February 5, 2023

Oath Keepers’ leader Stewart Rhodes convicted of seditious conspiracy in major Jan. 6 case

The leader of the far-right Oath Keepers was convicted Tuesday of plotting an armed rebellion on Jan. 6, 2021 to stop the election of President Biden.

Stewart Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy, becoming the first person to land behind bars for that crime in nearly three decades.

Federal prosecutors successfully showed that Rhodes plotted the Oath Keepers’ role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol in the weeks after Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

“Their goal was to stop by whatever means necessary the lawful transfer of presidential power, including by taking up arms against the United States government,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said in his opening statement in early October. “They concocted a plan for armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy.”

Stewart Rhodes speaks during a rally in Washington, D.C., on June 25, 2017.

Following his election loss, Trump was impeached for inciting hundreds of his supporters to storm the halls of Congress as lawmakers met to certify the election results. Since then, hundreds of participants have faced criminal prosecution, while a special House committee has sought to get to the bottom of the events.

Nestler and his colleagues presented mountains of recorded evidence against Rhodes and his co-defendants during the nearly two-month trial. In messages to Oath Keepers and other right-wingers, Rhodes promised a “bloody” civil war and “insurrection” if Biden ascended to the presidency.

Kelly Meggs, the leader of Florida’s Oath Keepers chapter, was also convicted of sedition. Three more co-defendants — Kenneth Harrelson, Thomas Caldwell and Jessica Watkins — were acquitted of the sedition charge but convicted of obstructing an official proceeding.

Defense attorneys employed a familiar defense in Jan. 6 riot cases and argued that their clients’ words had been all bark and no bite.

Rhodes testified in his own defense, claiming that he found the Capitol invasion “stupid” and pointing out that he never entered the building.

But the jury took his recorded calls and messages at face value.

“If [Trump’s] not going to do the right thing and he’s just gonna let himself be removed illegally, then we should have brought rifles,” Rhodes said during a post-Jan. 6 meeting. “We should have fixed it right then and there.”

Rhodes and Meggs face up to 20 years in prison on the sedition convictions, which would be the lengthiest punishment for anyone involved in the Jan. 6 riot to date.

Rhodes plans to appeal his conviction.

“We feel like we presented a case that showed through evidence and testimony that Mr. Rhodes did not commit the crime of seditious conspiracy,” said his lawyer Ed Tarpley.

The last people convicted of seditious conspiracy were radical Egyptian-American cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman and nine of his followers, who plotted to bomb various New York City landmarks in 1995.

With News Wire Services

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