Members of the right-wing group, the Oath Keepers, planned “an armed rebellion” against the US Government in a bid to stop the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden after the 2020 election, prosecutors have alleged.
Five members of the group, including its founder Stewart Rhodes, went on trial on Monday charged with seditious conspiracy arising from the attack on the US Capitol in Washington on January 6th last year.
All of the defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Federal prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler said in an opening statement on Monday that the Oath Keepers had “tried to stop by whatever means necessary the lawful transfer of presidential power, including by taking up arms against the US Government”.
He said the entire group was not on trial and many members did nothing wrong. However, he contended that the defendants in the case had “concocted a plan for an armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy”.
Mr Rhodes and co-defendants have said their actions were defensive and taken in anticipation that former president Donald Trump would issue a lawful order under legislation known as the Insurrection Act to deputise militia groups to prevent Mr Biden from taking over the White House.
Mr Nestler said it was “a weird quirk” of the US system that the winner of the presidential election was not officially decided after the ballots were counted, but instead when the houses of congress made a declaration after a special session chaired by the vice-president on January 6th.
The prosecution contended that the Oath Keepers wanted “to physically prevent members of Congress from certifying the election”.
The prosecution alleged that members of the Oath Keepers had stashed guns, ammunition and hand grenades in a hotel in Arlington, just across the river from Washington DC, the day before January 6th 2021 as a “quick reaction force” to be summoned as needed.
“If Congress could not meet it could not declare the winner of the election. and that was their goal — to stop by any means necessary the lawful transfer of power, including taking up arms against the United States government,” Mr Nestler said.
The prosecution maintained that members of the Oath Keepers were the leaders of the groups that pushed past police to get into the Capitol building on January 6th.
Lawyer for Mr Rhodes, Philip Linder told the jury they would see he defendants “had no part in the bulk” of the violence that occurred on January 6th.
He said there would be gaps in the evidence, such as video, that the prosecution would show.
He argued that, once the prosecutors had put forward their case, the defence would fill in those gaps.
“You may not like what you see and hear our defendants did, but the evidence will show that they didn’t do anything illegal that day,” Mr Linder said.
He maintained the defendants were present to provide security at events on January 5th and 6th and there was no overall plan, as alleged by the prosecution.