4 more Oath Keepers found guilty of seditious conspiracy in connection to Jan. 6 riots
Verdict marks major victory for U.S. Justice Department
Four members of the Oath Keepers were convicted Monday of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol in the second major trial of far-right extremists accused of plotting to forcibly keep former president Donald Trump in power.
The verdict against Joseph Hackett of Sarasota, Fla., Roberto Minuta of Prosper, Texas, David Moerschel of Punta Gorda, Fla., and Edward Vallejo of Phoenix, Ariz., comes weeks after a different jury convicted the group's leader, Stewart Rhodes, in the mob's attack that halted the certification of U.S. President Joe Biden's electoral victory.
It's another major victory for the U.S. Justice Department, which is also trying to secure sedition convictions against the former leader of the Proud Boys and four associates. The trial against Enrique Tarrio and his lieutenants opened earlier this month in Washington and is expected to last several weeks.
Seditious conspiracy is a rarely prosecuted Civil War-era law that prohibits plotting to overthrow or destroy the government and carries up to 20 years in prison.
Jurors deliberated for about 12 hours over three days. The judge didn't immediately set a date for sentencing.
Rhodes and another Florida-based leader of the group were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in a separate trial in November.
Oath Keepers discussed 'bloody' civil war, prosecutors say
The Justice Department has brought nearly 1,000 cases connected to Jan. 6 and the tally increases by the week.
In this case, prosecutors told jurors that Oath Keepers leader Rhodes and his band of extremists began shortly after the 2020 election to prepare an armed rebellion to keep Trump in power.
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 argument.
Prosecutors alleged that the Oath Keepers amassed weapons and stashed them at a Virginia hotel for so-called "quick reaction force" teams that could quickly shuttle guns into Washington to support their plot if they were needed. The weapons were never used.
Oath Keepers were providing security, defence says
Defence attorneys sought to downplay violent messages as mere bluster and said the Oath Keepers came to Washington to provide security at events before the riot.
They seized on 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 out and they picked and chose what they wanted," said William Lee Shipley, an attorney for Minuta.
Prosecutors argued that while there is not evidence specifically spelling out a plan to attack the Capitol, the Oath Keepers saw the riot as a means to an end and sprung 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 they entered the building, according to prosecutors. Minuta and his group from a second stack of Oath Keepers clashed with police after heeding Rhodes' call to race to the Capitol, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said that Vallejo, a U.S. 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 "declaration of a guerilla war" on the morning of Jan. 6.
Three other Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and agreed to co-operate with prosecutors in the hopes of getting a lighter sentence.
With files from Reuters