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Jury deliberations begin January 6 in sedition trial of Oath Keepers founder | American News

As angry supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol, ready to smash windows and beat up police officers, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes touted them as patriots and recalled the battle that started the American Revolutionary War.

“Next is our Lexington,” Rhodes told fellow far-right extremists in a Jan. 6, 2021 post. “It happens.”

Jurors will begin weighing his words and actions on Tuesday, after nearly two months of testimony and arguments in the criminal trial of Rhodes and four co-defendants. The defense’s closing arguments ended on Monday evening.

Hundreds of people were convicted in the attack which injured dozens of officers, sent lawmakers running for their lives and shook the foundations of American democracy. Now, jurors in the case against Rhodes and four associates will decide, for the first time, whether the actions of any of the defendants on January 6 constitute a seditious conspiracy – a rarely used charge that carries both a prison sentence importance and political weight.

The jury’s verdict may well address the misconception that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, shortly after the 2022 midterm results in which voters rejected Republican candidates chosen by Trump who supported his claims of baseless fraud. The outcome could also shape the future of the Justice Department’s massive and costly lawsuits against the insurgency that some conservatives have sought to portray as politically motivated.

The failure to secure a conviction for seditious conspiracy could spell trouble for another high-profile trial starting next month of former Proud Boys national president Enrique Tarrio and other leaders of the extremist group. The Justice Department’s Jan. 6 investigation also expanded beyond those who attacked the Capitol to focus on others connected to Trump’s efforts to nullify the election.

In the Oath Keepers trial, prosecutors built their case using dozens of encrypted messages sent in the weeks leading up to January 6. They show Rhodes rallying his supporters to fight in defense of Trump and warning that they may need to “rise up in insurrection.”

“We will not get out of this without a civil war. Prepare your mind, body and spirit,” he wrote shortly after the 2020 election.

Three defendants, including Rhodes, took the witness stand to testify in their defense – a move generally seen by defense attorneys as a last resort option because it tends to do more harm than good. On the witness stand, Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and his associates — Thomas Caldwell of Berryville, Virginia, and Jessica Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio — sought to downplay their actions, but struggled when prosecutors challenged them. eager to explain their violent messages.

Others on trial are Kelly Meggs of Dunnellon, Florida, and Kenneth Harrelson of Titusville, Florida. A seditious conspiracy carries up to 20 years behind bars, and the five defendants also face other felony charges. They would be the first people convicted of seditious conspiracy in a trial since the 1995 prosecution of Islamic militants who plotted to bomb New York landmarks.

The trial unfolding in federal court in Washington — less than a mile from the Capitol — has opened a window into how Rhodes mobilized his group and then tried to reach Trump.

But while authorities combed through thousands of messages sent by Rhodes and his co-defendants, none specifically laid out a plan to attack the Capitol itself. Defense attorneys underscored this fact throughout the trial by arguing that the oath keepers who entered the Capitol were swept up in a spontaneous wave of election-fueled rage rather than act within the framework of a conspiracy.

Jurors never heard of three other oath keepers who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy.

For two days on the witness stand, a seemingly relaxed Rhodes told jurors there was no plan to attack the Capitol. He said he had nothing to do with the weapons that some oath keepers had hidden in a hotel in Virginia that prosecutors say served as a base for “quick reaction force” teams ready to transport a weapons arsenal across the Potomac River if necessary. The weapons were never deployed.

Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate and former Army paratrooper, said his supporters were “stupid” for going inside. Rhodes, who was in a hotel room when he discovered rioters storming the Capitol, insisted the oath keepers’ only mission for the day was to keep the public safe. Trump ally Roger Stone and other figures at events leading up to the riot.

This message was repeated in court by others, including a man described as the ‘chief operating officer’ of the Oath Keepers on January 6, who told jurors he had never heard anyone discuss plans to attack the Capitol.

A government witness – an oath-keeper cooperating with prosecutors in hopes of a lighter sentence – said there was an “implied” agreement to stop Congressional certification, but that the decision of Entering the building was ‘spontaneous’.

Prosecutors say the defense is only trying to cover its tracks in a clear case. The Oath Keepers are not accused of having reached an agreement before January 6 to storm the Capitol.

Citing the Civil War-era Seditious Conspiracy Act, prosecutors sought to prove that oath keepers conspired to forcibly oppose the authority of the federal government and block the execution of laws governing the transfer of presidential power. Prosecutors must show that the defendants agreed to use force — not merely advocated it — to oppose the transfer of presidential power.


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