Alaska Rep. Eastman claims Oath Keepers were in Capitol to protect police, not overthrow government

a virtual courtroom
Plaintiff Randall Kowalke is a former constituent of Eastman who claims the legislator’s membership in Oath Keepers disqualifies him from holding office. (Still from Alaska Court System livestream)

Alaska state Rep. David Eastman acknowledged at a trial this week that he’s a member of the Oath Keepers and that he went to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021 to then-President Trump’s rally protesting the election. But Eastman maintains neither he nor the Oath Keepers were interested in overthrowing the government.

His attorney, Joe Miller, portrayed Oath Keepers as do-gooders whose bylaws don’t allow insurrection.

“Those bylaws … make it very clear that you cannot, as an Oath Keeper, do anything to overthrow the government,” Miller said at the non-jury trial. “I mean, it’s specifically stated.”

Terrorism experts call Oath Keepers an anti-government militia. Leaders of the group were convicted last month of seditious conspiracy for actions leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

That’s problematic for Eastman. He did not enter the Capitol that day, but he’s the subject of a civil lawsuit brought by a former supporter who alleges his membership in the group disqualifies him from public office, due to a disloyalty provision in the state Constitution.

Eastman testified that he hasn’t condemned the group and that he remains a member. 

The plaintiff’s attorney, Goriune Dudukgian, tried to get Eastman to acknowledge that he knew Oath Keepers used force in the Capitol to stop the certification of the presidential election. Dudukgian reviewed the way Oath Keepers wore combat gear and moved in a tight line as they forced their way into the building.

“And in the military, that would be called a stack formation,” Dudukgian asked

“That’s probably not what I would describe as a stack formation,” said Eastman, an Army veteran. “That was just people walking through a crowd, you know, holding on to each other.”

“And your understanding of what they were doing in the Capitol on that day was that they were proceeding in that fashion to help the police?” the lawyer asked, with audible skepticism. “That’s your understanding?”

Eastman said it was.

“And you are aware, though, sir, that at least three of those individuals have now pled guilty to seditious conspiracy charges, right?” Dudukgian continued.

“I’ve heard that,” Eastman said.

“And you’re aware that in the plea agreements, or in their statements of offense, they admitted to not only marching in those formations, but to using force while inside the Capitol building, right?” the attorney asked.

“Those aren’t documents that I’ve reviewed, no,” Eastman said.

The disloyalty provision has never been tested at a trial before. It says that no one can serve in public office who belongs to an organization that advocates overthrowing the government by force. 

The trial, which has been conducted largely by Zoom, is likely to continue into next week. Miller says he intends to call the Oath Keepers leader, Stewart Rhodes, who would testify from jail.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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