What it was like to watch Oath Keeper Stewart Rhodes be convicted for seditious conspiracy




We're mixing things up a bit this week.

Today, I'm talking with my colleague Ella Lee, who was in the courtroom for the last few weeks at the historic trial of five members of the extremist group the Oath Keepers.

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four of his accomplices were charged with seditious conspiracy and other crimes for the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, making their case the most high-profile prosecution in the insurrection so far.

Ella shares some highlights from the trial and offers insights into the demeanor of the defendants, the strength and breadth of the prosecution's case, and why the verdict was split among the defendants.

Also this week: Former president Donald Trump had dinner with two of the world's most famous antisemites. What's that about?

It's the week in extremism.

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, as he testifies before U.
Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, as he testifies before U.  

Inside the Oath Keepers trial

USA TODAY reporter Ella Lee was present for almost every day of the Oath Keepers trial in the courtroom of Washington, D.C., District Court Judge Amit Mehta. She filed more than a dozen stories on the trial, and was there for the verdict this week. We caught up with on Thursday for a quick Q&A:

An historic trial: Oath Keepers trial: A 1800s-inspired defense meets most significant Jan. 6 prosecution yet

Opening arguments in the trial: Oath Keepers trial: Prosecutors argue militia members were 'leaders' on Jan. 6

Will: Did you get the sense that this was the flagship Jan. 6 case for the government?

Ella: I I definitely think so. I think that was really well exemplified through their closing remarks. They took a big scope talking about how this goes to the root of: What does our constitution really mean? They were talking a lot about  how this trial really is a testament to democracy itself.

Plans for armed confrontation: Oath Keepers trial: Messages after 2020 election show plans for armed confrontation in D.C.

Will: The jury delivered a split verdict. Rhodes and one other Kelly Meggs, were found guilty of the most serious charge of seditious conspiracy. Three others weren't. What are we to make of that? 

Ella: The jury took this very seriously. They deliberated for three days, and all the way up until the end, they seemed to really be taking the questions at hand seriously ... which I think indicates they they weren't just checking boxes - they were thinking pretty clearly about where the defendants fit into the mix.

What we know about the Oath Keepers: Oath Keepers trial: What we know about the militia members who aren't Stewart Rhodes

Will: It seems like Rhodes was completely defiant throughout the trial and remains defiant. Is that is that how you see it?

Ella: I think so. Even at the very end of the trial, when the convictions came down, he was pretty stone-faced and was taking notes. His attorney alluded to the fact that what Rhodes was writing was the next steps for their appeal. I don't think he [Rhodes] thinks that he did anything wrong.

Rhodes tried to message Trump: Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes tried to message Trump after Jan. 6, witness says

Will: There was a lot of speculation that there would be connections between the Oath Keepers and Trump. But did we see that at trial? 

Ella: I think the closest thing the government had to a smoking gun was Jason Alpers, the military veteran. He said that he had indirect access to Trump's circle, and Rhodes intentionally set up a meeting with him and wrote a message that was meant to be passed along to Trump ... However, it didn't get to Trump. There is a lot of stuff in the phone records where Rhodes would say, "Let's take this offline, let's do this on a call. Let's do some in-person." So of course there's always that possibility that they just didn't find that connection. But with how much evidence they presented and how much access they had, it's hard to imagine they wouldn't have at least found something that indicates that he was in touch with Trump.

You can read all Ella's stories about the trial and more here.

The rapper Ye, also known as Kanye West, in a file photograph.
The rapper Ye, also known as Kanye West, in a file photograph.  

Nick Fuentes, Kanye West and Donald Trump's dinner blowup

Last week, two days before Thanksgiving, former president Trump hosted a dinner at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida that featured not one, but two of the nation's most prominent anti-Semites: Rapper Kanye West, now known as Ye, and white nationalist Nick Fuentes. The president has since claimed he didn't know who Fuentes was, but USA TODAY, and dozens of other news organizations, have written extensively about his racist statements.

  • West has caused a firestorm over the last few months with a slew of antisemitic outbursts that have reportedly cost him hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship and merchandizing deals. The rapper has a long history with the former president, and has been a vocal supporter of Trump.

  • Fuentes, a 24-year-old host of an online streaming video show, is a Holocaust denier who regularly supports white-nationalist ideas on his shows and in other statements. He attended the deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. He's also been a recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars in support via cryptocurrency. 

  • The dinner has been roundly criticized by Democrats and Republicans including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who called it "disgusting," and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said "There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy."

  • "President Trump's meeting with Nick Fuentes and Kanye West would be similar to a meeting of the President of the United States with leaders of the KKK," reads a statement from Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and CEO of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish civil rights organization. Hier gave the invocation at President Trump's inauguration in 2017.

Looking ahead: Since then, West went even farther over the edge in an interview with Infowars' Alex Jones (who courts have already found liable for propagating hate and disinformation). What happens next with Ye, Fuentes and Trump? Watch for next week in extremism.

Last week: Days after deadly shooting at LGBTQ club, Twitter bans group that protects LGBTQ events

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Watching Oath Keeper Stewart Rhodes on trial for seditious conspiracy

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