The sedition trial of five members of the far-right group Oath Keepers began Monday with prosecutors accusing them of heavily arming themselves on Jan. 6, 2021, to attack the Capitol and keep Donald Trump in the White House.
Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Nestler claimed that the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodesan ex-military man known for his black eye patch and fiery tirades, knew exactly what he was doing when he led members of his militia to the US Congressional building.
Nestler showed videos of the violent takeover of the Capitol by dozens of group members dressed in combat gear, noting that Rhodes directed them. “like a general on the battlefield”, while lawmakers tried to certify the victory of Joe Biden, Trump’s rival in the 2020 presidential election.
On January 6, the Oath Keepers “they devised a plan for an armed rebellion (…) conspiring to oppose the government of the United States by force”Nestler said.
“They did not go to the capital to defend or help. They went to attack.” held.
But Rhodes’ attorney, Phillip Linder, assured that his client, a law graduate from the prestigious Yale University, was “extremely patriotic” and “a constitutional expert”.
According to him, the Oath Keepers had gone to Washington to provide security for Trump’s speech that day and other Trump events. “The Oath Keepers are almost a peacekeeping force,” he added.
“Stewart Rhodes had no violent intent that day”he insisted.
He said that the Oath Keepers had created a “rapid reaction force” armed that day in case it was needed, and that it would have been “defensive” if Trump had called them.
Rhodes is put on trial along with four regional leaders of his militia.
His lawyers said in court papers that they did not want to topple the government but hoped Trump would declare a state of insurrection, under an 1807 law that allows US presidents to mobilize certain armed forces in exceptional circumstances.
But for the Justice Department lawyer, this argument is just a strategy by Rhodes to protect himself.
“What Rhodes says about the Insurrection Act was a legal cover”Nestler said.
Since the riot in the Capitol, more than 870 people have been arrested and around 100 have received prison sentences, including perpetrators of violence against the police. Until now, however, no one had ever faced charges of “sedition.”
Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson are the first to stand trial on this charge, which stems from a law passed after the American Civil War to suppress the last remaining rebels in the South.
Punished with 20 years in prison, it implies having planned the use of force to overthrow the government or oppose one of its laws. It differs from insurrection, which has a more spontaneous character.
According to the indictment, the defendants “they conspired to oppose by force the legal transfer of presidential power.”
Specifically, Rhodes is accused of having started assembling his troops in November 2020. “We are not going to get out of this without a civil war,” he wrote to them two days after the presidential election, in an encrypted message.
The jurors were selected last week after Judge Amit Mehta denied a defense request to move the trial out of Washington on the grounds that residents may be biased against the defendants due to the violence unleashed on Thursday. January 6, 2021.
Rhodes’ attorney also asked the magistrate to prohibit the use of terms frequently used to refer to the Oath Keepers during the trial, such as “anti-government”, “organized militia”, “extremists”, “racists” and “white nationalists”.