The January 6 sedition trial is underway for the head of the Oath Keepers

WASHINGTON — Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of extremist group founder Oath Keepers and four associates charged with seditious conspiracy, one of the most serious cases to emerge from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. .

Stewart Rhodes and the others are the first Jan. 6 defendants charged with the rare Civil War-era offense to stand trial for what authorities claim was a week-long serious plot to violently stop the transfer of power presidential election from Holocaust denier Donald Trump to Joe Biden.

The case against Rhodes and his Oath Keeper associates is the biggest test yet for the Justice Department in its massive Jan. 6 lawsuit and is being heard in federal court not far from the Capitol. Seditious conspiracy can be difficult to prove, and the last guilty verdict was nearly 30 years ago.

Jury selection could take several days and the trial is expected to last five weeks.

Lawyers for the Oath Keepers unsuccessfully lobbied for the trial to be moved, arguing they could not get a fair jury in Washington.

The court has already dismissed several potential jurors based on their responses to a questionnaire, which asked them about their feelings about Jan. 6 and other issues. Among those already fired are a journalist who covered the events of January 6 and someone else who described that day as “one of the most betrayed acts in the history of this country”.

Hundreds of people have already been found guilty of joining the mob that broke through police barriers, beat officers and smashed windows, scaring lawmakers away and interrupting certification of Biden’s election victory.

Prosecutors will try to show that a plot by the Oath Keepers to stop Biden from becoming president began long before that, in fact before all the votes in the 2020 race had even been counted.

Authorities say Rhodes, a former U.S. Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate, spent weeks mobilizing his supporters to prepare to take up arms in defense of Trump. The Oath Keepers have repeatedly written into conversations about the prospect of violence, stockpiled guns and put “quick reaction force” teams on standby outside Washington to quickly get weapons into the city ​​if necessary, according to the authorities.

The day before the riot, authorities say, Rhodes met the leader of another far-right extremist group, then president of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, in an underground parking lot in Washington, although little is known. things publicly about what they discussed. Tarrio is separately charged with seditious conspiracy alongside other Proud Boys and is due to stand trial in December.

On January 6, oath keepers wearing communication devices, helmets and other combat gear were filmed storming the Capitol in a military-style “stack” formation. Rhodes is not accused of entering the Capitol, but phone records show he was communicating with oath keepers who entered at the time of the riot and he was later seen with members outside .

On trial with Rhodes, of Granbury Texas, are Thomas Caldwell, of Berryville, Virginia; Kenneth Harrelson, of Titusville, Florida; Jessica Watkins of Woodstock, Ohio, and Kelly Meggs of Dunnellon, Florida.

The seditious conspiracy conviction carries up to 20 years behind bars. The last time prosecutors secured a seditious conspiracy conviction at trial was in 1995 in the case against Islamic militants who plotted to bomb New York landmarks.

Three of Rhodes Oathkeepers’ supporters have pleaded guilty to the charge and are expected to testify against him at trial. Rhodes’ lawyers claimed that these oath keepers were coerced into pleading guilty and lying to get a better sentencing deal from the government.

Rhodes’ attorneys have suggested his defense will focus on his belief that Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act and call in a militia to support his bid to stay in power. Defense attorneys say Rhodes’ actions in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 were in preparation for what he believed were lawful orders from Trump under the Insurrection Act, but never came.

The defense said the oath keepers were dressed in full combat gear to protect themselves from possible attacks by left-wing antifa activists and that the “quick reaction force” outside Washington was intended for defensive purposes if Trump was invoking the Insurrection Act.

Nearly 900 people have been charged so far in the Jan. 6 riot and more than 400 have pleaded guilty or been sentenced at trial. Sentences for rioters so far range from probation for minor offenses to 10 years in prison for a retired New York police officer who used a metal pole to assault an officer on Capitol Hill.

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