keepers. “They are a violent militia.”
Tuesday’s hearing focused largely on former President Donald Trump’s close ties to far-right groups like the Oath Keepers, which played a major role in the Jan. 6 storming of Capitol Hill.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) asked Van Tatenhove specifically about Rhodes’ rhetoric in the weeks leading up to the Capitol riot.
“Stewart Rhodes implored President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, the 1807 law that allows the president to call up militias to put down a rebellion against the United States, and I want to hear your thoughts on this in the context of your previous relationship with Rhodes. Raskin said. “I understand you had discussions with Rhodes about the Insurrection Act. Why was he so obsessed with it and what did he think he would allow the Oathkeepers to do?
Van Tatenhove countered that Rhodes wanted Trump to sign the Insurrection Act into law because it would have given the Oath Keepers “legitimacy” and a “way forward” and helped Trump stay in power.
He also emphasized that Americans needed to understand how extreme the Oathkeepers are.
“I think we need to stop beating around the bush and just talk about truths and what an armed revolution was going to be,” Van Tatenhove said. “I mean, people died that day. The law enforcement officers died that day. There was a gallows installed in front of the Capitol. This could have been a spark that started a new civil war, and no one would have won there. That wouldn’t have been good for anyone.”
“All I can do is thank the gods that things weren’t worse that day,” he said.
Van Tatenhove’s testimony came amid a House select committee presentation demonstrating the Trump administration’s extensive ties to the Oath Keepers. Members of the group served as security for Trump adviser Roger Stone, and Rhodes was in an encrypted chat group with Stone and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, in the days before the attack on Capitol Hill. (Trump pardoned Flynn and Stone, who were major players in his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, before leaving office.)
Van Tatenhove said that “the fact that the president was communicating, either directly or indirectly with messages” with Rhodes before the insurrection, “kind of gave him the go-ahead.”
Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers members were arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy for allegedly plotting violence on January 6 to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Federal investigators say Rhodes tried to communicate with Trump through an intermediary as rioters stormed the Capitol on January 6 (the intermediary’s name is unknown).
Van Tatenhove appeared before the committee wearing a jean jacket over a black Descendants T-shirt. He explained that he first came into contact with Oath Keepers in 2014 as a “freelance journalist” when he went to report on a series of armed clashes between far-right militia groups and the federal government across the western US. USA
After developing a relationship with Oath Keepers, he was offered a job managing the group’s website and acting as their spokesperson, which he accepted.
Shortly afterward, Van Tatenhove recalled, Rhodes gave him a startling assignment.
“You may remember the conflict in the Middle East where our own military created a deck of cards, which was a who’s who of the key players on the other side that they wanted to eliminate,” he testified, referring to the US Army’s list of suspected suspects. terrorists to kill in Iraq and Afghanistan. “And Stewart [Rhodes] He was very intrigued and influenced by that notion, and he wanted me to create a deck of cards that included different politicians, judges, including Hillary Clinton as the Queen of Hearts.”
Van Tatenhove said he refused to do the homework. He said he became even more disillusioned with the group when he saw it openly embrace white nationalism and “outright racists.” The breaking point came in a Montana grocery store, he recalled, when he heard Oath Keepers deny that the Holocaust had occurred. He says that he left the group shortly after.
When asked to describe the Oath Keepers’ vision of America, Van Tatenhove responded that it does not include the “rule of law… it includes violence.”
“It includes trying to get away with it through lies, deception, intimidation and perpetration of violence,” he said.
At one point during the hearing, Raskin noted that the Justice Department has evidence that Oath Keepers brought firearms, tactical equipment and explosives to Washington, DC, prior to the Jan. 6 attack.
Van Tatenhove responded that “there was always a push for military training, there were even courses in that community that covered explosives training” at Oath Keepers.
“I think we have been very lucky that there is no more bloodshed because the potential has been there from the beginning,” he told the committee.
Van Tatenhove ended his testimony by saying that he fears for the future of the United States.
“I fear for this next election cycle because who knows what that could bring if a president who is willing … to goad his supporters using lies and deceit and snake oil, regardless of the human impact, what else is he going to do if get elected again? he said. “All bets are off at that point, and that’s a scary notion.”
“I have three daughters,” he added. “I have a granddaughter, and I fear for the world they will inherit if we don’t start holding these people accountable.”