Capitol Assault: Oath Keepers founder tried for 'sedition'

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Capitol Assault: Oath Keepers Founder on Trial for “Sedition”

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, an extreme militia right, is charged with “sedition” for the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. (Archives)

More than 20 months after the storming of the Capitol, a trial very awaited kicked off Tuesday in Washington, where several members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, including its founder Stewart Rhodes, are on trial for sedition.

The lawyers for this former soldier, known for his black eye patch and his fiery diatribes, attempted final procedural remedies, in particular to obtain a change of scenery from the proceedings.

They were turned down, and jury selection, which is expected to last at least two days, began in a federal court a short distance from Congress Headquarters.

On January 6, 2021, the defendants attacked the temple of American democracy with a thousand other supporters of Donald Trump, when elected officials certified the victory of Democrat Joe Biden in the presidential election.

Since this coup, more than 870 people have been arrested and around 100 have received prison sentences, including the perpetrators of violence against the police. But, so far, no one has had to defend themselves against a sedition charge.

The charge, which stems from a law passed after the Civil War to suppress the last rebels in the South, can be difficult to prove, explains Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor now a professor of right to the University of Michigan.

Punishable by 20 years in prison, it involves planning the use of force to overthrow the government or oppose any of its laws. It differs from the insurrection, which has a more spontaneous character.

“There is also an overtone of disloyalty to the country, not just against certain government actors.

—Barbara McQuade, Professor of Law at the University of Michigan

According to her, however, the motive is clear in this file, where the attack was clearly aimed at elected officials in Congress.

This charge has been used very little: the last conviction for sedition was handed down in 1998 against Islamist militants responsible for a bombing of the World Trade Center in New York five years earlier.

In the case of the assault on the Capitol, the prosecutors held it against only fifteen people, all members of two extreme paramilitary groups right, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

Stewart Rhodes and four regional leaders of his militia – Kelly Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson – are the first to be tried in this capacity.

According to the act of indictment, they conspired to oppose by force the legal transfer of presidential power.

Concretely, Stewart Rhodes is accused of having started to rally his troops in November 2020. We are not going to get out of it without a civil war, he wrote to them two days after the presidential election on an encrypted message.

In the following weeks, he allegedly spent thousands of dollars buying night vision devices, weapons and ammunition, while his accomplices conducted unconventional combat training and transportation to Washington.

The carrying of weapons being strictly regulated in the capital, they are accused of having stored part of their arsenal in the nearby suburbs with the idea of ​​using it later.

On January 6, helmeted and dressed in combat gear, they had marched towards the Capitol. Some had formed a column to break in and had turned back after receiving irritating gas.

Stewart Rhodes had remained a little further apart , armed with a radio, in order to dispense his orders. The Oath Keepers stood ready to answer his call to arms, according to the indictment.

A former law graduate from Yale University, this 50-year-old with a winding career founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, recruiting former soldiers or police officers, initially to fight against the x27;Federal state deemed oppressive.

Like other radical groups, this militia was seduced by Donald Trump's anti-elite rhetoric and fully embraced the allegations of electoral fraud brandished – against all evidence – by the Republican.

At trial, his lawyers will argue that Stewart Rhodes and his cronies did not wish to overthrow the government, but that they expected the Republican billionaire to declare a state of insurrection, under an 1807 law that allows US presidents to mobilize certain armed forces in exceptional circumstances.

< p class="e-p">For prosecutors, it is only a question of giving a legal veneer to their actions s.

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