Oath Keeper testifies that weapons cache was prepared ahead of Jan. 6
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Terry Cummings, a member of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, told a jury on Wednesday that members had put together a large weapons cache in a Virginia hotel room the night before rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Cummings, a 21-year military veteran from Oregon who has not been charged with a crime, was in Washington on the day of the attack and testified in court after receiving a subpoena.
The weapons cache is a key component of the Justice Department’s case against Oath Keepers leadership, including founder Stewart Rhodes and codefendants Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell. Each is on trial for multiple felony counts, the most serious being seditious conspiracy, and all have pleaded not guilty.
Cummings — the first Oath Keepers member who was actually in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 to testify at trial — said he brought an AR-15 and ammunition box with him to Virginia in case of rioting in the district, calling the weapon a “show of force,” but he claimed he did not intend on using it offensively. He kept the firearm with others brought by fellow Oath Keepers in a hotel room in Virginia, according to his testimony, because he knew bringing the weapon into the District of Columbia would be illegal.
“I had not seen that many weapons in one location since I was in the military,” Cummings told the jury. Prosecutors presented his rifle and ammunition box to the jury as evidence.
The Justice Department alleges the Oath Keepers amassed the stockpile to aid them in an armed rebellion against the government, targeting the peaceful transfer of power from then-President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden. Their plan, prosecutors say, was to store the weapons in Virginia and transfer them across state lines into D.C. using a “Quick Reaction Force,” or QRF.
Cummings testified that he had joined the Oath Keepers on Jan. 6 with the intention of joining a “security detail” for attendees of Trump’s Stop the Steal rally, which immediately preceded the Capitol attack. During the rally, he and other Oath Keepers in his group stood yards away from the former president and followed the crowd to the Capitol building with Harrelson.
Later, Cummings said he split from the mob for a bathroom break, and during that time, he says Harrelson and other Oath Keepers left their positions to enter the Capitol building. Cummings did not enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6, and regrouped with the other militia members after they exited.
During cross examination, Cummings reiterated his reasoning for being around the Capitol on Jan. 6 was to serve as security detail for a person he understood to be a state representative.
Cummings testified that he recalled no mention of the certification of the Electoral College votes occurring at the Capitol. Nor did he hear any discussion of entering the Capitol, adding that if he had, he would have notified authorities. And while he heard Meggs say the Capitol had been breached, he said didn’t hear the whole context of Meggs’ conversation.
FBI Special Agent Kelsey Harris – normally tasked with investigating international and domestic terrorism – took the stand on Wednesday. He said he has investigated several dozen cases involving the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.
Using video evidence played for the jury, Harris said that Meggs and four others, including Meggs’ wife, Connie – who faces Jan. 6 charges of her own and pleaded not guilty – participated in several combat training exercises at the end of 2020.
Thursday’s proceedings began with testimony from two FBI special agents, Justin Eller and Joanna Abrams. Eller first took the stand on Wednesday and told the jury of Meggs’ communications before the Jan. 6 attack. In one message exchange in December 2020, Eller said Meggs and a recruit to her Ohio militia group allegedly discussed getting comfortable “with the idea of death.” Messages also revealed she discussed weaponry.
During cross examination, also on Wednesday, Eller revealed Meggs stored weapons in defendant Thomas Caldwell’s Virginia home during the Jan. 6 attack and did not bring them to the D.C. area. At times, Eller also struggled to answer questions from some of the defense attorneys regarding his memory of digital evidence uncovered during the investigation.
For her part, Special Agent Abrams testified about a group chat among members of the Georgia Oath Keepers planning to travel to Washington.
In the weeks leading up to the attack on Jan. 6, Rhodes and others allegedly sent messages predicting civil war and comparing their endeavor with Revolutionary War figures. “If he doesn’t use the Insurrection Act to keep a ChiCom puppet out of the White House, then we will have to fight a bloody revolution/civil war to defeat the traitors,” Rhodes wrote of Trump, claiming falsely that then-President-elect Biden was controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
The encrypted messages presented as part of Abrams’ testimony included those sent by two one-time members of the Oath Keepers who have since agreed to cooperate with investigations and pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, the most severe charge any defendants currently on trial face.
Joshua James and Brian Ulrich, among others, were discussing the organization of Oath Keepers ahead of Jan. 6.
“Trump acts now maybe a few hundred radicals die trying to burn down cities. Trump sits on his hands, Biden wins, millions die resisting the death of the 1st and 2nd amendment,” Ulrich wrote.
The messages also showed that the Oath Keepers were cognizant of D.C. gun laws and left their firearms in the Virginia hotel instead of bringing them into the capital city, waiting for Trump to call upon them to use arms. And during cross examination, Abrams said the text messages presented during her testimony did not explicitly discuss an offensive plan to enter the Capitol building.
Rob Legare contributed reporting