Updated Nov 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes found guilty of seditious conspiracy

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, projected on to a screen.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, projected onto a screen. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

A jury on Tuesday found Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right militia group Oath Keepers, guilty of seditious conspiracy for his actions in the lead-up to and day of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, AP reports.

Why it matters: Rhodes, a prominent figure within far-right American politics, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison from the conviction, though the jury also found him guilty on other charges.

  • The seditious conspiracy verdict against Rhodes is one of the most significant results arising from the Department of Justice's vast investigation into the Jan. 6 riot.
  • Seditious conspiracy, a rarely used Civil War-era law, is committed when two or more people in the U.S. conspire to overthrow, destroy, seize the property of or levy war against the U.S. government, or to prevent the execution of any U.S. law.

The jury also found one of Rhodes' antigovernment associates, Kelly Meggs, guilty of seditious conspiracy and other felonies.

  • Defendants Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell were found not guilty of seditious conspiracy but guilty of other felonies.
  • The jury, after deliberating for around three days, found all defendants guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, while Meggs and Watkins were also found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding of Congress.
  • Rhodes, Meggs, Harrelson and Watkins also received guilty verdicts for conspiracy to prevent members of Congress from discharging their duties.

What they're saying: "It's a mixed bag. There are good results and bad results mixed together," Ed Tarple, Rhodes' lawyer, said outside the courthouse on Tuesday.

  • "We're grateful for the not-guilty verdicts that were received. We're disappointed in the guilty verdicts," Tarple added.
  • Tarple said they plan to appeal the verdicts against Rhodes.

During the trial, federal prosecutors attempted to show through encrypted messages, recordings and surveillance video that Rhodes had organized and conspired with his associates to oppose the transfer of presidential power and overturn Biden’s victory.

  • In the indictment against the defendants, the Department of Justice alleged that Rhodes and the others traveled to Washington, D.C. in the days before Jan. 6, where they armed themselves with firearms and tactical gear and were prepared to take up arms to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
  • Lawyers for Rhodes had argued he and other Oath Keepers members traveled to and organized in D.C. in anticipation that then-President Trump would use powers under the Insurrection Act to form a militia and wanted to protect his supporters.
  • On the witness stand, Rhodes said the group did not prepare for or intend to storm the Capitol. But prosecutors argued the defendants weren't accused of moving to storm the Capitol but were instead indicted for agreeing to stop Congress' certification of the presidential election by force.

The big picture: The verdicts may serve as a preview for the upcoming trial against Proud Boys leader Henry "Enrique" Tarrio and other members who were also charged with seditious conspiracy for their actions around and on the day of the riot.

  • Some members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers involved in the riot have already pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy charges, while hundreds of other people have pleaded guilty or were convicted of other charges stemming from Jan. 6.

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