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Rhodes of Oath Keepers guilty of January 6 seditious conspiracy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted on Tuesday of seditious conspiracy charges in a violent conspiracy to overthrow President Joe Biden’s election, giving the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6 insurgency 2021 brought.

A Washington, DC jury found Rhodes guilty of sedition after three days of deliberations in the nearly two-month trial that demonstrated the far-right group’s efforts to keep Republican Donald Trump in the White House at all costs.

Rhodes was acquitted of two other conspiracy charges. A co-defendant – Kelly Meggs, who ran the anti-government group’s Florida chapter – was also convicted of seditious conspiracy, while three other associates were acquitted of those charges. The jury found all five defendants guilty of obstructing an official process: Congressional confirmation of Biden’s election victory.

The verdict, while mixed, marks a significant milestone for the Justice Department and will likely pave the way for prosecutors to move full steam ahead in upcoming trials of other extremists accused of sedition.

Rhodes and Meggs are the first people in nearly three decades to be found guilty in court of seditious conspiracy — a rare Civil War-era charge that can be difficult to prove. The offense carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

It could encourage investigators, whose work has expanded beyond those who attacked the Capitol, to focus on others linked to Trump’s efforts to overthrow the 2020 election. US Attorney General Merrick Garland recently appointed a veteran prosecutor, Jack Smith, as Special Counsel to oversee key aspects of an investigation into election-evasion efforts as well as a separate investigation into the safekeeping of classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate, March 2020-a – Lago.

Garland said after the ruling that the Justice Department “is committed to holding accountable those criminally responsible for the attack on our democracy on January 6, 2021.”

“Democracy thrives on the peaceful transfer of power. By attempting to block confirmation of the results of the 2020 presidential election, the defendants flouted and trampled on the rule of law,” Steven M. D’Antuono, deputy director of the FBI’s Washington field office, said in an emailed statement Explanation. “This case shows that coercion and violence are no match for our country’s justice system.”

Using dozens of encrypted messages, recordings and surveillance video, prosecutors argued that shortly after the 2020 election, Rhodes began preparing an armed rebellion to stop the presidential transfer of power.

In seven weeks of testimony, jurors heard Rhodes rally his supporters to fight in Trump’s defense, discussed the prospect of a “bloody” civil war and warned the Oath Keepers who might have to “rise in a riot” to keep Biden to defeat if Trump did. not act.

Defense attorneys accused prosecutors of twisting their clients’ words and insisted the Oath Keepers only came to Washington to provide security for figures like Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally. The defense focused heavily on showing that Rhodes’ rhetoric was rampage and that the Oath Keepers had no plan to attack the Capitol before January 6th.

Rhodes intends to appeal, defense attorney James Lee Bright told reporters. Another Rhodes attorney, Ed Tarpley, described the ruling as a “mixed bag,” adding, “This is in no way, shape or form a total victory for the government.”

“We feel that we have presented a case that has shown through evidence and testimony that Mr. Rhodes did not commit the crime of seditious conspiracy,” Tarpley said.

Standing in court alongside Rhodes of Granbury, Texas, and Meggs was Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led a militia group in Ohio.

Caldwell was convicted on two counts and acquitted on three others, including seditious conspiracy. His attorney, David Fischer, called the ruling a “great victory” for his client and a “great defeat” for the Justice Department. He also said he would appeal the two convictions.

Jury selection for a second group of Oath Keepers facing seditious conspiracy charges is scheduled to begin next week. Several members of the Proud Boys, including former national leader Enrique Tarrio, are also due to be tried in December on sedition charges.

In an extraordinary move, Rhodes took the witness stand to tell the jury there was no plan to attack the Capitol and insisted that his supporters who entered the building defected.

Rhodes testified that he had no idea his followers would join the mob and storm the Capitol and said he was upset after finding out some were doing so. Rhodes said they were acting “stupid” and outside of their mission for the day.

Prosecutors said the Oath Keepers saw an opportunity to advance their conspiracy to stop the transfer of power and took action when the mob began to storm the Capitol. The attack on the Capitol was a “means to an end” for the Oath Keepers, Assistant US Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy told the jury in her closing argument.

The jury heard Rhodes spend thousands of dollars on an AR platform rifle, magazines, mounts, sights and other gear en route to Washington before the riot. They watched surveillance footage of the Virginia hotel where some Oath Keepers were hiding “rapid reaction force” weapons. Prosecutors said they were ready to move guns into the city quickly if they were needed. The guns were never used.

On January 6, Oath Keepers in riot gear were seen on camera making their way through the crowd and into the Capitol. Rhodes stayed out like a “general surveying his troops on the battlefield,” a prosecutor said. After the riot, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers went to an Olive Garden restaurant to celebrate, according to prosecutors.

The trial revealed new details about Rhodes’ efforts to pressure Trump to campaign to stay in the White House in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6. Shortly after the election, Stone called “FOS” or “Friends of Stone” in a group chat that Stone participated in. ‘ Rhodes wrote, ‘So will you step forward and urge Trump to FINALLY take decisive action?’

Another man testified that after the riot, Rhodes tried to persuade him to forward a message to Trump urging the president not to give up his fight to stay in power. The mediator — a man who told the jury he had an indirect way to reach the president — recorded his meeting with Rhodes and went to the FBI instead of delivering the message to Trump.

“If he’s not doing the right thing and just illegally removing himself, then we should have brought guns,” Rhodes said during that meeting, according to a recording played to the jury. “We should have fixed it right there on the spot. I would (expletive) put Pelosi on the lamppost,” Rhodes said, referring to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Three other Oath Keepers previously pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. The last time the Justice Department obtained such a conviction from a court was in 1995 indicting Islamist militants who planned to bomb New York City landmarks.

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Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press journalists Nathan Ellgren and Andrew Harnik contributed.

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For full coverage of the Capitol riots, visit https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege

More on investigations related to Donald Trump: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump

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