A former North Carolina leader of the Oath Keepers testified Thursday that he believed Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the organization, was in touch with a Secret Service agent in the lead up to the 2020 presidential election.
The man, John Zimmerman, has not been charged with a crime.
According to Zimmerman, members of the Oath Keepers – who are currently on trial for charges relating to the January 6, 2021, US Capitol attack, including seditious conspiracy – gathered in September in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump.
Members of the Oath Keepers were recruiting at the rally and working as personal security details, he said.
To prepare for the rally, Zimmerman testified, Rhodes said he was in contact with a member of the Secret Service who advised the leader on what weapons were allowed near the rally. Zimmerman said he did not hear the entire conversation, but that Rhodes repeatedly represented he was in touch with an agent.
It’s not uncommon for law enforcement agents to maintain contacts with groups that are of investigative interest. The Oath Keepers and other extremist groups that traveled to Washington for rallies after the 2020 election had numerous contacts with local and federal law enforcement agencies, testimony gathered in congressional and federal investigations has shown.
Secret Service spokesman Steve Kopek told CNN: “The US Secret Service doesn’t have enough information to say whether or not this call actually took place. As far as weapons go – no firearms are ever allowed in the secured zone of a rally. Outside the secure zone attendees must follow state and local laws.”
The plan for the rally, according to Zimmerman’s testimony, was to have a quick reaction force, or QRF, staged nearby for “whatever is needed in a hurry,” he said. “We would be the ones to react.”
Attorneys for the five defendants have repeatedly argued that a QRF outside of Washington, DC, on January 6 was established in case then-President Trump invoked the Insurrection Act. But in September 2020, Zimmerman told the jury, there was no understanding that Trump would invoke the Insurrection act. Instead, Zimmerman said they were there to support law enforcement and recruit new members.
There were no violent incidents at the September rally, Zimmerman testified on cross-examination, and he believed it could be in part due to the Oath Keepers providing security. The Secret Service was only there to protect the President, Zimmerman believed, and Oath Keepers were there to protect the crowd.
Zimmerman testified that he joined the Oath Keepers in the late summer of 2020. According to Zimmerman, he quickly became the leader of the Cumberland County, North Carolina, chapter of the organization.
“My wife poked me in the ribs like I just got myself into something that I shouldn’t have,” Zimmerman told the jury.
Zimmerman testified that he did not come to DC on January 6, 2021, because he had Covid.