Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia and codefendant Kelly Meggs, was found guilty of seditious conspiracy after being accused of planning the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, by supporters of Donald Trump.
Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell, three other co-defendants, were cleared of the seditious conspiracy allegation but found guilty of other offences connected to the attack on January 6.
Rhodes was found guilty of manipulating papers and disrupting an official investigation by a federal jury in Washington, D. C. Two other conspiracy charges against him were dropped.
According to prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler, Rhodes did not enter the Capitol during the attack but instead stood outside like a “battlefield general” looking over his troops.
After a three-day jury trial, the verdict has been reached. The defence team for Rhodes expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision but acknowledged that the prosecution had not won the case outright in their remarks outside the courthouse after the verdict.
The first January 6 defendants accused of partaking in a seditious conspiracy to face trials were Rhodes and other Oath Keepers. Two further seditious conspiracy trials are scheduled to begin in the upcoming weeks; one will involve the additional oath keepers and the other will involve several Proud Boys.
This was the first seditious conspiracy conviction in the US since 1995 when ten Islamist extremists were found guilty of attempting to set off bombs near famous city sites in New York.
To prevent citizens of the southern states from rebelling against the US government, the Civil War era charge was initially put into effect.
Prosecutors must show that two or more people planned to use force to disrupt, overthrow, or destroy the US government or that they intended to do so to oppose US authority to convict someone of seditious conspiracy.
The prosecution called more than two dozen witnesses in this case, including FBI agents, US Capitol Police officers and two Oath keepers who stormed the Capitol on January 6 and later admitted to conspiring.
However, the foundation of the prosecution’s case was a large number of text messages, Facebook communications, and audio and video recordings that gave jurors access to what the defendants were saying and thinking in the months leading up to January 6 and in the days and weeks following.
In the closing remarks, Assistant US Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy reminded the jury not to be “numb” to the aggressive speech and stressed that democracy is in danger.
Defendant’s attorney disagreed with several elements of the prosecution’s case.
According to witnesses, the Oath Keepers were used to setting up quick response forces and had done so at prior demonstrations.
They argued that the Oath Keepers were there to guard celebrities and VIPs who supported Trump. Additionally, the defence gathered testimony indicating there was no plan to storm the Capitol from witnesses including the two Oath Keepers who entered guilty verdicts and cooperated with the authorities. They also claimed that Rhodes never gave them the order to enter the building.
The prosecution has submitted evidence that showed the defendants had dozens of weapons hidden in a hotel room in Virginia and had meant to get the weapons into the city if there was a large-scale insurgency. The Oath Keepers were on a strictly defensive mission, the defence attorney claimed, intending to protect protesters and maintain peace both inside and outside the Capitol. The weapons were never even brought to the city, they said.
Stewart Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper and Yale-educated lawyer, created The Oath Keepers. During the previous ten years, the members of Oath Keepers have attended numerous protests and armed standoffs across the nation.
Among the accused, Meggs and Harrelson, are from Florida, Watkin is from Ohio, and Caldwell is from Virginia, whereas Rhodes is from Texas.