Trial starts: Alaska lawmaker with Oath Keepers ties

FILE - Alaska Republican state Rep. David Eastman speaks on the floor of the Alaska House on Jan. 31, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. A lawyer said in opening arguments Tuesday, Dec. 13 in a case against Eastman that the Alaska lawmaker is unfit to hold office because he's a member of the far-right Oath Keepers, a group that has either advocated or engaged in concrete action to overthrow the U.S. government. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File) (Becky Bohrer, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – An Alaska lawmaker may be unfit to hold office because he’s a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right extremist group that has either advocated for or engaged in concrete action to overthrow the U.S. government, a lawyer said Tuesday in opening arguments for a case against state Rep. David Eastman.

“We are going to present overwhelming evidence on both those elements,” said Goriune Dudukgian, a lawyer with an Anchorage civil rights law firm. Dudukgian represents Randall Kowalke, a Wasilla resident whose lawsuit seeks to disqualify Eastman from holding office.

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The bench trial before Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna will determine whether Eastman, a Wasilla Republican, will be allowed to be seated in the Legislature next month after winning reelection last month. McKenna earlier ordered the state Division of Elections not to certify the results of the race pending an outcome in this case.

Kowalke’s lawsuit points to a provision in the Alaska Constitution stating that no one who “advocates, or who aids or belongs to any party or organization or association which advocates, the overthrow by force or violence of the government of the United States or of the State shall be qualified to hold” public office.

Stewart Rhodes, a founder of the Oath Keepers, and Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs were convicted last month of seditious conspiracy related to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol for what prosecutors called a violent plot to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. They were among 33 Oath Keepers charged after the insurrection, Dudukgian said.

Eastman, represented by attorney Joe Miller, has admitted to being in Washington, D.C., that day, but only to witness an address from then-President Donald Trump that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

Eastman said he did not take part in the riot, and that he has not been accused of any crime.

Miller did not give opening arguments Tuesday, and chose to deliver those before he presents the defense’s case.

Eastman is a member of the Oath Keepers and has contributed more than $1,000 in support of the group, Dudukgian said.

“And even after the events of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the recent conviction of founder Stewart Rhodes, he still has not taken any steps to resign his membership or renounce his membership, either publicly or privately,” Dudukgian said.

He said they would present evidence that the Oath Keepers combined extremist rhetoric about the insurrection with seditious conduct, and claimed the group would fight either with or without Trump’s support.

“And on Jan. 6, they did exactly what they said they were going to do,” Dudukgian said, later adding: “They had a singular purpose, which was to stop the transfer of presidential power.”

Dudukgian’s first two witnesses were to be experts on terrorism who have studied the Oath Keepers extensively.

Miller objected to the plaintiff's selection of experts, saying they should only bring in people who could testify to the facts of the case.

“They would have subpoenaed, for example, various Oath Keepers, they would have subpoenaed people that had actually witnessed what happened on Jan. 6 or any other individual that had evidence that they believe relevant to the ultimate issue in the case, and that is whether or not the Oath Keepers is, in fact, an organization that advocates by force of violence the overthrow of the government,” Miller said.

McKenna said he agreed with Miller that as a general proposition, an expert cannot be used as a conduit for hearsay, but he said he needs to see the evidence and hear the testimony before deciding on Miller’s standing objection.

Eastman, who sat with Miller in a Palmer courtroom, is on a list of witnesses that Miller plans to call, along with Oath Keepers members.

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