Oath Keepers Founder Convicted of Sedition in Capitol Attack

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Jurors found Stewart Rhodes and another defendant guilty of seditious conspiracy. Three others were acquitted on the most serious charge.

A jury has convicted Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, of seditious conspiracy and other crimes, a milestone in the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation into the January 6 attack on Congress. Jurors also convicted Kelly Meggs, the leader of the group’s Florida chapter, of seditious conspiracy.

But the same jury acquitted three other defendants on sedition charges. Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell were found not guilty on that count, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years imprisonment. The jury also acquitted Rhodes, Harrelson, and Caldwell of conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding. All the defendants were convicted of obstructing an official proceeding, which also carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

While mixed, the outcome affirms that the riot involved an attempt to violently overthrow the US government. The verdicts, which follow a marathon eight-week trial, are the most significant convictions so far in what the Justice Department has called the largest criminal investigation in American history, with nearly 1,000 people facing various charges related to January 6. 

The mixed verdicts may reflect a conclusion by the jury that Rhodes and Meggs played leadership roles in the attack. The jurors, though they deliberated for just a three days, appear to have parsed the evidence against individual defendants, judging that the case was weaker against Caldwell, who did not enter the Capitol; Harrelson, against whom prosecutors admitted they had less evidence of conspiracy; and Watkins, whose emotional admission of wrongdoing on the stand may have been persuasive.

Three members of the Oath Keepers and one Proud Boys member had already pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy charges. But Tuesday’s result marked the first jury trial to result in a sedition verdict since the 1995 convictions of 10 Islamic terrorists— including the so-called “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel-Rahman—who plotted to blow up New York City landmarks.

Less than a year ago, Attorney General Merrick Garland faced attacks from the left amid concern that the DOJ would not charge anyone with sedition. Federal prosecutors have since indicted 11 Oath Keepers with that crime—a second Oath Keepers trial is set to start in December. Five leaders of the far-right Proud Boys are set to go on trial for seditious conspiracy and other charges next month. Garland also recently named a special counsel, Jack Smith, to oversee the department’s separate investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and aides will face charges related to their efforts to use false claims of election fraud to retain power after Trump’s 2020 defeat. That investigation appears to be advancing, though it remains unclear if it will result in charges.

Prosecutors had a heap of evidence against the Oath Keeper defendants. During the trial, they showed that Rhodes and allies in his group began discussing the potential use of violence to help Trump hold onto power as soon as media outlets reported that Joe Biden had defeated him. “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” Rhodes wrote in an Oath Keepers chat two days after the election. “Prepare your mind body and spirit.”

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