WASHINGTON (AP) — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to void the election of President Joe Biden, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its mass prosecution. from January 1.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to void the election of President Joe Biden, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its mass prosecution of the insurrection of January 6, 2021.
A Washington, DC, jury found Rhodes guilty of sedition after three days of deliberations in the nearly two-month trial that showed the far-right group’s efforts to keep Republican Donald Trump in the White House at all costs. Rhodes was cleared of two other conspiracy charges.
The verdict marks a major milestone for the Justice Department and is likely to clear the way for prosecutors to move full steam ahead in the upcoming trials of other extremists accused of sedition.
It is also likely to encourage investigators, whose work has expanded beyond those who attacked the Capitol to focus on others linked to Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. US Attorney Merrick Garland recently appointed a veteran prosecutor , Jack Smith, to serve as special counsel to oversee key aspects of an investigation into efforts to subvert the election, as well as a separate investigation into the retention of classified documents at Trump’s Florida property, Mar-a-Lago.
Using dozens of encrypted messages, recordings and surveillance video, prosecutors argued that Rhodes began shortly after the 2020 election to prepare an armed rebellion to stop the transfer of presidential power.
During seven weeks of testimony, jurors heard how Rhodes rallied his supporters to fight to defend Trump, discussed the prospect of a “bloody” civil war and warned that the Oath Keepers might have to “rise up in insurrection.” to defeat Biden if Trump did not. Don’t act
One of Rhodes’ co-defendants, Kelly Meggs, leader of the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter, was also found guilty on the sedition charge, while three other co-defendants were acquitted of the charge. Jurors found all five defendants guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding: Congressional certification of Biden’s election victory.
Rhodes and Meggs are the first people in nearly three decades to be found guilty of the Civil War-era charge rarely used at trial. Seditious conspiracy demands up to 20 years behind bars.
Rhodes intends to appeal, defense attorney James Lee Bright told reporters. Another Rhodes lawyer, Ed Tarpley, described the verdict as a “mixed bag” and added: “This is not a complete victory for the government in any way, shape or form.”
“We felt that we presented a case that demonstrated through evidence and testimony that Mr. Rhodes did not commit the crime of seditious conspiracy,” Tarpley said.
Joining the trial with Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and Meggs, were Kenneth Harrelson, another Oath Keeper from Florida; Thomas Caldwell, retired Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led a militia group from Ohio.
Caldwell was found guilty on two counts and acquitted on three others, including the count of felony seditious conspiracy. His attorney, David Fischer, called the verdict a “huge win” for his client and a “huge defeat” for the Justice Department. He also said that he would appeal both convictions.
Jury selection for a second group of Oath Keepers facing seditious conspiracy charges is scheduled to begin next week. Several members of the Proud Boys, including former national president Enrique Tarrio, are also scheduled to go on trial on the sedition charge in December.
Defense attorneys accused prosecutors of misrepresenting their clients and insisted the Oath Keepers came to Washington only to provide security for figures like Roger Stone, a former Trump ally. The defense largely focused on trying to show that Rhodes’ rhetoric was just bragging and that the Oath Keepers had no plan before January 6 to attack the Capitol.
In an extraordinary move, Rhodes took the stand to tell the jury that there was no plan to attack the Capitol and insisted that his supporters who entered the building rioted.
Rhodes testified that he had no idea that his followers would join the mob and storm the Capitol and said he was upset after learning that some did. Rhodes said they were acting “stupid” and off their mission for the day.
Prosecutors said the Oath Keepers saw an opportunity to advance their plan to stop the transfer of power and sprang into action when mobs began storming the Capitol. The attack on the Capitol was a “means to an end” for the Oath Keepers, Assistant US Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy told the jury in her closing arguments.
Jurors heard how Rhodes spent thousands of dollars on an AR platform rifle, magazines, mounts, scopes and other equipment on his way to Washington before the riots. They saw surveillance footage from the Virginia hotel where some Oath Keepers hid weapons for “quick reaction force” teams that prosecutors say were ready to get weapons into the city quickly if needed. The weapons were never deployed.
On January 6, the Oathkeepers in combat gear were seen on camera making their way through the crowd and toward the Capitol. Rhodes stood outside like a “general inspecting his troops on the battlefield,” a prosecutor said. After the riot, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers went to an Olive Garden restaurant to celebrate, according to prosecutors.
The trial revealed new details about Rhodes’ efforts to pressure Trump to fight to stay in the White House in the weeks leading up to January 6. Shortly after the election, in a group chat that included Stone called “FOS” or “Friends of Stone,” Rhodes wrote, “So will you step up and push Trump to FINALLY take decisive action?”
Another man testified that after the riots, Rhodes tried to persuade him to deliver a message to Trump urging the president not to give up his fight to stay in power. The go-between, a man who told jurors that he had a roundabout way of communicating with the president, recorded his meeting with Rhodes and went to the FBI instead of giving the message to Trump.
“If you’re not going to do the right thing and you’re just going to allow yourself to be illegally removed, then we should have brought rifles,” Rhodes said during that meeting, according to a recording played for jurors. “We should have fixed it right then and there. I would (expletive) hang Pelosi from the streetlight,” Rhodes said, referring to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Three other Oathkeepers previously pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. However, the last time the Justice Department obtained such a conviction in a trial was in the 1995 prosecution of Islamic militants who plotted to bomb New York City landmarks.
For full coverage of the riot at the Capitol, visit https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege
More on investigations related to Donald Trump: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump
Lindsay Whitehurst, Alanna Durkin Richer, and Michael Kunzelman, Associated Press