Nov 29, 2022
Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was convicted Tuesday by a federal jury of seditious conspiracy for his leading role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump and his "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
"Stewart Rhodes being convicted for seditious conspiracy will be a wake-up call for a LOT of other January 6 defendants."
The Washington, D.C. jury deliberated for three days before finding Rhodes and co-defendant Kelly Meggs guilty of seditious conspiracy, while three other accused--Oath Keeper Kenneth Harrelson, retired Navy intelligence officer Thomas Caldwell, and Ohio militia leader Jessica Watkins--were acquitted of that charge.
Additionally, all five defendants were convicted of obstructing Congress as it convened to certify the results of the 2020 election. Both crimes are punishable by up to 20 years' imprisonment.
Seditious conspiracy convictions are exceedingly rare; in 1954 a group of Puerto Rican militants resisting U.S. colonization were found guilty of shooting up the Capitol earlier that year and given lengthy prison sentences that were later commuted by then-President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Numerous militants acting in the name of Islam--including 10 men who planned a series of thwarted bombings in New York City in the 1990s--have also been convicted of the crime.
NBC News legal analyst Glenn Kirschner hailed the convictions as "a very good day for our republic."
"The defendants tried to convince the jury they're patriots, trying to set right a 'stolen' election," he added. "The jury--12 citizens sitting as the conscious of the community--told them, 'you are NOT patriots, you're traitors."
\u201cStewart Rhodes being convicted for seditious conspiracy will be a wake-up call for a LOT of other January 6 defendants.\n\nIf the PLANNERS of January 6 can be convicted -- and not just the foot soldiers -- then EVERYONE involved is now at risk of serious felony convictions.\u201d— Tristan Snell (@Tristan Snell) 1669760736
U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) tweeted: "We can't move on from January 6th by burying our heads in the sand and pretending it never happened. We can only move on by confronting it directly and ensuring justice is served. Today's convictions for seditious conspiracy are a significant step in that direction."
The Washington Postreports:
The indictment brought against Rhodes, 56, and other Oath Keepers associates in January was the first time the U.S. government leveled the historically rare charge of seditious conspiracy in the massive January 6 investigation. He is the highest-profile figure to face trial in connection with rioting by angry Trump supporters who injured scores of officers and ransacked offices, forcing the evacuation of lawmakers.
Rhodes and followers, dressed in combat-style gear, converged on the Capitol after staging an "arsenal" of weapons at nearby hotels, ready to take up arms at Rhodes' direction, the government charged. Rhodes' defense said he and co-defendants came to Washington as bodyguards and peacekeepers, bringing firearms only in case Trump met their demand to mobilize private militia to stop [Joe] Biden from becoming president.
"On January 6, 2021, the Oath Keepers stormed the U.S. Capitol, dressed in tactical gear and moving in military-style formations. The group attacked police lines and hunted for members of Congress," Right Wing Watch managing editor Kristen Doerer said in a video posted on social media. "They were integral to the violent attack on the Capitol, and their attempts to undermine our democracy haven't stopped since."
\u201cOath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes is found guilty of seditious conspiracy for leading a months-long plot to overturn the 2020 election with violent force. Here's what you need to know about the antigovernment extremist group and its leader:\u201d— Right Wing Watch (@Right Wing Watch) 1669761600
Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chair who endorsed Biden for president in 2020, took aim at GOP purveyors of Trump's "Big Lie."
"Accountability for what happened on January 6th matters. But the politicians who urged the insurrection with their lies hide behind their positions to avoid their accountability," Steele tweeted. "While they did not storm the Capitol, their role was no less consequential."
Former federal prosecutor and current George Washington University Law School professor Randall D. Eliason toldThe Washington Post that "the jury's verdict on seditious conspiracy confirms that January 6, 2021, was not just 'legitimate political discourse' or a peaceful protest that got out of hand. This was a planned, organized, violent assault on the lawful authority of the U.S. government and the peaceful transfer of power."
"Now," he added, "the only remaining question is how much higher did those plans go, and who else might be held criminally responsible."
As the Post noted:
The verdict in Rhodes' case likely will be taken as a bellwether for two remaining January 6 seditious conspiracy trials set for December against five other Oath Keepers and leaders of the Proud Boys, including the longtime chairman Henry 'Enrique' Tarrio. Both Rhodes and Tarrio are highly visible leaders of the alt-right or far-right anti-government movements, and were highlighted at hearings probing the attack earlier this year by the House January 6 committee.
Around 900 people have been charged with federal crimes in connection with the January 6 insurrection. So far, about 450 of the defendants have pleaded guilty.
Trump, meanwhile, recently announced his 2024 campaign for president. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has warned that it will attempt to disqualify him using the 14th Amendment's anti-insurrectionist clause.
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