Two Oath Keepers, including founder, found guilty of seditious conspiracy in Jan. 6 case
A federal jury found Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and member Kelly Meggs guilty of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
WASHINGTON — A federal jury in Washington on Tuesday found Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, another member of the far-right organization, guilty of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a victory for the government in a case that involved a rarely used Civil War era statute.
Three other members of the group who were on trial alongside Rhodes and Meggs — Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell — were found not guilty on the seditious conspiracy charge. All five defendants were found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting for their actions on Jan. 6, 2021.
The seditious conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Rhodes' attorneys said they plan to appeal that conviction.
The seditious conspiracy case is the most serious to grow out of the Justice Department's sprawling investigation into the U.S. Capitol attack. The two seditious conspiracy verdicts were wins for the department, which has brought forward the relatively rare charges against a number of Oath Keepers, as well as members of the far-right Proud Boys.
Attorney General Merrick Garland lauded the work of prosecutors and federal agents, saying in a statement that the Justice Department "is committed to holding accountable those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on January 6, 2021."
The not guilty verdicts for three of the defendants could be seen as a sign that jurors did not think the Justice Department proved that Harrelson, Watkins and Caldwell had planned ahead of time to storm the Capitol.
Caldwell's attorney, David Fischer, called the seditious conspiracy acquittal a big win for his client.
"It obviously was a major victory for Mr. Caldwell...and it was just as obviously a major defeat for the Department of Justice," Fischer told reporters outside the courthouse.
Some of the most violent rhetoric the government presented during the nearly two-month trial came from the two defendants who were found guilty of seditious conspiracy: Rhodes and Meggs. In evidence presented by the government, both men showed particular disdain for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and talked about their desire to do her violence.
All three defendants who went inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 — Meggs, Harrelson and Watkins — were found guilty of conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging their official duties. Rhodes and Caldwell were on Capitol grounds that day but did not go inside the building.
Watkins was also found guilty on a count of civil disorder and aiding and abetting because, as she admitted on the stand, she helped push against officers inside the Capitol. Caldwell, who was also found guilty of tampering with documents or proceedings and aiding and abetting, was the only one of the five who was not detained while awaiting trial.
Opening statements in the trial began Oct. 3, and the jury started deliberating Nov. 22. Three of the defendants — Rhodes, Caldwell and Watkins — took the stand in their own defense, with Rhodes telling jurors it was "stupid" for Oath Keepers to go inside the Capitol.
Federal prosecutors alleged that the five defendants conspired to oppose the peaceful transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden, but they did not prove that there was a pre-coordinated plot to actually storm the Capitol. Instead, federal prosecutors alleged that those who entered the building — Meggs, Watkins and Harrelson — seized the opportunity when other rioters broke into the Capitol. A federal prosecutor told jurors that a "sense of entitlement" had driven the Oath Keepers to storm the building, while another argued that the defendants "took matters out of the hands of the people and put rifles into their own hands."
"They claimed to wrap themselves in the Constitution. They trampled it, instead. They claimed to be saving the Republic, but they fractured it, instead," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler argued.
Members of the Oath Keepers organized a "quick reaction force" at a hotel in Virginia, which a prosecution witness testified contained the most weapons he had seen in one place since his military days. Caldwell stayed at the "QRF" hotel and met with Oath Keepers near Trump's speech in Washington on Jan. 6 before he went with his wife to the Capitol, where they went to the top of the inauguration platform set up on the west side of the Capitol.