Oath Keepers to go on trial for seditious conspiracy in Trump coup

In the highest-profile prosecution so far stemming from the failed coup d’etat that resulted in a Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the founder of the Oath Keepers and four others Trump-loving terrorists linked to the far-right, anti-government group go on trial Tuesday on seditious conspiracy and other charges stemming from the deadly assault.

Stewart Rhodes, who established the Oath Keepers in 2009, and his co-defendants are accused of spending months recruiting, training and conspiring to use force to prevent the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden.

Prosecutors allege the plot included stashing guns just outside Washington, D.C., for a quick reaction force to rush into the city on Jan. 6, if necessary.

The trial, which is expected to last around five weeks, opens Tuesday with jury selection at the federal courthouse just down the street from the Capitol. The stakes are high for both sides.

Despite the clear and compelling evidence revealed by the special congressional committee investigating the incident, former President Donald Trump and his closest political aides have not been indicted for any role in the violent attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election result.

In fact, most political analysts expect Republicans to win back control of the House of Representatives, as well as possibly the Senate, even though polling numbers suggest a large number of voters are shocked that GOP elected officials seem to be essentially defending the insurrectionists.

“The combination of ignoring gun violence, overturning Roe v. Wade and whitewashing the attack on the Capitol really, really powerfully demonstrates for people that the MAGA Republican Party is dangerous and should not be running the country and should not be running the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who runs the House Democrats’ campaign arm and represents a swing New York district. “That’s criminal behavior. And they should be held accountable. And I think that ordinary people get that.”

Maloney admits that there is frustration among some in the Democratic base that the Justice Department hasn’t announced any action against Trump.

At least three Oath Keepers pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and obstruction charges. William Todd Wilson, 45, of Newton Grove, North Carolina, pleaded guilty on May 4, 2022; Joshua James, 34, of Arab, Alabama, pleaded guilty on March 2, 2022; and Brian Ulrich, 44, of Guyton, Georgia, pleaded guilty on April 29, 2022.

October 6, 2022, marked 21 months since the attack on the U.S. Capitol that disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the process of affirming the presidential election results.

The government continues to investigate losses that resulted from the attempted coup d’etat, including damage to the Capitol building and grounds, estimated at $2.7 million. That amount reflects damage to the Capitol building and grounds and certain costs borne by the U.S. Capitol Police, among other things.

According to court documents, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 56, of Granbury, Texas, who is the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers; and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, were arrested on January 13, 2022.

In addition to Rhodes and Vallejo, those named in the indictment include nine previously charged defendants: Thomas Caldwell, 67, of Berryville, Virginia; Joseph Hackett, 51, of Sarasota, Florida; Kenneth Harrelson, 41, of Titusville, Florida; Kelly Meggs, 52, of Dunnellon, Florida; Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda, Florida; Jessica Watkins, 39, of Woodstock, Ohio; as well as James and Ulrich.

In addition to the earlier charges filed against them, they now face additional counts for seditious conspiracy and other offenses.

Eight other individuals affiliated with the Oath Keepers, all previously charged in the investigation, remain as defendants in two related cases.

All defendants – except Rhodes and Vallejo – previously were charged in a superseding indictment. The superseding indictment has now effectively been split into three parts: the 11-defendant seditious conspiracy case, a seven-defendant original case, and a third case against one of the previously charged defendants.

In one of the related cases, the original superseding indictment, charges remain pending against James Beeks, 49, of Orlando, Florida; Donovan Crowl, 51, of Cable, Ohio; William Isaacs, 22, of Kissimmee, Florida; Connie Meggs, 60, of Dunnellon, Florida; Sandra Parker, 63, of Morrow, Ohio; Bernie Parker, 71, of Morrow, Ohio, and Laura Steele, 53, of Thomasville, North Carolina. The other case charges Jonathan Walden, 57, of Birmingham, Alabama.

The three indictments collectively charge all 19 defendants with corruptly obstructing an official proceeding. Eighteen of the 19 defendants – the exception is Walden – are charged with conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiring to prevent an officer of the United States from discharging a duty. Eleven of the 19 defendants are charged with seditious conspiracy. Some of the defendants are also facing other related charges.

Ginni Thomas, a longtime GOP activist who is also the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was to testify before the House Select Jan. 6 committee.

The committee asked to interview Thomas about her communications with those pushing a plan to reject the results of the 2020 election, including Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows and John Eastman, the conservative attorney who concocted a scheme to reject the electoral votes in states where voters supported President Joe Biden in 2020.

White House attorneys and then-Vice President Mike Pence refused to participate in Trump’s illegal effort to have Congress overturn the election results, saying it violated the Constitution and would be soundly rejected by the Supreme Court if the matter was ever argued there.

The Supreme Court refused to hear election challenges by Trump after they were dismissed in more than 50 lower courts, but Justice Thomas dissented, saying they should have heard the case.

The Jan. 6 committee was scheduled to hold its ninth and likely final investigative hearing this week, but postponed the public session due to Hurricane Ian. Chairman Bennie Thompson said he planned to announce a new date soon.

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