Oath Keepers leader and associates found guilty of multiple counts in seditious conspiracy case


washington d.c.
CNN

A Washington, DC, jury convicted on Tuesday Oathkeepers leader Stewart Rhodes and seditious conspiracy associate Kelly Meggs for their role around the January 6, 2021attack on the United States Capitol.

While the jury was split on a number of other charges against the five alleged right-wing militia members, even two guilty verdicts on the seditious conspiracy charge marked a significant victory for the Department of Justice. Justice and have been hailed as vindication by the House select committee investigating the insurrection. The landmark criminal trial — the first of three seditious conspiracy cases set to begin this year — was a major test of the department’s ability to hold the Jan. 6 rioters accountable.

The load has rarely been brought for a century and a half that the law and its precursors have been on the books. By using it against members of the Oath Keepers, the department expresses that it views the breach of the Capitol as a grave threat to the functioning of the United States government.

Prosecutors had argued that the attack on the US Capitol was more than just a political protest spiraling out of control, but rather a violent attack on the seat of US democracy and an effort to keep Joe Biden out of the Oval Office by all means. necessary means. .

“The FBI will always defend the rights of all citizens who peacefully engage in activities protected by the First Amendment, but we and our partners will continue to hold accountable those who engaged in unlawful acts regarding the January 6, 2021 siege. on the U.S. Capitol,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement Tuesday.

The Justice Department alleged that members of the Oath Keepers – Rhodes, Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell – conspired to forcibly stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power from then-President Donald Trump to Biden and plotted to attack the US Capitol.

Jurors considered 10 counts against the five defendants, including three charges of conspiracy, obstruction of Electoral College vote certification and falsification of documents. The defendants were convicted on multiple counts and all five were found guilty of obstructing an official process. The charge, like the seditious conspiracy charge, carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

It remains to be seen how long each defendant will serve, as Judge Amit Mehta could hand down a sentence longer than 20 years or decide to sentence them to a sentence well below the maximum allowed.

Mehta told the court that four of the defendants, including Rhodes, will remain behind bars. Only one defendant – Caldwell – was on bail.

Sentencing hearings usually take place 90 days after the verdict.

Lawyers for the defendants said they were disappointed with the verdict but believed their clients had received a fair trial.

“I believe they gave us a fair trial,” James Lee Bright, a Rhodes lawyer, told reporters outside the courthouse. Bright added, however, that he believed the verdict “could have been materially different” if the trial had been moved outside of Washington, DC.

As the verdict was read in the federal courtroom, the five defendants expressed little emotion. Rhodes, who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009 and has led the group ever since, had his head down, writing notes to one of his lawyers.

Prosecution members congratulated themselves after the jury left, but declined to comment on the verdict. They said Rhodes, 57, stood outside the Capitol on January 6, acting like a “general” as his supporters entered the building.

Meggs, 53, is a leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers and, according to the government, led the infamous Oath Keepers “stack” formation inside the Capitol on January 6. Harrelson, 41, reportedly acted as Meggs’ right-hand man. man on the day of the attack.

Watkins led his own militia in Ohio before joining the Oath Keepers following the 2020 election. Prosecutors say the 40-year-old, who is transgender, allegedly entered the Capitol with Harrelson and Meggs and coordinated with Caldwell in the weeks leading up to the attack.

Caldwell, 68 who testified that he is not a member of the Oath Keepers, allegedly helped organize the armed rapid reaction force stationed outside Washington on January 6. He also hosted Oath Keepers at his Virginia farm, prosecutors said, and communicated with Watkins during the riot.

The trial started more than seven weeks ago and involved hundreds of messages, audio recordings and videos of the defendants’ groundbreaking rhetoric following Biden’s 2020 presidential victory and their actions as they moved around the Capitol grounds during the riot.

Defense lawyers argued that there was no uniform plan within the group, that the far-right militia Oath Keepers only attended the ‘Stop the Steal rally’ on the day of the riot to provide security details to the speakers, and that the incendiary recordings of the defendants were nothing more than a “locker room chat”.

Here is a breakdown of the jury verdicts:

COUNT 1: Seditious plot

The five defendants were accused of planning to use force to prevent the legal transfer of presidential power on January 6.

Rhodes: GUILTY

Meggs: GUILTY

Harrelson: NOT GUILTY

Watkins: NOT GUILTY

Caldwell: NOT GUILTY

COUNT 2: Conspiracy to Obstruct Official Proceedings

All defendants were charged with conspiring to prevent Congress from certifying Electoral College votes inside the Capitol.

Rhodes: NOT GUILTY

Meggs: GUILTY

Harrelson: NOT GUILTY

Watkins: GUILTY

Caldwell: NOT GUILTY

COUNT 3: Obstruction of Due Process

In addition to being charged with conspiring to obstruct official process, all were found guilty of actually committing the act.

Rhodes: GUILTY

Meggs: GUILTY

Harrelson: GUILTY

Watkins: GUILTY

Caldwell: GUILTY

COUNT 4: Conspiracy to prevent an officer from carrying out his duties

The indictment alleged that the five defendants worked together to “prevent by force, intimidation, and threat…members of the Congress of the United States, from performing their duties”, namely, to certify the results of the 2020 elections.

Rhodes: NOT GUILTY

Meggs: GUILTY

Harrelson: GUILTY

Watkins: GUILTY

Caldwell: NOT GUILTY

COUNT 5: Destruction of public property and complicity

Meggs, Harrelson and Watkins, prosecutors say, were among a crowd that marched through the doors of the Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6.

Meggs: NOT GUILTY

Harrelson: NOT GUILTY

Watkins: NOT GUILTY

COUNT 6: Civil Disorder and Complicity

Jurors considered whether Watkins interfered with law enforcement when she allegedly joined a crowd near the Senate chamber, pushed and shouted at officers guarding the chamber doors.

Watkins: GUILTY

COUNTS 7, 8, 9 and 13: Falsification of documents

Rhodes, Meggs, Harrelson and Caldwell have all been charged with allegedly deleting messages and photos from their phones or social media accounts after Jan. 6. Prosecutors also alleged that Rhodes asked other oath keepers to delete posts after the riot.

Rhodes: GUILTY

Meggs: GUILTY

Harrelson: GUILTY

Caldwell: GUILTY

This story was updated with additional details on Tuesday.

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