Prosecutor: Group Plotted to 'Shatter Bedrock' of Democracy

Oath Keepers' seditious conspiracy trial is underway
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 3, 2022 2:06 PM CDT
Prosecutor: Group Plotted to 'Shatter Bedrock' of Democracy
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, speaks during a rally outside the White House, June 25, 2017.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The federal courthouse in Washington, DC heard dramatic opening arguments Monday in the most serious Capitol riot case yet—the seditious conspiracy trial against Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four of his lieutenants. The right-wing militia members are accused of plotting to prevent Congress' certification of President Biden's election victory "by any means necessary," including violence. In his opening statement, assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said the "core democratic custom" of a transfer of power goes back to the time of George Washington, CNN reports. "These defendants tried to change that history," he said. "They concocted a plan for armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy." He says Rhodes began plotting to overturn Biden's win days after the 2020 election.

The defendants, Nestler said, planned to attack "not just the Capitol, not just our government, not just DC, but our country itself." Prosecutors said Rhodes acted "like a general," remaining outside the Capitol as his "troops" breached the building on Jan. 6, 2021, Politico reports. Prosecutors said the group stockpiled weapons at a Virginia hotel for a "Quick Reaction Force" and discussed using boats to bring them across the Potomac River to DC. The other four defendants are Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, Florida member Kenneth Harrelson, retired US Navy intelligence officer Thomas Caldwell, and Ohio militia leader Jessica Watkins, the AP reports. Nestler played video of Oath Keepers members inside the Capitol, where some tried to find House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Defense lawyers have argued that the Oath Keepers went to DC to provide security for figures including Roger Stone, and they were only at the Capitol because they expected then-President Donald Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act and use them to stop what they considered a Democratic coup, the Washington Post reports. Nestler said Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate, tried to use the Insurrection Act as "magic words" to justify illegal acts. Phillip Linder, Rhodes' attorney, argued in his opening statement that the Oath Keepers "did nothing illegal" and they "are not a violent group." (Read more Oath Keepers stories.)

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