Right-wing Oath Keepers founder convicted of sedition in U.S. Capitol attack plot

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By Sarah N Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Stewart Rhodes, founder of the right-wing militia group Oath Keepers, was convicted by a jury on Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for last year's attack on the US Capitol to bring down then-President Donald Trump's 2020 election loss - a major loss Victory for the Justice Department.
Rhodes, a Yale Law School-trained former Army paratrooper and disfellowshipped attorney, has been accused by prosecutors during an eight-week trial of conspiring to prevent Congress from confirming President Joe Biden's election victory over Trump.
His verdict was the first to be read on behalf of the 12-member jury in the most significant of the many trials resulting from the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. US District Judge Amit Mehta presided over the trial.
The other verdicts were still read out.
Rhodes' four co-defendants in the trial are Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell. Rhodes, who is wearing an eyepatch after accidentally shooting himself in the face with his own gun, is one of the most prominent defendants of around 900 charged so far in connection with the attack.
Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, a militia group whose membership includes current and retired US service members, law enforcement officials and first responders. Its members have often turned up heavily armed at protests and political events across the United States, including the racial justice demonstrations following the killing of a black man named George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Prosecutors said during the trial that Rhodes and his co-defendants intended to use force to prevent Congress from officially confirming Biden's election victory. Meggs, Watkins, and Harrelson all entered the Capitol in tactical gear.
The defendants were charged with creating a "rapid reaction force," which prosecutors said was based at a nearby Virginia hotel and equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported to Washington if called up.
Fifty witnesses testified at the trial. Rhodes and two of his co-defendants testified in their own defense. They denied planning an attack or attempting to prevent Congress from confirming the election results, although Watkins admitted to interfering with police officers protecting the Capitol.
Rhodes told the jury he had no intention of storming the Capitol and only learned after the riot had ended that some of his fellow Oathkeepers had entered the building.
During cross-examination, prosecutors tried to frame Rhodes as a liar and showed him page after page of his inflammatory text messages, videos, photos and audio recordings. These included Rhodes, who complained about not bringing guns into Washington on January 6 and said he could have hung US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat despised by the right, from a lamppost.
Watkins, a transgender woman who fled the US Army after being confronted with homophobic slurs, and Caldwell, a disabled US Navy veteran, also opted to testify.
Watkins admitted he was "criminal responsible" for obstructing police officers in the Capitol and apologized. At the same time, Watkins denied planning to storm the building, describing how he was "carried away" by the way enthusiastic shoppers behave on "Black Friday" when they rush to shops to buy Christmas gifts at discounted prices like televisions.
Caldwell, who like Rhodes did not set foot on the Capitol and never officially joined the Oath Keepers, tried to downplay some of the inflammatory texts he sent out in connection with the attack. Caldwell said some of the lines were adapted from or inspired by films like The Princess Bride and cartoons like Bugs Bunny.
Four other members of the Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy are due to be tried in December. Members of another right-wing group called the Proud Boys, including its former leader Enrique Tarrio, are also due to be tried in December on seditious conspiracy charges.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)
donald trump
45th President of the United States
Joe Biden
President of the United States since 2021

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