(WASHINGTON) — A jury on Tuesday convicted Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and associate Kelly Meggs of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol while also convicting three others of various crimes in the insurrection — but jurors acquitted the five defendants of other charges brought against them by the federal government.
The jury reached its determination on the third day of deliberations following a trial in federal court in Washington that spanned nearly two months.
Along with Rhodes and Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Thomas Caldwell and Jessica Watkins – all fellow Oath Keeper members and associates – were on trial on various charges, including and beyond seditious conspiracy.
Rhodes and the other defendants were charged with disrupting the peaceful transfer of power by conspiring to oppose by force the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral college victory on Jan. 6, 2021, among multiple other felonies.
Rhodes and Meggs were found guilty of seditious conspiracy, the first such convictions by a jury since 1995. They could each face a maximum of 20 years in prison for that charge alone.
Caldwell, Harrelson and Watkins were found not guilty of seditious conspiracy.
The rarely-used seditious conspiracy statute was signed into law following the Civil War with the aim of prosecuting Southerners who may still want to fight against the government.
The Justice Department hasn’t brought seditious conspiracy charges since 2010, when prosecutors indicted several Michigan residents and members of the Hutaree militia with conspiring to oppose by force the authority of the U.S. government. But the defendants were all acquitted after a judge determined that prosecutors had hinged too much of their case on statements that were First Amendment protected speech.
Breaking down the verdicts in Oath Keepers trial
Rhodes was also found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding and of tampering with documents/aiding and abetting. He was found not guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties.
Meggs was also found guilty of conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, of obstructing an official proceeding, of conspiring to prevent an officer from discharging duties and of tampering with documents. Meggs was found not guilty of destruction of government property/aiding and abetting.
Harrelson was also found guilty of obstructing an official proceeding, of conspiring to prevent an officer from discharging duties and of tampering with documents. In addition to the seditious conspiracy charge, Harrelson was found not guilty of conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding and destruction of government property.
Watkins was also found guilty of conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, obstructing an official proceeding, conspiring to prevent an officer from discharging duties and civil disorder. In addition to the seditious conspiracy charge, Watkins was found not guilty of destruction of government property/aiding and abetting.
Caldwell was found guilty of obstructing an official proceeding and of tampering with documents but not guilty of seditious conspiracy, conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiring to prevent an officer from discharging duties.
The trial so far
The Oath Keepers had discussed the possibility of “civil war” and violent revolution in the months after the November 2020 election. Using a massive cache of phone records, messages and recordings as evidence, prosecutors had attempted to tie their far-right political beliefs with a desire to forcibly oppose the certification of Biden’s election victory.
The defense argued that no plot to disrupt government proceedings ever materialized among the group and their discussions of violence were largely rhetorical and were not taken seriously.
At the same time, the defendants said they came to Washington to provide security because they feared violence from far-left groups at the pro-Donald Trump events held on Jan. 6, 2021. Three of the defendants — Caldwell, Watkins and Rhodes — all opted to take the witness stand.
During cross-examination and throughout the trial, prosecutors displayed evidence to undermine their credibility and used messages and social media posts that appeared to contradict their innocent explanations. At one point, Meggs said he wanted to “go on a killing spree” and first target House Speaker Nancy Pelosi following the 2020 election.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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