Four Oath Keepers convicted of seditious conspiracy on January 6

Four members of the Oath Keepers were convicted Monday of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol in the second major trial of far-right extremists accused of conspiring to forcibly keep President Donald Trump in power.

The verdict against Joseph Hackett of Sarasota, Florida; Roberto Minuta of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel of Punta Gorda, Florida; and Edward Vallejo of Phoenix comes weeks after a different jury convicted the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, of the mob attack that stopped the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.

It’s another major victory for the Justice Department, which is also trying to secure sedition convictions against the former Proud Boys leader and four associates. The trial against Enrique Tarrio and his lieutenants opened earlier this month in Washington and is expected to last several weeks.

The jury in Washington deliberated for about 12 hours over three days before returning its guilty verdict on the little-used charge, which carries up to 20 years in prison. The four were also convicted of two other conspiracy counts, as well as obstructing an official proceeding: Congressional certification of the 2020 election. Minuta, Hackett and Moerschel were acquitted of lesser charges.

The judge did not immediately set a date for sentencing. The judge refused the prosecution’s offer to lock up the men while they await sentencing, ruling that they did not pose a flight risk. They were ordered to remain on electronic monitoring home detention.

It was one of the most serious cases brought so far in the January 6 inquiry, which continues to grow two years after the riots. The Justice Department has indicted nearly 1,000 people in connection with the riots, and the number is rising every week.

Prosecutors told jurors that Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and his band of extremists began shortly after the 2020 election to prepare an armed rebellion to keep Trump in power. The messages show Rhodes and the Oath Keepers discussing the prospect of a “bloody” civil war and the need to keep Biden out of the White House.

“Our democracy was under attack, but for the defendants it was everything they trained for and a moment to celebrate,” prosecutor Louis Manzo told jurors in his closing arguments.

Prosecutors alleged that the Oath Keepers stockpiled weapons and stored them in a Virginia hotel for so-called “rapid reaction force” teams that could quickly bring the weapons to Washington to support their plot if needed. The guns were never used.

Rhodes and Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the previous trial that ended in November. They were the first people in decades to be found guilty at trial of the Civil War-era charge. Three other Oath Keepers were cleared of charge in that case but found guilty of other serious crimes. All are awaiting sentencing.

Defense attorneys tried to downplay the violent messages as mere bluster and said the Oath Keepers came to Washington to provide security at events leading up to the riots. They took advantage of prosecutors’ lack of evidence that the Oath Keepers had an explicit plan to storm the Capitol before Jan. 6 and told jurors that the extremists who attacked the Capitol acted spontaneously like thousands of other rioters.

“They left evidence and they picked and chose what they wanted,” said William Lee Shipley, Minuta’s attorney.

Prosecutors argued that while there is no evidence that specifically outlines a plan to attack the Capitol, the Oath Keepers saw the unrest as a means to an end and swung into action at an apparent opportunity to help keep Trump in power

Hackett, Moerschel and other Oath Keepers approached the Capitol in a military-style stack formation before entering the building, according to prosecutors. Minuta and his group from a second batch of Oath Keepers clashed with police after heeding Rhodes’ call to run to the Capitol, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said Vallejo, a US Army veteran and Rhodes ally, drove from Arizona to prepare with the “QRF” – the Quick Reaction Force – at the hotel outside Washington . Jurors heard an audio recording of Vallejo talking about a “guerilla declaration of war” on the morning of Jan. 6.

Three other Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in hopes of getting a lighter sentence. They are among about 500 people who have pleaded guilty to charges related to the riots.

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