Federal prosecutors rested their case on Thursday against five alleged leaders of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, ending the initial phase of the first seditious conspiracy trial in over a decade.
Over four weeks, government witnesses – including several FBI agents, US Capitol Police officers, current and former members of the Oath Keepers and a representative from Facebook who testified about social media messages celebrating the violence – testified to back up the Justice Department’s case that the five defendants plotted to stop the electoral college count on January 6, 2021.
According to prosecutors, defendants Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell planned for an armed rebellion long before the US Capitol riot.
Members of the group attended several other rallies in DC as “dry runs,” prosecutors say, and took action when the moment finally presented itself on January 6, going with the crowd to storm the Capitol.
All five alleged members of the Oath Keepers have pleaded not guilty and will present evidence in their defense in the coming weeks. Some of the defendants have suggested they will testify in their own defense, including Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate who founded the far-right extremist group.
In presenting their case, prosecutors largely relied on the group’s own alleged chat messages on encrypted apps and their planning in the lead-up to January 6 – which their leader Rhodes allegedly saw as a hard constitutional deadline to stop Joe Biden from becoming president.
Prosecutors have also presented several covertly recorded discussions in which Rhodes and other defendants allegedly discussed the election and warned of “combat here on US soil.”
Defense attorneys have hammered on the idea that the group never had a specific plan on January 6 and Rhodes never instructed them to enter the Capitol.
Though one government cooperator, former Oath Keeper Graydon Young, called the plan “implicit,” no one has testified the group had an organized, coordinated plan for what happened that day.
The second argument the defense has depended on is twofold: Members of the Oath Keepers were not violent during the riot and never called in a so-called “Quick Reaction Force” they had set up in a Virginia hotel with an alleged arsenal of firearms. The defendants did little more than other people charged only with misdemeanors, defense attorneys say. The only difference is their “rhetoric and bombast.”