WASHINGTON, Nov 29 (Reuters) – Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, and another leader of the right-wing group, were found guilty on Tuesday of a plot to attack the US Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters, a major victory for Justice. Department.
The verdicts against Mr. Rhodes and his four co-defendants, after three days of deliberations by 12 judges, came in the most high-profile case to date to escape the deadly threat of January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol, failure. They want to overthrow President Trump in 2020.
Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate who was trained by the military and a disbarred lawyer, was accused by prosecutors for eight weeks of seeking to use force to try to prevent Congress from recognizing the victory of Democratic President Joe Biden over Republican Trump. Rhodes was convicted of three crimes and acquitted of two.
One of his co-defendants, Kelly Meggs, was also convicted of treason while three others – Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell – were acquitted.
All five defendants were found guilty of obstruction of justice – verifying the results of an election – with mixed sentences on several other charges.
The crime of treason and obstructing a public official can carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Two other high-profile trials related to the attack are due to begin next month. Four other members of the Oath Keepers are facing treason charges, as are members of the far-right group Proud Boys, including its former chairman Enrique Tarrio.
James Lee Bright, Rhodes’ attorney, said he thought the decision would inform the Justice Department’s approach to other criminal cases.
“Coming back into this, even though we’re not happy about it, it probably says that the DOJ will move forward like everyone else,” Bright told reporters outside court.
Rhodes, who is wearing an eyepatch after accidentally shooting himself in the face with his own gun, is one of the most prominent of the nearly 900 people charged in the conspiracy. Meggs, who heads the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter, is the only defendant other than Rhodes in the case who led the group.
Rhodes in 2009 founded Oath Keepers, an organization whose members include retired US military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders. Its members have appeared, often armed, at protests and political events around the United States including justice protests following the killing of a black man named George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer.
“The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those who committed atrocities against our democracy on January 6, 2021,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
Rhodes’ attorney Ed Tarpley called the verdicts a “mixed bag.”
“We are grateful for the not guilty verdicts we received. We are disappointed with the guilty verdicts,” Tarpley told reporters outside court. “There was no evidence that there was a plan to attack the Capitol.”
Prosecutors in the lawsuit said Rhodes and his allies planned to use force to prevent Congress from recognizing Biden’s victory. Meggs, Watkins and Harrelson all walked into the Capitol wearing smart gear.
The defendants were also accused of creating a “quick army” that prosecutors said was based at a nearby hotel in Virginia and had firearms that could be quickly shipped to Washington.
Fifty witnesses testified in the trial, including Rhodes and two of his accusers. He denied any conspiracy or attempt to prevent Congress from verifying the results of the election, although Watkins admitted that he was hindering the police from protecting the Capitol.
Rhodes told the jury that he had no plans to destroy the Capitol and did not know that some of his fellow Oath Keepers had broken into the building until after the riot.
Prosecutors during cross-examination tried to paint Rhodes as a liar, showing him page after page of his hurtful messages, videos, photos and audio. This includes Mr. Rhodes complaining that he did not bring a gun to Washington on January 6 and saying that he would have hanged the speaker of the House of Representatives in the US Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat criticized by the right.
Watkins, a woman who fled the US Army after being exposed to homophobic abuse, and Caldwell, a disabled US Navy veteran, also chose to testify.
Watkins admitted he was “guilty” of obstructing police inside the Capitol and apologized. At the same time, Watkins denied that he had a plan to destroy the house, saying that he was being “swept” like shoppers do on “Black Friday” when they rush to the stores to buy cheap holiday gifts like televisions.
His lawyer, Jonathan Crisp, told reporters he was “grateful” his client had been found not guilty of treason.
Caldwell, who like Rhodes did not enter the Capitol and did not officially join the Oath Keepers, tried to downplay some of the hurtful texts he sent around. Caldwell said some lines were adapted from or inspired by movies like “The Princess Bride” and cartoons like Bugs Bunny.
Attorneys for both Harrelson and Rhodes told reporters after the trial that they plan to appeal the charges.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, additional reporting by Eric Beech and Costas Pitas; Edited by Scott Malone, Will Dunham and Stephen Coates
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