Dhe founder of the far-right US militia “Oath Keepers”, Stewart Rhodes, has been found guilty of “seditious conspiracy” for the January 2021 Capitol storming. A jury in the capital Washington found the 57-year-old and another leader of the “Oath Keepers” guilty of this particularly serious charge. They face up to 20 years in prison, the sentence will be announced at a later date.
These are the first convictions for seditious conspiracy in connection with the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. The offense includes attempts to overthrow the US government and is rarely used in the US.
Prosecutors had accused the five defendants in the trial of planning an “armed rebellion” against the US government. In addition to Rhodes, the leader of the “Oath Keepers” in the state of Florida, Kelly Meggs, has now been found guilty of seditious conspiracy. The three other defendants were acquitted of this charge, but found guilty of other crimes.
“Like a General on the Battlefield”
Members of the anti-government and violent Oath Keepers, along with hundreds of other radical supporters of President Donald Trump, stormed the Capitol as Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 presidential election was to be finally confirmed.
According to the indictment, the ex-soldier Rhodes, known for his black eye patch, and the other accused “Oath Keepers” bought weapons and combat equipment and stored them in a hotel near the capital. Rhodes acted “like a general on the battlefield” during the storming of the Capitol, prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler said during the trial, which started at the end of September.
Rhodes has denied planning an attack on the Capitol. He and his militia only wanted to ensure security at a Trump rally in Washington on the day in question.
Black day in US history
After the presidential election, Trump refused to acknowledge his defeat and raised allegations of electoral fraud that have often been refuted. At noon on January 6, 2021, the Republican called on his supporters to march to the Capitol and fight “whatever the hell.” The ensuing attack on the Capitol, which left five dead, caused horror around the world and is considered a black day in the history of US democracy.
Around 900 attackers were arrested in the weeks and months after the Capitol was stormed. Penalties have already been imposed in hundreds of cases, including for attacks on police officers. The trial of the Oath Keepers was the first to be charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack on the Capitol.
An acquittal would have been a serious setback for the prosecution. Especially since the US judiciary also wants to try members of another extremist group, the “Proud Boys”, for “seditious conspiracy”.
Militia recruit many Trump sympathizers
The ex-soldier Rhodes, a law graduate from the US elite university Yale, founded the “Oath Keepers” in 2009. In particular, the militia recruits former or current police officers and soldiers and wants to defend itself against an alleged tyranny by the US government. As with other extremist groups, the Oath Keepers have great sympathy for Trump.
Trump, who has already entered the 2024 presidential race, has not yet been prosecuted by the US judiciary for storming the Capitol. But that could change: Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed prosecutor Jack Smith a week and a half ago as special counsel. Among other things, Smith will examine Trump’s role in the storming of the Capitol. He will also be responsible for investigating classified documents confiscated from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.