WASHINGTON (AP) — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was found guilty Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but Jessica Watkins of Champaign County and three others were found not guilty of seditious conspiracy.
Watkins and the other three were found guilty of obstructing an official proceeding, a less serious charge. Watkins also was found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and civil disorder. She was found not guilty of destruction of government property.
Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential win, handing the Justice Department a split victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
One of Rhodes’ co-defendants — Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers — was also convicted of the sedition charge, while three other co-defendants were cleared of the charge. Jurors found all five defendants guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding: Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory.
Rhodes and Meggs are the first people in nearly three decades to be found guilty of the rarely used Civil War-era charge at trial. The trial was the biggest test yet for the Justice Department in its efforts to hold accountable those responsible for attack that shook the foundations of American democracy. Seditious conspiracy calls for up to 20 years behind bars.
A Washington, D.C., jury found Rhodes guilty of sedition after three days of deliberations in the the nearly two-month-long trial that showcased the far-right extremist group’s efforts to keep Republican Donald Trump in the White House at all costs.
Rhodes didn’t go inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but was accused of leading a plot that began shortly after the 2020 election to wage an armed rebellion to stop the transfer of presidential power.
Through recordings and encrypted messages, jurors heard how Rhodes rallied his followers to fight to keep Trump in office, warned of a possible “bloody” civil war and expressed regret that the Oath Keepers didn’t bring rifles to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
In an extraordinary move, Rhodes, Watkins and one other defendant took the stand in their defense, opening themselves up to intense questioning from prosecutors. Rhodes told jurors there was no plan to attack the Capitol and insisted that his followers who went inside the building went rogue.
On trial alongside Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, were Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers; Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath Keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group.
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A federal jury weighed seditious conspiracy charges against Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four associates for a second day without reaching a verdict Monday in a high-stakes trial stemming from the U.S. Capitol attack.
Jurors are expected to resume their deliberations Tuesday. They started last Tuesday before taking a Thanksgiving break.
Rhodes and his co-defendants are accused of a weekslong plot to stop the transfer of power from Republican Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden. Prosecutors say the plot came to a head on Jan. 6, 2021 when Rhodes' followers stormed the Capitol alongside hundreds of other angry Trump supporters.
Hundreds of people have been convicted in the Capitol attack that left dozens of officers injured and sent lawmakers running for their lives. Jurors in the Oath Keepers case will decide, for the first time, whether the actions of any Jan. 6 defendants amount to seditious conspiracy — a rarely used charge that carries both significant prison time and political weight.
Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, is on trial with Thomas Caldwell, of Berryville, Virginia; Jessica Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio; Kelly Meggs, of Dunnellon, Florida; and Kenneth Harrelson of Titusville, Florida.
They would be the first people convicted of seditious conspiracy at trial since the 1995 prosecution of Islamic militants who plotted to bomb New York City landmarks. The charge calls for up to 20 years behind bars. The five defendants also face several other charges.
Throughout the nearly two-month-long trial, defense attorneys argued there was never any plot, that prosecutors have twisted their admittedly bombastic words. Defense lawyers argued that the Oath Keepers who did enter the Capitol were swept up in a spontaneous outpouring of election-fueled rage rather than acting as part of a plot.
Rhodes took the witness stand to tell jurors that he had no idea that his followers were going to storm the Capitol and that he was upset after he found out that some did. Rhodes said he believed it was stupid for any Oath Keepers to go into the Capitol and insisted that was not their “mission.”
For full coverage of the Capitol riot, go to https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege
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