(WASHINGTON) — A former member of the Oath Keepers testified Tuesday that he believed he and other members of the far-right group were preparing to fight to prevent President Joe Biden from taking office as they traveled to Washington on Jan. 6 — an account that the federal government believes bolsters its case as it seeks to convict five Oath Keepers of the rarely-used charge of seditious conspiracy.
Jason Dolan, 46, pleaded guilty more than a year ago to conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding and he entered into a cooperation agreement with the government against the militia group.
As part of his plea, Dolan admitted that when he traveled to Washington, he brought an M4 rifle that he left at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, on Jan. 6, 2021; and that he was part of the so-called “stack” formation of Oath Keepers that was seen climbing the east steps of the Capitol during the insurrection.
Dolan is the first cooperating witness from the Oath Keepers to take the stand against five members of the group currently standing trial on charges of seditious conspiracy and a host of other alleged felonies. Among the accused is Stewart Rhodes, the group’s founder. The five have pleaded not guilty.
The trial is now in its third week and is expected to stretch well into November.
Dolan, who served in the Marines for 20 years before retiring, testified on Tuesday that he was an alcoholic and grew increasingly radicalized in 2020 as he watched videos and online content pertaining to the presidential election. He said he found the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers as he was looking for ways to “vent” about Donald Trump’s loss to Biden and then discovered the group, made up mostly of former military and members of law enforcement.
Prosecutors showed texts from Dolan — sent via Signal, an encrypted service — to other Florida Oath Keepers where he openly discussed being prepared to resort to violence to prevent Biden from taking office in January 2021.
“If I’m lucky I get a prison sentence, tagged with treason, or a bullet from the very people I would protect,” Dolan wrote in one message, according to what was shown in court. Under questioning from the government, Dolan said he believed he was mentally preparing himself at the time to fight and “back up my words with actions.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Nestler asked Dolan about a late-December 2020 message from Rhodes to the group where Rhodes stated, “We need to push T[r]ump to do his duty. If he doesn’t, we will do ours.”
Dolan said he believed Rhodes meant specifically in the message that if Trump wasn’t going to act then the Oath Keepers would have to be willing to resist an “illegitimate government.”
“There was a feeling our country was slipping out of our fingers, and we needed to defend our country,” Dolan said. “Conquer or die.”
The government then showed the jury Dolan’s M4 assault rifle that he stored at a Virginia hotel on Jan. 6 and asked him directly if he was preparing to use it to take up arms against the government. Dolan answered, “Yes.”
He later said he brought “hundreds” of rounds of ammunition with him on the drive from Florida.
He said that he and other members stored their firearms at a hotel just outside Washington with the understanding that if then-President Trump invoked the Insurrection Act, they’d be able to bring their weapons into the city to work alongside pro-Trump forces in the government against people opposed to Trump.
“You would be fighting with pro-Trump forces basically against pro-Biden forces within the United States government?” Nestler asked.
“Yes,” Dolan said.
Asked more directly, Dolan said that Oath Keepers believed if Trump didn’t stop the certification of Biden’s victory by invoking the Insurrection Act, then they would have to take matters into their own hands.
“That we will — we will act to stop the certification of the election now, by any means necessary,” Dolan said. “That’s why we brought our firearms.”
Defense attorneys throughout the trial have denied the group ever planned to use weapons stored near the Capitol to attack the government and that so-called “quick reaction forces” were meant to be defensive in nature, if the group was to come under attack by anti-Trump protesters.
Dolan testified Tuesday that when he and others were outside the Capitol, the mood grew furious as they learned then-Vice President Mike Pence had refused to delay certification of the election.
“I think you kind of felt a palpable feeling where the crowd went from being [a] pretty, pretty happy, joyful crowd to a pretty pissed off crowd,” Dolan said. “You could almost feel the crowd change.”
Three of the five Oath Keepers on trial — Kenneth Harrelson, Kelly Meggs and Jessica Watkins — entered the Capitol on Jan. 6; the other two, Thomas Caldwell and Rhodes, the founder, did not. But prosecutors have alleged Caldwell and Rhodes were key in the planning and organizing.
Dolan testified that when people were preparing to climb the steps of the Capitol, he heard members of the pro-Trump mob begin to chant, “Oath Keepers, Oath Keepers,” which he said “felt pretty neat” in that the group was seemingly being called up to help.
He said he joined the crowd in chants of “treason, treason” because he truly believed that’s what members of Congress had done in certifying the election. He wanted them to feel afraid of him, he said — and so be “scared into doing the right thing.”
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