Rep. Eastman isn’t just an Oath Keeper but also supported their cause on Jan. 6, opposing attorney argues

An image of a computer screen showing a mosaic of images of people involved in the trial.
The trial over Rep. David Eastman’s qualifications to serve was conducted largely by Zoom. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Lawyers gave closing arguments Wednesday in a case aimed at disqualifying Rep. David Eastman from office due to his membership in the Oath Keepers, a far-right group whose leaders have been convicted of seditious conspiracy for their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The lawsuit is based on a disloyalty clause in the Alaska Constitution, but the week-long trial veered into culture war territory and the ideology of the MAGA movement.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Goriune Dudukgian, argued that the Wasilla Republican isn’t just a member of an insurrectionist group but supported the cause himself.

Eastman was in Washington, D.C. to attend then-President Trump’s Stop the Steal rally, which preceded the attack on the Capitol. He heeded Trump’s call to march from the White House to the Capitol, Dudukgian said. Eastman didn’t enter the building, but Dudukgian said Eastman could see the violence from where he stood.

“And yet, Rep. Eastman stayed there. He added his presence to the crowd,” Dudukgian said during closing arguments Wednesday. “He took pictures near the Capitol that were then posted to social media. And he didn’t leave the Capitol grounds or Capitol area until the curfew was issued, until everyone was ordered to leave.”

Eastman has never called out the Oath Keepers for their violence, Dudukgian noted, but he has condemned Antifa.

“So I think, based on his actions and inactions, we can show that there was a specific intent to be part of the insurrection on Jan. 6,” Dudukgian said.

Eastman admits he’s a lifetime member of the Oath Keepers, so Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna has one key question to decide: Have the Oath Keepers advocated or taken concrete action to overthrow the U.S. government force? The disloyalty clause bars members of such groups from holding office. One of Eastman’s former supporters, Randall Kowalke, brought the lawsuit to see if it can be enforced against Eastman.

Dudukgian delved into the conduct and belief system of the Oath Keepers, which one of his expert witness, a scholar of domestic extremism, described as an anti-government militia.

Eastman’s attorney, Joe Miller, argued that the witness got the Oath Keepers all wrong.

“This is an individual who called my client antisemitic, racist, and called the Oath Keepers a terrorist group,” Miller said. “These are extreme statements, unsupported by the facts.”

Miller aimed to portray Oath Keepers as defenders of the Constitution, standing up to Antifa, communism and other perceived threats from the left. He called Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes as a witness, in part to testify about humanitarian work the group did, providing security in communities hit by hurricanes.

Rhodes testified over the phone from jail. He said Oath Keepers’ mission on Jan. 6 was to provide security to speakers at the White House rally, and whatever statements he made about the need for bloody revolution and taking up arms were misinterpreted.

“I think the jury punished me for my speech,” he said.

Miller also called attorney John Eastman to testify. John Eastman — no known relation of  legislator David Eastman —  helped Trump pursue the unfounded claim that his 2020 election loss was due to fraud, a claim no court has upheld. John Eastman read out loud from Rhodes’ incendiary speeches and calls to action. He proclaimed them protected by the First Amendment.

“Even in the closing line —  ‘If you don’t go, guys, we’re going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war and a bloody – you can call it an insurrection, he can call it a guerrilla fight.’ — Even if you interpret that as an incitement to engage in such violence, to engage in an insurrection or guerrilla fight,” John Eastman testified, “it’s clearly speaking in the abstract.”

The U.S. House Jan. 6 Committee recommended this week that John Eastman be charged with crimes for his work to prevent the certification of the election on Jan. 6 and keep Trump in power.

Dudukgian, the plaintiff’s attorney, told the judge he shouldn’t believe the defense witnesses who tried to make Oath Keepers out to be the good guys.

“You heard testimony from Rhodes. You heard testimony from a person convicted of seditious conspiracy telling you that he and the Oath Keepers did not engage in seditious conspiracy,” he said.

Judge McKenna did not say when he would rule in the case. Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, easily won reelection last month, but the certification of his election is on hold while the case is pending.

Alaska Public Media

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