A Washington, DC, jury will begin deliberating Tuesday in the criminal trial of five alleged leaders of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia group charged with seditious conspiracy.
The Justice Department alleges that the five defendants conspired to forcibly stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power from then President Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
The jury, made up of seven men and five women, will consider a total of ten charges against defendants Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell, including three separate conspiracy charges, obstructing the electoral college vote, and tampering with evidence.
All five have pleaded not guilty. If they are convicted of the most serious charges, each defendant could face up to 20 years in federal prison.
“The case is finally yours, after all these weeks,” district Judge Amit Mehta told the jury Monday at the end of the two-month presentation of evidence.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors wove together messages, videos, testimony and records to show how the defendants from across the country allegedly joined together to plan and execute a way to keep Trump as president by any means necessary.
“For these defendants, the attack on the Capitol was a means to an end,” prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy said, adding that the defendants were “self-anointed to stand up for their version of the law, their version of what should have happened in that election.”
Rakoczy continued, “The sense of entitlement that led to frustration, followed by rage and then violence. That is the story of this conspiracy, ladies and gentlemen.”
Rejecting arguments brought by the defense, Rakoczy told jurors that despite claims there was not an explicit order to enter the Capitol that day, there was a clear conspiracy to stop Biden’s ascendency by any means.
Attorneys for the defendants said again and again to the jury that no government witness – including former members of the Oath Keepers there on January 6 – could testify that there was a direct plan to attack the Capitol.
“Call it the big three,” an attorney for Rhodes, James Lee Bright, said. “No plan to storm the Capitol … no plan to breach the Rotunda … no plan to stop the certification or delay the certification of the electors.”
Others were more direct, including Watkins’ attorney Jonathan Crisp, who told jurors that the government had lied to them, calling the trial “a Michael Bay production.”
In a final rebuke, lead prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler called upon jurors to see the defendants, most of whom are military veterans, as traitors to the country they claim to protect.
“They claimed to be Oath Keepers, they did not live up to that creed,” Nestler said. “They claimed to wrap themselves in the Constitution, but they trampled it instead. They claimed to be saving the republic, but they fractured it instead.”
“These five people, ladies and gentlemen, believed they were above the law. No one is. Now it is your solemn job to sit in judgment of these people who agreed to commit sedition against the United States of America… we ask you to uphold the Constitution that they tried to avert,” he concluded.