Oath Keepers’ leader found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the United States

Stewart Rhodes could now face up to 20 years in prison

The leader of the far right militia group, the Oath Keepers, has been found guilty of plotting to keep Donald Trump in power in the United States after Mr Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.

A jury in Washington on Tuesday convicted the founder of the Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes and one of his subordinates, Kelly Meggs, on the rare charge of seditious conspiracy.

Both could now face a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Three other defendants in the case were found not guilty of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other lesser charges.

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Seditious conspiracy - which dates back to civil war era in the United States - is the most serious charge so far brought by the US Department of Justice against any of the 900 or so people facing prosecution arising from its large investigation into the attack on the US Capitol on January 6th last year by supporters of Mr Trump.

At the start of the Oath Keeper trial in October, prosecutors contended that following the election in 2020 Mr Rhodes and his subordinates had “concocted a plan for an armed rebellion to shatter a bed rock of American democracy” – the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.

Prosecutors maintained that the Oath Keepers had plotted against Joe Biden taking over the White House from Mr Trump, ignoring the law and the will of the voters, because they hated the result of the presidential election.

Mr Rhodes, a Yale University law graduate and a former US paratrooper, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009. The membership includes former police and military personnel.

Mr Rhodes wears a distinctive eye patch after accidentally shooting himself in the face some years ago.

He did not go inside the Capitol building on January 6th but was accused of leading the plot. Prosecutors showed recordings and encrypted messages in which Mr Rhodes urged his followers to fight to keep Mr Trump in office.

The jury was told by prosecutors that after the election Mr Rhodes was desperate to get in touch with Mr Trump and persuade him to take extraordinary measures to maintain power.

In December 2020, he posted two open letters to Mr. Trump on his website, urging the then president to seize data from voting machines across the country that would purportedly prove the election had been rigged.

In the letters, Mr Rhodes also urged Mr Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, a more than two-century-old law that he believed would give the then president the power to call up militias like his own to suppress the “coup” - purportedly led by Mr Biden and his future vice-president Kamala Harris - that was seeking to unseat him.

“If you fail to act while you are still in office,” Mr Rhodes told Mr Trump, “we the people will have to fight a bloody war against these two illegitimate Chinese puppets.”

As part of the plot, prosecutors maintained, Mr Rhodes placed a “quick reaction force” of heavily armed Oath Keepers at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia - close to Washington, ready to rush their weapons into the city if their associates at the Capitol needed them.

Prosecutors maintained that one of the other defendants, a former naval service officer, had sought at one point to secure a boat to ferry the guns across the Potomac river in case streets in the city might be blocked.

Mr Rhodes in his testimony maintained that he had not been involved in setting up the “quick reaction force”. He also argued that if Mr Trump had invoked the Insurrection Act, it would have given the Oath Keepers the legal standing as a militia to use force of arms to support the president.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent