Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the anti-government and heavily armed extremist group, Oath Keepers, and four associates went on trial in Washington, D.C. on Monday for what federal prosecutors say was a wide-ranging plot to foment "armed rebellion" on Jan. 6, 2021 to allow then-President Donald Trump to remain in office.
"Their goal was to stop by whatever means necessary the lawful transfer of presidential power, including by taking up arms against the United States government," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said in his opening statement. "They concocted a plan for armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy."
About 900 people have been charged and hundreds convicted in the Capitol attack. Rioters stormed past police barriers, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with officers, smashed windows and halted the certification of President Biden's electoral victory. The five Oath Keepers are the first to stand trial on seditious conspiracy, a rare Civil War-era charge that carries up to 20 years behind bars.
On trial with Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, are Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers; Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath Keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group. They face several other charges as well.
Authorities said Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate, began plotting to overturn Biden's victory just days after the election. Court records show the Oath Keepers repeatedly warning of the prospect of violence - or "a bloody, bloody civil war," as Rhodes said in one call - if Biden were to become president.
By December, authorities say, Rhodes and the Oath Keepers had set their sights on Congress' certification of the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6.
The Oath Keepers organized trainings - including one in "unconventional warfare" - and stashed weapons at a Virginia hotel so they could get them into the capital quickly if necessary, prosecutors say. Over several days in early January, Rhodes spent $15,500 on guns, including an AR-platform rifle, magazines, mounts, sights and other equipment, according to court documents.
"Patriots entering their own Capitol to send a message to the traitors is NOTHING compared to what's coming," Rhodes wrote in a message the evening of Jan. 6.
Defense attorneys have said the Oath Keepers came to Washington only to provide security at events for figures such as Trump ally Roger Stone before the president's big outdoor rally behind the White House. Rhodes has said there was no plan to attack the Capitol and that the members who did acted on their own.
The last successful seditious conspiracy case was against an Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, and nine followers convicted in a plot to blow up the United Nations, the FBI's building, and two tunnels and a bridge linking New York and New Jersey.
With News Wire Services