Oath Keepers Founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes Convicted Of Seditious Conspiracy

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Two of five defendants linked to the far-right Oath Keepers group were found guilty on Tuesday on seditious conspiracy charges in the government's highest-level Capitol riot trial to date.
Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes and one member, Kelly Meggs, were both found guilty in a verdict reached after three days of deliberations.
The process stretched over almost two months; The process of selecting a panel of 12 judges and a handful of alternates began in the last week of September.
Prosecutors had to prove that the deadly mob that stormed the US legislature posed a real threat to American democracy. A guilty verdict would underscore the importance of efforts to hold participants accountable -- efforts, including efforts by the Jan. 6 House Special Committee, which is preparing to release a much-anticipated report of its findings.
Defendants Rhodes, Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson were each charged with plotting to use force to disrupt the January 6, 2021 transfer of power to the President. Caldwell, Watkins and Harrelson were found not guilty on charges of seditious conspiracy.
Judge Amit Mehta is expected to announce verdicts in the coming weeks.
The rarely raised accusation of incitement to hatred is punished with a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment. To date, the longest sentence anyone has received for participating in the attack on the Capitol was 10 years behind bars, which was assigned to a former New York City police officer who attacked Washington police.
Three of the defendants took the stand: Rhodes, who founded the Oath Keepers as an anti-government militia after the election of former President Barack Obama; Caldwell, whose lawyers suggested his ill health prevented him from carrying out his threats to overthrow the government seriously; and Watkins, who angrily expressed her support for voter fraud theories in court.
All three struggled to varying degrees when faced with evidence supporting their own past testimonies during cross-examination.
For more than a decade, the Oath Keepers have recruited serving and former law enforcement and military personnel who pledge to defy any "orders" they deem unconstitutional.
Written messages, including signal messages and blog posts, displayed in the courtroom showed Rhodes often using grandiose language to suggest that the group's mission had an almost biblical purpose. In an open letter to then-President Donald Trump, published on the Oath Keepers website in late December, Rhodes outlined what was at stake if Trump failed to block Joe Biden's election victory.
"If you fail in your duty," he told Trump, "you will leave us, the people, with no choice but to follow in the footsteps of the founders by declaring the regime illegitimate, unable to represent us, and destroy the righteous aims of government - to secure our liberty - and to be a mere puppet of a deadly foreign enemy."
During the trial, evidence showed members of the group hiding a large quantity of powerful rifles and ammunition along with other survival gear just outside the Washington, D.C. border at a hotel where they were staying. While Washington has strict gun control regulations, Virginia's laws are more lax.
Prosecutors showed stills from surveillance cameras of defendants driving around in large boxes of supplies that a "QRF" or rapid reaction force could transport to the Capitol if necessary. Text messages indicated that Caldwell was considering having a boat on hand to transport the guns across the Potomac River, although Caldwell denied that it was ever his plan. (In one of the more absurd moments of the trial, Caldwell testified that a reference in a text message to moving "heavy weapons" was just something from a screenplay he was writing.)
Rhodes also denied that the guns were part of a QRF, telling the court that Oath Keepers were simply used to traveling heavily armed, but D.C. gun laws wanted to respect - which he described as "bullshit" in an audio recording of an Oath Keepers guided call.
This artist sketch shows the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, on November 7, 2022, as he testifies before US District Judge Amit Mehta on charges of seditious conspiracy in the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack .
This artist sketch shows the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, on November 7, 2022, as he testifies before US District Judge Amit Mehta on charges of seditious conspiracy in the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack .
Rhodes testified that he believes Trump has the legal ability to invoke the 200-year-old Insurrection Act on January 6, 2021. If Trump did so, the Oath Keepers and other militia groups would reportedly have the "legal cover" to grab their guns and used them to force Trump to stay in power, buying time to hold a snap election, as Rhodes said he personally believes no one won the 2020 election due to fraud.
In testament to the sheer amount of firepower the Oath Keepers brought to the Virginia hotel, former Oath Keeper Terry Cummings told the court, "I haven't had that many guns in one place since I was in the military seen."
The defensive strategy was far from coherent. But the group's lawyers largely portrayed their clients as well-intentioned and patriotic. They stressed that their clients' political allegiances -- their support for Trump -- have not been brought to justice or charged with misusing their guns. The jury was instructed to heed the constitution's protections of free speech, which include speech they may personally find offensive, but were reminded that they could consider any testimony from a defendant as evidence that they may be involved were involved in a conspiracy.
Not all of the defendants entered the Capitol. Rhodes stood outside the building and watched while texting. Caldwell made it to the entrance of a tunnel on one side of the building where some of the worst acts of violence took place, although he claimed not to have seen that type of behavior.
In a text message he sent to a friend the night of the attack, Caldwell recounted the Capitol scene: "The lying media said Trump supporters would break through the barricades, so I said if we were accused, I might as well." good so i grabbed my american flag and said let's take the damn capital so people rushed forward and climbed the scaffolding outside so i said let's storm the place and hang the traitors.
Three defendants -- Meggs, Harrelson and Watkins -- were part of a group of Oath Keepers who prosecutors say positioned themselves in a military "stack" formation to enter the Capitol. Photos showed the group marching in a column with one hand on the other's shoulders as they walked up the steps of the Capitol. Meggs and Harrelson, prosecutors said, were there looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Watkins used some of her time on the witness stand to express remorse for her actions, and specifically apologized to a Metropolitan Police officer who confronted her, "basically to protect other officers from my stupid ass," she said, according to Mother Jones . The officer, Christopher Owens, testified earlier in the trial.
Although prosecutors had a number of written messages and some audio recordings to support their case, some of the defendants' messages had allegedly been deleted. Instead, former Oath Keepers gave insight into the mentality of the group. One, Graydon Young, testified that while there was no specific plan to enter the Capitol that day, those who did saw themselves as participating in "a Bastille-like moment." Another, Jason Dolan, told the jury how he was preparing to say goodbye to his family if he didn't return home from the Capitol afterwards.
Further evidence showed how Rhodes continued to claim electoral conspiracy theories even after the mob killed people in the Capitol.
At around 11:30 p.m. on the night of January 6, 2021, he wrote in an Oath Keepers group chat, “Patriots, it's been a long day but a day when patriots were beginning to stand. Stand now or kneel forever. Honor your oaths. Remember your legacy.”
One of the most alarming moments of the trial occurred when prosecutors played an audio recording of a meeting Rhodes held with an acquaintance just days after the riot. In the recording, Rhodes expressed regret that the Oath Keepers had not simply moved on and taken their rifles to Capitol Hill.
"I'd hang damn Pelosi from the lamppost," he said in a Texas parking lot. Rhodes dismissed the comment as an alcohol-related rampage.
Prosecutors clearly focused much of their efforts on Rhodes.
However, the jury was instructed not to use this as a reason to let the others off the hook.
"An equal role is not what the law requires, and a defendant is not required to take any specific action beyond entering into the conspiratorial agreement," the jury statements read.
Another four Oath Keepers are expected to face sedition charges in December, along with a group of Proud Boys.
Oath-holders seek 'violent overthrow' of US government: federal prosecutors
Elmer Stewart Rhodes throws Oath Keepers under the bus
Oathkeepers didn't defend the Capitol, they attacked it, the officer testifies

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