A US jury found Stewart Rhodesfounder of the far-right organization The Oath Keepers, guilty of sedition plots in connection with last year’s riots at the US Capitol.
rare Rebel plot The allegation is one of the most serious to stem from the US Department of Justice’s investigation into the events of January 6, 2021, when a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building. .
Tuesday’s sentencing ended several days of deliberation and Rhodes now faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
An accomplice, Kelly Meggs, was also found guilty of conspiracy to sedition, while three others — Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell — were acquitted of that charge.
In accusing Rhodes and his followers of plotting to riot, the Justice Department alleges that the defendants were “ready and willing to use force” to prevent a peaceful transfer of power.
The January 6 event interrupted a joint session of Congress that was underway to confirm Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. Lawmakers were forced to flee.
The Justice Department alleges that the defendants’ presence at the Capitol on January 6 was intended to “prevent, obstruct, or delay” the election certification process. Trump had false statement the election was “stolen” through fraud.
Prosecutors also accused Rhodes and his other defendants of “carrying and contributing paramilitary equipment, weapons, and supplies” to the Capitol grounds, as part of their efforts to disrupt break the proceedings.
Tuesday’s decision to end a nearly two-month trial could serve as a warning bell for future Justice Department prosecutions. Five members of the Proud Boys, another far-right group, also face conspiracy charges this December for their roles in the January 6 attacks.
The defendants denied plotting to storm the Capitol
A former U.S. Army paratrooper and Yale-trained attorney, 57-year-old Rhodes is the most famous member of oath keepersa loose network of individuals committed to “fulfill the oath that all armies and police must take to defend the Constitution against all enemies”.
Rhodes pleaded not guilty to the Justice Department charges, as did his four co-conspirators.
They include two leaders of the Florida Oath-Keepers, 53-year-old Meggs and 41-year-old Harrelson, as well as 68-year-old Caldwell from Virginia and 40-year-old Watkins from Ohio.
The group asserted that there was no attempt to storm the Capitol on January 6.
During the trial, Rhodes, Caldwell and Watkins stood as witnesses to refute the prosecution’s allegation that their actions were organized and designed to disrupt American democracy. Instead, they describe their actions as spontaneous.
“There were no plans to enter the building for any purpose,” Rhodes told jurors, calling the decision of some Oath-Keepers to enter the building “stupid.”
Rhodes said his actions were aimed at supporting Trump in anticipation that the then president might invoke the Counter-Insurgency Act to stay in power and call in the militia.
Prosecutors said the attack was coordinated
But prosecutors challenged the defendants’ version of events, citing the Oath Keeper’s social media, text messages and other communications to describe a planned attempt. to prevent Biden’s election.
“They coordinated across the country to enter Washington, DC, armed with a wide variety of weapons, dressed in combat and tactical gear, and ready to respond to Rhodes’ call to take up arms,” the companies said. prosecutors allege in their indictment.
According to the Justice Department, Rhodes wrote in a Signal chat that if Biden were to assume the presidency, “it would be a bloody and desperate fight. We will have a war. That cannot be avoided.”
Rhodes later posted a letter to the Oath Keepers website that “many of us will keep our mission-critical equipment close to home just outside of DC”. Prosecutors understood this to refer to weapons and firearms being stored at a hotel in Virginia during the attack on the Capitol.
Prosecutors said teams of “rapid response forces” were set up to transport the weapons into Washington, D.C., if required. They identified one of the defendants – Caldwell, a retired US Navy lieutenant in command and a former employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – as one of the main organizers behind these groups.
during that time January 6 event, prosecutors said that fellow defendants Meggs, Harrelson and Watkins marched up the steps of the Capitol in a military-style “husband” to get past the guards and break down the door. Meanwhile, Rhodes remained outside like “a general reviewing troops on the battlefield”.
Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Nestler told the court: “They have drawn up a plan for an armed insurrection to break the foundations of American democracy.
Those who keep the oath hold their ground
Earlier this year, three Oath-Keepers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to incite sedition as part of a Justice Department investigation. They did not testify as part of the prosecutors’ case.
But prosecutors have called other members of the Oath-Keepers as cooperating witnesses, as they seek lighter sentences in their case.
The first is Jason Dolan, a former Marine from Florida who pleaded guilty in 2021 to one count of conspiracy and one count of obstructing an official due process. He testified that he was willing to stop certifying Joe Biden as president “by any means necessary,” adding, “That’s why we carry our guns.”
Dolan told the court: “It seemed to me that a lot of us were prepared – I was prepared – to stop the certification process one way or another.
Graydon Young, who The first oath-keeper to confess for the charges related to the attack on the Capitol, also testified. As a member of the Florida Oath-Keepers, he testified that he considered the January 6 attack a “Bastille-type event”, drawing parallels between his actions and those of French Revolution.
“The people are clearly attacking the government and its function,” he told the court.
But when questioned by defense attorney James Lee Bright, Young confirmed that he felt his decision to storm the Capitol was “spontaneous”, explaining that there was “an opportunity to do something”.
“At the time, it was implicit for me,” says Young. “I didn’t explicitly say, ‘Go for it,’ but I think it’s implied.”
Created during the American Civil War as a bulwark against Confederate secessionists, conspiracy to rebel is defined by U.S. law as two or more people conspiring to “overthrow, bring down, or destroy by force of the United States government”.
This may involve the use of force against government authority or delay in the enforcement of US laws.
Allegations of sedition are relatively rare and difficult to prove. Before the January 6 attacks, the Justice Department last heard a sedition conspiracy case in 2010 against members of the Michigan-based organization. Hutaree Militia Movement.
That case fell through, with a judge taking the unusual step of dismissing the charges for failing to prove that the defendants were plotting a violent uprising.
The most recent successful prosecution for a mutiny conspiracy case began in 1995, after a failed plot to bomb bridges, tunnels and buildings around New York City, including including United Nations headquarters.