Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs found guilty of seditious conspiracy in January 6 case

WASHINGTON — A federal jury in Washington found Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, another member of the far-right organization, guilty Tuesday of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol. USA, a victory for the government. in a case involving a rarely used Civil War-era statute.

Three other members of the group who were tried along with Rhodes and Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell, were found not guilty on the charge of seditious conspiracy. All five defendants were found guilty of obstructing an official proceeding and aiding and abetting their actions on January 6, 2021.

The seditious conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. rhodes lawyers He said they plan to appeal that conviction.

The seditious conspiracy case is the most serious to emerge from the Justice Department’s extensive investigation into the attack on the United States Capitol. The two seditious conspiracy verdicts were victories for the department, which has filed relatively rare charges against various Oath Keepers as well as members of the far-right Proud Boys.

Attorney General Merrick Garland praised the work of federal prosecutors and agents, saying in a statement that the Justice Department “is committed to holding accountable the criminals responsible for the assault on our democracy on January 6, 2021.”

The not guilty verdicts for three of the defendants could be seen as a sign that jurors do not believe the Justice Department has proven that Harrelson, Watkins and Caldwell had planned in advance to storm the Capitol.

Caldwell’s attorney, David Fischer, called the seditious conspiracy acquittal a major victory for his client.

“Obviously it was a big win for Mr. Caldwell … and obviously it was a big loss for the Department of Justice,” Fischer told reporters outside the courthouse.

Some of the most violent rhetoric the government put forth during the nearly two-month trial came from the two defendants who were found guilty of seditious conspiracy: Rhodes and Meggs. In government-submitted evidence, both men displayed particular disdain for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and spoke of her desire to use violence on her.

The three defendants who entered the Capitol on January 6, Meggs, Harrelson, and Watkins, were found guilty of conspiring to prevent an officer from carrying out his official duties. Rhodes and Caldwell were on the Capitol grounds that day but did not enter the building.

Watkins was also found guilty of one count of civil disorder and aiding and abetting because, as she admitted on the stand, she helped push officers into the Capitol. Caldwell, who was also found guilty of tampering with documents or procedures and aiding and abetting, was the only one of the five who was not detained while awaiting trial.

Stewart Rhodes at the 'Stop the Steal' protest in Atlanta
Stewart Rhodes in Atlanta on November 21, 2020. Rhodes and Thomas Caldwell were on the Capitol grounds on January 6, 2021, but did not go inside.Alex Kent/Shutterstock

Opening statements in the trial began on October 3, and the jury began deliberating on November 22. Three of the defendants, Rhodes, Caldwell, and Watkins, took the stand in their own defense, with Rhodes telling the jury that it was “stupid” for Oath Keepers. to enter the Capitol.

Federal prosecutors alleged that the five defendants conspired to oppose the peaceful transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden, but did not prove there was a pre-coordinated plot to storm the Capitol. Instead, federal prosecutors alleged that those who entered the building — Meggs, Watkins, and Harrelson — seized the opportunity when other rioters stormed the Capitol. One federal prosecutor told jurors that a “sense of entitlement” had led the Oath Keepers to storm the building, while another argued that the defendants “took matters out of the hands of the people and put rifles in their own hands.” hands”.

“They claimed to be involved in the Constitution. Instead, they trampled on her. They claimed they were saving the Republic, but instead they fractured it,” argued Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Nestler.

Members of the Oath Keepers organized a “quick reaction force” at a hotel in Virginia, which a prosecution witness testified contained the largest number of weapons he had seen in one place since his military days. Caldwell stayed at the “QRF” hotel and met with Oath Keepers near Trump’s speech in Washington on January 6 before heading with his wife to the Capitol, where they climbed to the top of the inauguration platform installed on the side of the West of the Capitol.

A courtroom sketch of the opening arguments of the Oath Keepers trial.
Opening arguments at the Oath Keepers trial on October 3.bill hennessy

Another Oath Keeper who pleaded guilty to a non-seditious conspiracy charge gave prosecutors some of his strongest testimony, telling jurors he was willing to die to keep Trump in office. Jason Dolan testified that he was ready to “conquer or die” and potentially “take up arms” to fight on Trump’s behalf.

Another Oath Keeper who cooperated with the government, Graydon Young, testified that he thought he was part of a “Bastille-type moment”, referring to the storming of the fortress and political prison in Paris during the era of the French Revolution in 1789.

“I guess I was acting like a traitor against my own government,” Young testified.

Three other Oath Keepers pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy; none of them testified during the trial.

The trial featured lengthy messages from Signal exchanged by members of the alleged conspiracy, along with substantial audio from Rhodes before and after the January 6 attack. In a November 2020 conference call, which was recorded by at least one member, Rhodes said that those who opposed Biden were on the same path as the Founding Fathers before the American Revolution.

A government exhibit showing people associated with the Oath Keepers.
A government exhibit showing people associated with the Oath Keepers.Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia

“You have to make sure [Trump] You know you’re willing to die to fight for this country,” Rhodes told Oath Keepers on the call. “We’re in exactly the same place that the Founding Fathers were in March of 1775… fighting. … We’re not going to get out of this without a fight. There is going to be a fight. But let’s do it smartly, and let’s do it while President Trump is still the commander in chief, and let’s try to get him to do his duty, step up and do it.”

Prosecutors also played audio of Rhodes continuing to plot to oppose the government after the Jan. 6 attack.

“We should have brought rifles. We could have fixed it right then and there,” Rhodes said in a January 10, 2021 meeting with a man who believed he could deliver a message to Trump. “He would hang fucking Pelosi from the streetlight.”

The trial also featured testimony from Michael Greene, also known as “Whip”, who waived his Fifth Amendment right to testify on Rhodes’ behalf. Greene, a military veteran who worked for the company formerly known as Blackwater, testified that the Oath Keepers were on a security mission and that he did not take Rhodes’ talk of the civil war seriously.

“It’s nothing different than an old man in the barbershop talking about a fight coming up,” Greene said.

Pressed by a federal prosecutor about whether the elders from the barbershop broke into the Capitol, Greene pointed out that there were many elderly people in the Capitol on January 6 and that he was charged along with two other elderly men. “They’re old as f***,” Greene said of his alleged accomplices.

The Justice Department has charged some 900 people in connection with the attack on the Capitol and is asking Congress for more resources for the investigation. Hundreds of additional cases are in process.

FBI Director Christopher Wray highlighted the bureau’s role in the Oath Keepers case Tuesday.

“As this case shows, breaking the law in an attempt to undermine the functioning of American democracy will not be tolerated,” Wray said in a statement. “The FBI will always uphold the rights of all citizens who peacefully engage in First Amendment-protected activity, but we and our partners will continue to hold those who engaged in illegal acts accountable in connection with the January 6, 2021 siege of the US Capitol. .UU.”

Four other Oath Keepers indicted along with Rhodes (Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel and Ed Vallejo) will go on trial in early December.