Jury deliberates in Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial

Prosecutors allege that the far-right group took part in a violent plot to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Members of the Oath Keepers extremist group stand on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021
Members of the far-right group stand outside of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 [File: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

A United States jury continues to deliberate on whether four members of the far-right militia group known as the Oath Keepers committed the crime of “seditious conspiracy” during the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

During closing arguments on Wednesday, federal prosecutor Louis Manzo told the jury that the defendants had been willing recruits in an effort to use violent means to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election, in which Republican incumbent Donald Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

“Our democracy was under attack, but for the defendants, it was everything they trained for and a moment to celebrate,” Manzo said. “The defendants could not let the election stand. They could not let Biden come to power.”

The conclusion of the trial will mark the end of one of the most high-profile cases related to the deadly attack on the US Capitol, in which a mob of Trump supporters tried to halt the peaceful transition of power.

The four Oath Keepers members on trial — Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel and Edward Vallejo — are facing charges of seditious conspiracy for their role in the attacks.

In November, the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, was found guilty of the same charge and faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Another sedition trial is currently under way for members of the far-right group known as the “Proud Boys“, with the organisation’s leader, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, among the defendants.

More than 950 people have been charged with crimes in relation to the 2021 Capitol attack, and at least 192 people have been sentenced to time behind bars, according to the US Department of Justice.

The charges range from crimes such as entering a restricted building and impeding an official proceeding, to assaulting police officers and conspiracy.

About 484 have also pleaded guilty to various charges. Several Oath Keepers have previously offered guilty pleas to seditious conspiracy, a relatively rare and difficult-to-prove charge that alleges the defendant plotted to attack the US government or oppose its authority.

They include Graydon Young, a 54-year-old Florida resident who submitted his plea during a hearing in June 2021.

November’s seditious conspiracy conviction against Rhodes and another leader in the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter was seen as a major victory for the Department of Justice. The current trial of the four members will test whether a jury can also be persuaded to convict lower-level members of sedition.

During Rhodes’s trial, three other members of the Oath Keepers were acquitted of sedition but found guilty of obstructing Congress from certifying the electoral count, which can also result in up to 20 years in prison.

While none of the four defendants in the current trial was believed to have held high-ranking positions in the group, Hackett, Minuta and Moerschel physically entered the Capitol, while Vallejo allegedly stockpiled weapons in nearby Virginia.

The defendants’ lawyers have denied that the four members plotted to block the certification and said that the prosecution had painted a misleading picture of their involvement.

“This case is about a narrative in a sea of evidence,” said Minuta’s lawyer William Shipley. “But the evidence isn’t there.”

Prosecutors have pointed to incendiary videos Minuta posted on social media on the day of the riot as evidence to the contrary.

“You know what? Millions will die. So what?” Minuta says in one video. “Get your fucking soul ready. Get right with God.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies