After three days of deliberations, Rhodes was found guilty of sedition by a Washington, DC jury. The nearly two-month-long trial, which exposed the far-right extremist group’s attempts to keep Republican Donald Trump in power at all costs, lasted almost two months.
Two other conspiracy charges were also dropped against Rhodes. Kelly Meggs, a co-defendant and leader of the Florida antigovernment group’s chapter, was also convicted on the charge of seditious conspiracies. Three other associates were not convicted. All five defendants were found guilty of obstruction of an officially authorized proceeding by jurors: Congress’ certification that Biden won the election.
Although mixed, the verdict marks a significant milestone in the Justice Department’s history and will allow prosecutors to continue at full speed in the upcoming trials against other extremists who are accused of sedition. Rhodes and Meggs were the first to be found guilty in almost three decades of seditious conspiracies — a Civil War-era charge that is difficult to prove.
This offense can lead to up to 20 years in prison. This could encourage investigators to look into other aspects of Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 elections. U.S. Attorney general Merrick Garland has recently appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee key elements of an investigation into attempts to subvert the election and a separate probe into the retention classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago. After the verdict, Garland stated that the Justice Department was committed to holding criminally accountable for the attack on democracy on January 6, 2021.
“Democracy is dependent on peaceful transfer of power. In attempting to block certification of 2020 presidential election results, defendants flouted or trampled on the rule of law,” Steven M. D’Antuono (assistant director in charge FBI Washington Field Office) stated in an emailed statement.
“This case shows how violence and force are not able to defeat our justice system.”
Prosecutors used dozens of surveillance video, encrypted messages, and recordings to prove that Rhodes started shortly after the 2020 election in order to plan an armed rebellion against the transfer of presidential power.
Defense lawyers accused the prosecutors of twisting their words. They insisted that the Oath Keepers only came to Washington to protect figures like Roger Stone, an ally of Donald Trump. The defense focused on proving that Rhodes’ rhetoric wasn’t bluster and that Oath Keepers didn’t plan to attack Capitol before Jan. 6. James Lee Bright, defense attorney, told reporters that Rhodes intends to appeal. Ed Tarpley (a Rhodes lawyer) described the verdict as “mixed bag” and said, “This isn’t a complete victory for the government.
Tarpley stated that “we feel that we presented a case which showed through evidence, testimony that Mr. Rhodes didn’t commit the crime of conspiracy to seditious.” Along with Rhodes, Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson from Granbury, Texas were Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy Intelligence Officer from Virginia, and Jessica Watkins who led an Ohio militia unit.
Caldwell was convicted of two charges and acquitted of three other, including seditious conspiracies. David Fischer, Caldwell’s attorney, described the verdict as a “major victory” in favor of his client and a “major loss” for the Justice Department. He said that he would appeal against the convictions.
Next week is the start of jury selection for another group of Oath Keepers who are facing seditious conspiracies charges. A number of Proud Boys members, including Enrique Tarrio (the former national chairman), are scheduled to be tried on the sedition charge in December. In a remarkable move Rhodes testified before the jury, telling them that there was no plan for attacking the Capitol. He also claimed that those who entered the Capitol were rogue.
Rhodes stated that he didn’t know that his followers would join the mob to storm the Capitol. He also said that he was angry when he learned that some had done so. Rhodes claimed they were acting stupidly and out of their mission. He also said that he was upset to learn that some people did.
Kathryn Rakoczy, Assistant U.S. attorney, stated that the Capitol attack was a “means of an end” for Oath Keepers in her closing argument.
Jurors were told by Rhodes that he spent thousands on an AR platform rifle, magazines and mounts on his journey to Washington in advance of the riot. Jurors viewed surveillance footage of the Virginia hotel in which Oath Keepers had stored weapons to aid “quick response force” teams that were, according to prosecutors, ready to bring weapons into the city.
They were not deployed. Oath Keepers in combat gear were captured on camera moving through the crowd to the Capitol. A prosecutor stated that Rhodes was outside, acting as a general “surveying his troops on the field,” while he was still inside. According to prosecutors, Rhodes and other OathKeepers went to the Olive Garden to celebrate the end of the riot.
The trial revealed more details about Rhodes’ efforts to press Trump to stay in White House during the weeks leading to Jan. 6. In a group chat with Stone, called “FOS” (Friends of Stone), Rhodes wrote: “So will you step in and push Trump to finally take decisive action?”
Another witness testified that Rhodes tried to convince him to send a message to Trump after the riot. It urged Trump to not give up his fight for power. An intermediary, a man who claimed he could reach Trump through indirect means, recorded Rhodes’ meeting and sent it to the FBI.
According to a recording, Rhodes stated that if he doesn’t want to do the right things and he’s just going to let himself be taken illegally, then we should have brought rifles.” “We should have fixed that right away. Rhodes stated that he would hang Nancy Pelosi (expletive) from the lamppost.
Three other Oath Keepers pleaded guilty previously to seditious conspiracies. However, the Justice Department did not obtain a conviction in this case. It was the 1995 trial of Islamic militants who plotted bombing attacks on New York City landmarks.