WASHINGTON:An important victory for the Justice Department came on Tuesday when Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and another leader of the right-wing group were found guilty of seditious conspiracy for the attack on the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump.
After three days of deliberation, the 12-member jury returned verdicts against Rhodes and four co-defendants in the most high-profile trial since the deadly attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, an unsuccessful attempt to overturn President Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election.
During an eight-week trial, prosecutors alleged that Rhodes, a disbarred attorney and former Army paratrooper, planned to use force to prevent Congress from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden’s victory over Republican Donald Trump.Rhodes was found guilty of three charges and cleared of two.
Kelly Meggs, one of his co-defendants, was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy, while Thomas Caldwell, Kenneth Harrelson, and Jessica Watkins were all found not guilty.
With mixed verdicts on a few other charges, all five defendants were found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding—the congressional certification of the election results.
Both the seditious conspiracy charge and the obstruction of an official proceeding charge carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Next month, two additional high-profile trials concerning the attack are scheduled to begin.Members of the right-wing Proud Boys organization, including the group’s former chairman Enrique Tarrio, as well as four additional Oath Keepers members, face charges of seditious conspiracy.
The verdict, according to Rhodes’s attorney James Lee Bright, will influence the Justice Department’s approach to the remaining seditious conspiracy cases.
Bright told reporters outside the court, “The return in this, even though we’re not pleased with it, probably speaks to the fact that the DOJ is going to go full steam ahead in the same fashion on all the others.”
One of the most prominent defendants among the approximately 900 individuals charged with the attack is Rhodes, who is wearing an eye patch after accidentally shooting himself in the face with his own gun.Meggs, who is in charge of the Oath Keepers chapter in Florida, was the only defendant in this trial other than Rhodes who had a leadership position in the organization.
The Oath Keepers, a militia group made up of former and current US military personnel, law enforcement officers, and emergency responders, were established by Rhodes in 2009.Its members have shown up, frequently heavily armed, at political demonstrations and events all over the United States, including the racial justice demonstrations in response to the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer.
In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland stated, “The Justice Department is committed to holding those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on January 6, 2021.”
Rhodes’ legal counselor Ed Tarpley referred to the decisions as “a hodgepodge.”
“We are appreciative of the received not-guilty verdicts.”The guilty verdicts have disappointed us,” Tarpley told reporters outside the court.There was no evidence presented to suggest an attack plan on the Capitol.”
During the trial, the prosecution said that Rhodes and his co-defendants intended to use force to stop Congress from officially certifying Biden’s victory.Meggs, Watkins, and Harrelson all wore tactical gear when they entered the Capitol.
In addition, the prosecutors alleged that the defendants had set up a “quick reaction force” with firearms that could be quickly transported into Washington and stationed at a nearby Virginia hotel.
Fifty observers affirmed during the preliminary, including Rhodes and two of his co-litigants.While Watkins acknowledged impeding Capitol police officers, they denied planning any attack or attempting to prevent Congress from certifying the election results.
Rhodes told the jury that he didn’t have a plan to storm the Capitol and that he didn’t find out that some of his Oath Keepers had broken into the building until the riot was over.
During cross-examination, the prosecution presented Rhodes with page after page of inflammatory text messages, videos, photos, and audio recordings in an effort to portray him as a liar.These included Rhodes complaining that he could have hanged US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat despised by the right, for not bringing guns to Washington on January 6.
Both Watkins, a transgender woman who left the US Army after receiving homophobic remarks, and Caldwell, a disabled veteran of the US Navy, made the decision to testify.
Watkins apologized and acknowledged having “criminal liability” for obstructing police officers inside the Capitol.Watkins, on the other hand, denied having any plans to break into the building and said that he was “swept up” in the same way that ecstatic shoppers act on “Black Friday” when they rush into stores to buy discounted holiday gifts like TVs.
Jonathan Crisp, her attorney, told reporters that he was “grateful” that his client was found not guilty of sedition.
Caldwell, like Rhodes, never entered the Capitol building and never formally joined the Oath Keepers. He attempted to downplay some of the inflammatory texts he sent in the aftermath of the attack.According to Caldwell, films like “The Princess Bride” and animated series like “Bugs Bunny” served as inspiration for some of the lines.
After the trial, attorneys for both Harrelson and Rhodes informed reporters that they intend to appeal the verdicts.