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‘Pitchforks time’ text at US riot trial

Members of the Oath Keepers discussed “pitchforks” and “a killing spree” when they stormed the US Capitol, the jury at their trial has been told.

October 4, 2022
By Sarah N. Lynch and Chris Gallagher
4 October 2022

Prosecutors urged members of a jury to convict Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four others for their roles in storming the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, saying they formed an “armed rebellion” to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

“They concocted a plan for an armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy,” prosecutor Jeff Nestler said in an opening statement at their trial.

Rhodes told his followers during the planning stage that “it will be torches and pitchforks time if they (Congress) don’t do the right thing,” according to a text message shown to the jury by prosecutors.

Rhodes and his co-defendants Kelly Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson are accused of plotting to forcefully prevent Congress from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory in a failed bid to keep then-President Donald Trump, a Republican, in power.

Members of the Oath Keepers stand on the East Front of the US Capitol on the day of the riot. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol after Trump falsely claimed the election had been stolen from him through widespread fraud. Five people died during and shortly after the riot, and about 140 police were injured.

The five on trial face numerous felony charges, including seditious conspiracy – a Civil War-era statute that is rarely prosecuted and carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors have said the five defendants trained and planned for January 6 and stockpiled weapons at a northern Virginia hotel outside the capital for a so-called “quick reaction force” that would be ready if called upon to transport arms into Washington.

As Congress met on January 6 to certify Biden’s election victory, some Oath Keepers charged into the Capitol building, clad in paramilitary gear. They are not accused of carrying firearms onto Capitol grounds.

“These defendants seized upon that opportunity to disrupt Congress from meeting inside the Capitol building. That was their goal: to stop by whatever means necessary to stop the transfer of power including by taking up arms,” Nestler told a jury of 12 members and four alternates.

Defendant Thomas Caldwell, one of those charged with Rhodes. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Watkins told members of her local Ohio chapter that “I need you fighting fit by (inauguration),” while Meggs told followers from the Florida Oath Keepers that “the time for talk is over. The real question is who’s willing to DIE?” according to text messages shown by the prosecution.

On the day of the assault, Nestler said Watkins led a group of seven Oath Keepers toward the Senate side of the Capitol.

As she stormed down the hallway with the “power of the mob with her,” Nestler said she yelled “Push, push, push!”

He said that Watkins added: “They can’t hold us.”

Meggs and Harrelson, meanwhile, led a group of seven Oath Keepers toward the House of Representatives side of the Capitol where Nestler said they looked specifically for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress.

Nestler said that on Election Day, Meggs had told his wife Connie, who is criminally charged in a separate case, “I’m gonna go on a killing spree. Pelosi first.”

Although Trump’s shadow will loom large over the trial, he is not expected to be a central figure in the case.

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