By Joseph M. Hanneman
December 16, 2022 Updated: December 20, 2022
The Oath Keepers didn’t try to overthrow the U.S. government on Jan. 6, 2021, and aren’t a threat to national security because the group is anti-tyranny, not anti-government, a former FBI agent and Department of Defense analyst testified on Dec. 15 and 16 in Alaska Superior Court.
John Guandolo, who handled counter-terrorism and criminal investigations for nearly 13 years as an FBI special agent, said he found the idea “absurd” that the Oath Keepers tried to overthrow the federal government. Guandolo was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a personal capacity.
Some of the Oath Keepers might have broken federal laws on Jan. 6, 2021, for allegedly trying to delay the counting of Electoral College votes, according to Guandolo.
“But to conflate that to being the same as the entire organization wants to overthrow the U.S. government by violence … that’s absurd,” he said. “And I think it’s an unprofessional assessment.”
Guandolo’s testimony came on the third and fourth days of a state trial to determine if state Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) should be removed from office under the Alaska Constitution because he’s a life member of the Oath Keepers. Eastman won reelection on Nov. 8 by a 24-point margin.
Alaska Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna issued a temporary restraining order preventing the state of Alaska from certifying the House 27th District election results until the trial ends.
Former Republican candidate Randall Kowalke—who left the Republican Party in 2019—sued Eastman personally in July, claiming a loyalty clause in the Alaska Constitution should bar him from office because the Oath Keepers allegedly advocate for the overthrow of the federal government.
Earlier in the bench trial before McKenna, two analysts from centers on domestic extremism testified that the Oath Keepers went into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and tried to overthrow the government.
‘A Far Cry’ from Insurrection
Testifying from his office in Dallas, Guandolo told the judge that there’s no evidence to support that accusation. He called the testimony of analysts Jonathan Lewis and Matthew Kriner “grossly incomplete” and “wholly unprofessional.”
Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes III and Oath Keepers Florida leader Kelly Meggs were found guilty of seditious conspiracy on Nov. 29 for actions on Jan. 6, 2021, in a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Washington. Four other defendants were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other offenses.
“The phrase that I saw most often [in indictments] was that so-and-so intended to affect the government by stopping or delaying the congressional proceeding, which was to certify the election,” Guandolo said when questioned by defense attorney Joseph Miller. “That is a far cry from overthrowing the U.S. government by force of violence.”
Guandolo said the plaintiff’s experts appeared to have preexisting ideas about the Oath Keepers, because they failed to examine the good work the group does, such as hurricane relief and guarding a bakery against mob violence during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in the summer of 2014.
He noted their alleged lack of knowledge of Jan. 6 provocateur Ray Epps and their failure to interview even one member of the Oath Keepers as evidence.
In earlier testimony, Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, claimed that Epps didn’t incite people to go into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He said that was a “discredited conspiracy theory.”
Viral videos show Epps in downtown Washington on the evening of Jan. 5, 2021, saying, “Tomorrow—I don’t even like to say it because I’ll be arrested—we need to go into the Capitol.”
Guandolo said the plaintiff’s focus “was on only specific negative acts and opining on those specific negative acts, without any mention, and, again, based on their own testimony, no apparent knowledge of the positives and the mission statement across the country at the numerous operations the Oath Keepers have undertaken since their founding.”
After meeting and speaking with “hundreds” of Oath Keepers over the years, he concluded that the group has no bias against the government, he said.
“They are not anti-government or anti-authority,” Guandolo said. “They’re anti-tyranny and anti-anything that infringes on the natural rights and constitutional rights of American citizens.”
Guandolo expressed concern with the use of terms such as “domestic violent extremism,” used by academic experts and even in a recent FBI bulletin on domestic threats in the United States.
“There is no legal definition for violent extremism, which is exactly our adversaries’ intent,” Guandolo said. “And as a matter of fact, I heard yesterday the phrase ‘violent extremism’ defined by plaintiffs’ witness as somebody who’s willing to do violence in furtherance of achieving their goal.
“And what’s problematic about that from a legal standpoint is that describes members of the U.S. military, that describes police officers, that describes U.S. citizens who are exercising their natural right to defend themselves, as well as their constitutional right to do so and their lawful right to do so.”
Use of the term domestic violent extremism is “an information operation,” he said, because “it doesn’t legally actually define anything.”
“And the way the plaintiff’s witnesses defined it, it basically can be used against anybody that uses violence. And violence is neither good nor bad,” Guandolo said.
‘I Couldn’t Tell You That’
Kriner, a senior research scholar at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, was asked by Miller on Dec. 15, “Why do we even have an oath to the Constitution?”
Kriner replied, “I couldn’t tell you that.”
Guandolo said he was troubled by that answer.
“Again … I’m not trying to make any other kind of statement other than it tells me it’s either a grossly biased perspective that the witness is coming from, or they just don’t know,” he said. “And in either case, I think it’s really unprofessional.”
The oath to defend the Constitution against “all enemies, foreign and domestic,” is a crucial part of the United States, Guandolo said.
“When police officers and military people and elected officials and judges take these oaths, it literally is the foundation for our entire system, because our fidelity is to the Constitution,” he said.
Guandolo said Oath Keepers Vice President Greg McWhirter, who also served as an FBI informant during the Jan. 6 investigation, would have been “duty-bound, if there was a known, organized effort to overthrow the U.S. government,” to report it.
McWhirter’s role as an FBI informant came out during the Rhodes trial. A former sheriff’s deputy in Marion County, Indiana, McWhirter suffered a cardiac event just before his scheduled trip from Montana to Washington to testify in the trial.
“Mr. McWhirter, you know, obviously had access to Mr. Rhodes, knew … what Oath Keepers was doing and what they were up to,” Guandolo said. “And of course, he would have been duty-bound to report something such as an organized effort to violently overthrow the government.”
Joseph M. Hanneman is a reporter for The Epoch Times with a focus on the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol incursion and its aftermath; and general news in the State of Wisconsin. His work over a nearly 40-year career has appeared in Catholic World Report, the Racine Journal Times, the Wisconsin State Journal and the Chicago Tribune. Reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org