The landmark sedition trial of five members of the far-right Oath Keepers opened Monday with prosecutors telling a jury the group mounted an “armed rebellion” at the US Capitol last year in a bid to keep Donald Trump in power.
Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Nestler said that Stewart Rhodes, the eyepatch-wearing former soldier and Yale law school graduate, knew exactly what he was doing when he led the militia’s followers towards the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
On January 6 the Oath Keepers “concocted a plan for an armed rebellion… plotting to oppose by force the government of the United States,” Nestler said.
– ‘Peacekeeping force’ –
Prosecutors were “cherry-picking” a few inflammatory text messages from thousands and lacked proof of the charges.
“The Oath Keepers are basically a peacekeeping force,” Linder said.
“This is the biggest bait-and-switch in the history of the American justice system,” said David Fischer, attorney for Thomas Caldwell, one of the other four Oath Keepers charged in the case.
But Fischer said Caldwell never entered the Capitol and never attacked anyone.
– Rare charge –
Carrying a potential 20-year prison sentence, it is a gamble for the Justice Department, which wants to underscore the seriousness of the event, in which Trump supporters sought to prevent Congress from certifying Biden as the victor in the November 2020 presidential election.
Three other Oath Keeper leaders are standing trial with Rhodes: Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, and Kenneth Harrelson. Another four will undergo a separate trial.
“We must refuse to accept Biden,” Rhodes told his followers just after the election, talking in a later message of starting a “civil war.”
On the opening day prosecutors presented footage of the Oath Keepers storming the Capitol on January 6, dressed in combat gear and coordinating in a classic military “stack” formation to push through the crowd to the doors of the building.
The first day of the hearing mostly steered clear of questions of whether Trump had any role in fomenting the January 6 violence.
But Palian told the court that some of Rhodes’s text messages in the weeks after the election to a “Friends of Stone” chat group that included Trump political advisor Roger Stone.
No evidence was presented that Stone read or replied to the text.