The founder of a rightwing militia group has been convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack on the US Capitol on January 6 2021, handing a significant win to the Department of Justice.
Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, faces up to 20 years in prison on the seditious conspiracy charge after being found guilty by jurors in the US district court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday.
The conviction is an important victory for the DoJ, which has arrested and charged hundreds of individuals accused of storming the Capitol last year. Of the numerous cases making their way through US courts, the Rhodes trial was among the most high-profile.
“This case reaffirms the strength of our democracy and the institutions that protect and preserve it, including our criminal justice system,” Matthew Graves, the US attorney for the District of Columbia, said in a statement.
The jury’s verdict comes just days after the DoJ appointed a special counsel to manage investigations involving former president Donald Trump. Among those are parts of a probe into potential meddling in the 2020 presidential elections, including certification of the electoral college votes on the same day a crowd of Trump backers stormed the Capitol.
Kelly Meggs, head of the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter, was also found guilty of sedition, while three other defendants were acquitted of the charge. All five individuals were also found guilty of obstructing an official proceeding.
The US government had accused Rhodes and his co-conspirators of scheming to “stop the lawful transfer of presidential power” in January 2021 including via means of force, according to court documents. Authorities also alleged the group had travelled to Washington transporting weapons and combat gear.
Prosecutors alleged Rhodes and others started crafting the plan in December 2020. The Oath Keepers boss in text messages dated November 2020 allegedly told Meggs and others to not accept the electoral results, adding: “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that.” He added: “We must . . . refuse to accept it and march en-mass on the nation’s Capitol.”
During the trial, Rhodes denied he had planned to attack the Capitol and claimed he was not aware others would participate in the assault.
Lawyers representing Rhodes and Meggs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Oath Keepers, whose membership has significant military and ex-military presence, was also at the heart of a probe into the January 6 attacks managed by a congressional committee.
During a hearing earlier this year, members of the January 6 committee showed footage of contacts between the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, another far-right group at the heart of the violence. Members of the committee also said they believed Proud Boys and Oath Keepers had planned their attack, lining up in battle formation as they gained entry to the building.
The former national leader of the Proud Boys, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, has also been charged with seditious conspiracy among other offences. Other members of the Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy.