What to know as the Oath Keepers' Capitol Riot sedition trial gets underway
- The Oath Keepers' first sedition trial began this week. The max punishment is 20 years in jail.
- There will be a second one, and a sedition trial for several Proud Boys members, later this year.
The seditious conspiracy case against members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group began this week in a federal court in Washington, DC. It is one of the most significant cases to come from the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and the first trial stemming from the riot to include the rare and serious charge of seditious conspiracy.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the 56-year-old leader of the Oath Keepers, is facing trial along with four fellow members. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison. It's one of two cases against Oath Keepers set for trial this year.
Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in 2009 and over the past decade courted former military and law enforcement members into its ranks, growing the group into one of the most prominent militia movements in the country. Along with the Proud Boys and other far-right organizations, its members are accused of stoking violence at the Capitol insurrection and working to block the government's certification of President Joe Biden's election victory.
The historic trial is set to take place over several weeks, here's what to know:
What are the charges?
The central charge brought against Rhodes and the other accused Oath Keepers is seditious conspiracy, a crime that involves purposefully conspiring to overthrow the US government or hinder any US law from taking effect. The Oath Keepers members are accused of several other crimes as well, including obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering of documents.
Prosecutors have already detailed the Oath Keepers' alleged plans to disrupt the certification of the electoral votes, including by gathering weapons, forming "Quick Reaction Force" squads, and deploying military strategies on the day of the riot.
During the opening statements of the trial on Monday, federal prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler argued Rhodes and the Oath Keepers "concocted a plan for armed rebellion" and said their objective was to "stop by whatever means necessary the lawful transfer of presidential power, including by taking up arms against the United States government," as Insider reported.
Multiple Oath Keepers members have already been arrested and pled guilty to the seditious conspiracy charge, including a member of the group's Georgia chapter and the former leader of a North Carolina county subgroup. The latter, William Todd Wilson, brought multiple guns to a hotel near the Capitol and allegedly tossed his only phone into the Atlantic Ocean to block authorities from gleaning information about his role in the Oath Keepers' Capitol Riot effort, a Department of Justice release says.
Who are the key figures?
The main figure in the Oath Keepers first trial is Stewart Rhodes, the organization's founder. Rhodes is a graduate of Yale Law School and once had a job working for the Libertarian politician Ron Paul. He has a distinctive eye patch that he has worn since accidentally shooting himself in the eye in the 1990s. Prosecutors accuse him of helping spearhead the Oath Keepers' effort to block the transfer of power from Trump to Joe Biden. Before the Capitol Riot, Rhodes urged Trump to use the Insurrection Act to seize control and speculated about potentially having to fight a violent civil war.
Kelly Meggs, 53, and Kenneth Harrelson, 41, the leader and a member of the group's Florida chapter, respectively, also face trial this week, along with Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell.
The second batch of Oath Keepers facing seditious conspiracy and other charges, who will face trial in November, include Joseph Hackett, whom prosecutors allege led a group of Florida Oath Keepers into the Capitol during the insurrection on January 6, according to The Washington Post. The others in the second trial are Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, and Edward Vallejo.
Will the trial be televised?
The trial, which is taking place at the Washington DC federal courthouse, will not be televised. Multiple news outlets, including Insider, have reporters inside the courthouse covering the proceedings.
Is this different from the Proud Boys' trial?
The Oath Keepers trials are separate but run parallel to the Proud Boys' trial.
Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group founded by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes in 2016 that was involved in the deadly assault on the Capitol in January 2021, have also been arrested and face trial later this year for seditious conspiracy among other charges.
The group's ex-leader Enrique Tarrio is one of the members, along with Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola. The trial was first set to occur in August, before the Oath Keepers' trial, but the group managed to get the judge to delay it until December, citing the January 6 committee hearings as something that could potentially unjustly sway the jury against them.
How long is the Oath Keepers trial supposed to last?
Jury selection for the Oath Keepers' first trial began last Tuesday, and opening statements began on Monday morning in DC. The trial is set to last for five weeks. The second Oath Keepers trial is scheduled to begin November.
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