Assault on US Capitol: Jury begins hearing in January 6 Oath Keepers sedition case

WASHINGTON– Federal prosecutors will lay out their case against the founder of extremist group Oath Keepers and four associates, who face charges in the most serious case yet in the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Opening statements are expected Monday in Washington’s federal court in the trial of Stewart Rhodes and others charged with seditious conspiracy over a week-long conspiracy to stop Republican Donald Trump’s transfer of power to Democrat Joe Biden.

Defense attorneys are also getting their first chance to address a jury selected last week after days of questioning about their feelings about the riot, Trump supporters and other matters.

The stakes are high for the Justice Department, which was last convicted in court on a seditious conspiracy nearly 30 years ago.

About 900 people were charged and hundreds convicted in the attack on the Capitol. Rioters stormed past police cordons, got into hand-to-hand fights with officials, smashed windows and blocked confirmation of Biden’s election victory.

But the Oath Keepers are the first to stand trial on seditious conspiracy charges, a rare Civil War-era charge that can carry up to 20 years behind bars. The process is expected to take several weeks.

Prosecutors will tell jurors that for the anti-government group the riot was not a spontaneous outburst of voter frenzy but part of a protracted conspiracy to prevent Biden from entering the White House.

Standing in court with Rhodes of Granbury, Texas are Kelly Meggs, head of the Florida section of the Oath Keepers; Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired US Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led a militia group in Ohio. They also face several other charges.

Authorities say Rhodes began plotting to overthrow Biden’s victory just days after the election. Court records show that the Oath Keepers have repeatedly warned of the prospect of violence — or “a bloody, bloody civil war,” as Rhodes said in an appeal — should Biden become president.

By December, authorities say, Rhodes and the Oath Keepers had targeted congressional confirmation of the Jan. 6 electoral college vote.

The Oath Keepers organized training sessions – including one in “unconventional warfare” – and stashed weapons at a Virginia hotel so they could quickly get them to the capital if needed, prosecutors say. Rhodes spent $15,500 on weapons including an AR platform rifle, magazines, mounts, sights and other gear over multiple days in early January, according to court documents.

On January 6, Oath Keepers, outfitted with communications gear, helmets, vests and other combat gear, were seen on camera storming the Capitol. Rhodes is not accused of going inside, but telephone records show he was communicating with Oath Keepers, who entered around the time of the riot, and he was seen with members outside afterwards.

And prosecutors say the conspiracy didn’t end on Jan. 6. In the days between the riot and Biden’s inauguration, Rhodes spent more than $17,000 on gun parts, magazines, ammunition and other items, prosecutors say. Around the time of the inauguration, Rhodes urged others to organize local militias to oppose the Democratic government, authorities say.

“Patriots entering their own Capitol to send a message to the traitors are NOTHING compared to what is to come,” Rhodes wrote in a message on the evening of Jan. 6.

Defense attorneys said the Oath Keepers only came to Washington to provide security at events for figures like Trump ally Roger Stone ahead of the president’s big outdoor rally behind the White House. Rhodes said that there was no plan to attack the Capitol and that the members who did did act on their own.

Rhodes’ attorneys are ready to argue that the jury cannot find him guilty of seditious conspiracy because all actions he took prior to January 6 were preparations for orders he expected Trump to give — orders, that never arrived.

Rhodes’ attorney said his client would eventually take a stand to argue he believed Trump would invoke the riot act and call up a militia, which Rhodes had asked him to do to prevent Biden from becoming president. Rhodes’ attorneys will argue that what prosecutors have described as an illegal conspiracy was merely designed to induce the president to enforce a US law.

Prosecutors say Rhodes’ own words show he would act regardless of what Trump did. In a December 2020 message, Rhodes wrote that Trump “needs to know that if he doesn’t act, we will.”

The last successful case of a seditious conspiracy involved an Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, and nine followers convicted in a conspiracy, the United Nations, the FBI building, and two tunnels and a bridge connecting New York and New York to blow up Jersey.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Assault on US Capitol: Jury begins hearing in January 6 Oath Keepers sedition case

Russell Falcon

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