The Oath Keepers trial is a major test of the Justice Department’s ability to hold the January 6 rioters accountable. Here’s how it went




CNN

The historic seditious conspiracy trial of five alleged oath keepers – a closely watched test of how the Justice Department is prosecuting United States Capitol Rioters – is coming to an end and closing arguments are scheduled to begin on Friday.

The trial began more than seven weeks ago and featured hundreds of messages, audio recordingsand videos of the defendants’ groundbreaking rhetoric following Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory, and their actions as they marched through the US Capitol during the January 6, 2021 riot.

Defense lawyers argued that there was no uniform plan within the group, that the far-right militia Oath Keepers only attended the Stop the Steal rally to provide security details to the speakers, and that the incendiary recordings of the defendants were nothing more than “locker room conversation.

Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell have all pleaded not guilty.

Here’s what you need to know about the case:

Stewart Rhodes57, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009 and has led the group ever since. Prosecutors said Rhodes stood outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, acting like a “general” as his supporters entered the building.

Kelly Megg53, is a leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers and, according to the government, led the infamous Oath Keepers “stack” formation inside the Capitol on January 6.

Kenneth Harrelson41, is also a Florida Oathkeeper and reportedly acted as Meggs’ right-hand man on January 6.

Jessica Watkins40, led his own militia in Ohio before joining the Oath Keepers following the 2020 election. Prosecutors say Watkins, who is transgender, allegedly entered the Capitol with Harrelson and Meggs and coordinated with Caldwell in the weeks prior.

Thomas Calwella 68-year-old man who testified that he is not a member of the Oath Keepers, allegedly helped organize the armed rapid reaction force stationed outside DC on January 6. Caldwell also hosted Oath Keepers at his Virginia farm, prosecutors say, and communicated with Watkins during the riot.

Jurors will consider 10 counts against the defendants, including three counts of conspiracy, obstruction of electoral college vote certification and falsification of documents.

Seditious plot: The five defendants are accused of planning to use force to prevent the legal transfer of presidential power on January 6.

Conspiracy to obstruct and obstruct official process: The defendants all face charges alleging they conspired together to prevent Congress from certifying Electoral College votes inside the Capitol.

Conspiracy to prevent an officer from carrying out his duties: This charge also concerns the certification of the vote of the electoral college. The indictment alleges that the five defendants worked together to “prevent by force, intimidation, and threat…members of the Congress of the United States, from performing their duties”, namely, to certify the election.

Destruction of public property and complicity: Meggs, Harrelson and Watkins, prosecutors say, were part of a crowd that passed through the doors of the Capitol rotunda on Jan. 6. They are not accused of breaking down the doors themselves.

Civil unrest and complicity: Jurors will consider whether Jessica Watkins interfered with law enforcement when she allegedly joined a crowd near the Senate chamber, shoved and shouted at officers guarding the chamber’s doors.

Falsification of documents or procedures and complicity: Rhodes, Meggs, Harrelson and Caldwell are each accused of allegedly deleting messages and photos from their phones or social media accounts after Jan. 6. Prosecutors also allege Rhodes instructed other oath keepers to delete posts after the riot.

Jake Tapper: Here’s how the Oath Keepers trial compares to previous sedition trials

Several current and former members of the group spoke, offering insight into how online conspiracy theories in the aftermath of the 2020 election drove some to join the Oath Keepers and take action on January 6.

Graydon Young, an oath keeper who pleaded guilty to the January 6 charges, testified he felt ‘desperate and hopeless’ after the 2020 election, and feared there was nothing to stop a ‘fraud’ from being committed against the American people. So, says Young, he joined the Oath Keepers as a way to fight back.

“I guess I was act like a traitor against my own government,” Young, who entered the Capitol that day, told the jury. Young said the group had an implicit plan to storm the Capitol but were never directly told to enter.

Another oath keeper who pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors, Jason Dolandescribed a similar descent into despair after the 2020 election.

“I wanted [lawmakers] hear and feel the same things I felt back then,” Dolan testified, watching a video of himself and Harrelson chanting “betrayal” as they walked through the Capitol that day. “I felt like I was betrayed. I wanted them to hear and feel the anger, the frustration, the rage that I felt.

Three of the defendants, Rhodes, Caldwell and Watkins, also testified during the trial, downplaying their haphazard messages and saying there were no plans to invade the city with weapons.

Rhodes told the jury why he believed the 2020 election was “unconstitutional” and said he wanted then-President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to prevent certification of the election. Rhodes claimed that he never ordered the members into the Capitol and spent most of the day trying to herd the oath keepers into one place.

Prosecutors also revealed new private messages between the oath keepers and secretly recorded meetings of the group would have called for violenceincluding a recording just days after the riot in which Rhodes said he wanted to bring guns to the Capitol that day and warned of “fighting here on American soil.”

Other defendants also complained that the riot was not more successful, prosecutors said, noting the danger lawmakers and Capitol police faced that day.

Young recounted a conversation he had with a group of oath keepers, including Kenneth Harrelson, after they left the Capitol. Harrelson said the police equipment would have been “ineffective” against firearms, Young told the jury.

“The whole general context was that if we had been better prepared or prepared, maybe we could have passed,” Young said.

Caldwell also lamented not having enough firepower, according to prosecutors, writing in a Facebook post that evening that “If we had had guns, I guarantee you we would have killed 100 politicians.” They fled and were swept into their underground tunnels like the rats they were.

Meggs also reportedly celebrated the violence in the posts. Prosecutors say that when an acquaintance told Meggs he “hoped to see Nancy’s head roll down the steps,” Meggs, who can be seen in security footage outside Pelosi’s office that day- there, replied: “We were looking forward [sic] his.”

The trial – the first of three riotous conspiracy cases due to begin this year – is a major test of the Justice Department’s theory that far-right groups plotted to disrupt America’s long tradition of peaceful transfer of power. .

The charge of seditious conspiracy is politically risky and notoriously difficult to prove. Cases are rarely brought and prosecutors haven’t secured a conviction on the charge in decades.

If prosecutors are successful in securing a seditious conspiracy conviction, it could help refute criticism that the Justice Department was not aggressive enough in prosecuting rioters and help dispel claims that the riot was n It was just an uncontrollable demonstration.

The verdict could also have ramifications for a Justice Department increasingly under political fire. When made public earlier this year, the indictment against members of the Oath Keepers sparked outrage from some supporters of the former president and leading right-wing figures who claimed the allegations were exaggerated and the accusations politically motivated.

Law enforcement officials have continued to warn of the recent increase in domestic extremist threats from lone actors and small groups, a threat that some Republican lawmakers have sought to downplay.

Following Trump’s presidential campaign announcement on Tuesday night, the verdict could come under further scrutiny down the road. The former president – who told his supporters to come to the Capitol on January 6 – said if elected he would consider a “full pardon” for the rioters.

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