Oath Keepers founder testifies in defense of Alaska Rep. David Eastman at disloyalty trial

The Wasilla Republican is facing a civil lawsuit that accuses him of violating a clause of the Alaska Constitution

By: - December 20, 2022 5:59 am
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Monday, May 2, 2022, at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives in May at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. Eastman is currently facing a civil lawsuit that accuses him of violating a clause of the Alaska Constitution, which would make him ineligible to hold public office. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Stewart Rhodes, convicted founder of the Oath Keepers, testified Monday from his Virginia jail cell in the ongoing eligibility trial of Rep. David Eastman, the Wasilla Republican accused of violating the Alaska Constitution’s disloyalty clause. 

Called by the defense, Rhodes flatly denied that the Oath Keepers seek to overthrow the U.S. government. Several group members participated in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“We had a requirement that … no one would be qualified to be a member if they advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government,” he said.

Eastman and the Alaska Division of Elections have been sued by Matanuska-Susitna Borough resident Randall Kowalke, who claims that Eastman’s membership in the Oath Keepers violates a 67-year-old clause of the Alaska Constitution that forbids someone from holding office while holding membership in a group that advocates the forcible overthrow of the government.

Plaintiffs have already proven that Eastman remains a member of the Oath Keepers but must also show, as Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna said Monday morning, “whether or not the Oath Keepers are an organization that, through concrete acts or words, has incited imminent violence or engaged in actions directed at the overthrow of the United States government.”

In written arguments and in court, Kowalke’s attorneys have attempted to make the case that the events of Jan. 6 demonstrate that the Oath Keepers do seek regime change by force.

On Monday, Rhodes said that Oath Keepers’ involvement on Jan. 6 was not directed by him and was against his wishes.

“I told them it was stupid,” he said, recalling a conversation with the Oath Keepers who entered the Capitol.

“It was not our mission and it exposed us to the persecution of our political enemies. That’s why I’m here, in jail,” he said.

Rhodes made an almost identical comment during his federal criminal trial last month. That case resulted in Rhodes being convicted of seditious conspiracy, among other crimes.

A Washington, D.C., jury concluded that although Oath Keepers’ involvement in Jan. 6 was not planned, group members took opportunistic advantage.

Eastman’s case is not a criminal trial, and he has not been accused of any crime. He was present in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 and traveled to the city in order to participate in a rally that preceded the insurrection, he and a traveling partner testified Tuesday.

Their decision to travel pre-dated an emailed call to action by Rhodes, Eastman said.

Kowalke’s attorneys have attempted to argue that though Eastman did not personally participate in the insurrection, his public writings follow those of Rhodes and other Oath Keepers, thus violating the Alaska Constitution’s disloyalty clause.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that speech must pose a threat of “imminent lawless action” in order to be illegal despite the First Amendment. 

McKenna has asked for additional written briefing by attorneys, due midnight Tuesday morning, on the subject of constitutional conflicts with Alaska’s disloyalty clause. 

Additional testimony is expected Tuesday, including the cross-examination of Rhodes, and closing arguments are possible late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

A ruling is expected by the end of the month, and an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court is likely.


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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected]