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Far-right Trump supporters go on trial for Jan. 6 ‘sedition’

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Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right militia group Oath Keepers, appears in a video shown by the House Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack./AFP
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Sep 27, 2022 - 12:31 PM

WASHINGTON — The leader and four members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia who joined the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol go on trial Tuesday for the rare charge of sedition.

Stewart Rhodes, the eyepatch-wearing former soldier and Yale Law School graduate who plotted a military-style assault on the Capitol, and his followers are charged with taking up weapons against the United States in an effort to keep Donald Trump in the White House despite his election defeat.

The sedition charge is the toughest yet in the prosecutions of hundreds who took part in the January 6 rebellion, which aimed to reverse Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 election, and brings up to 20 years in prison.

Rhodes and eight Oath Keeper members in total have been charged with sedition; four of the eight will go on trial beginning November 29.

Rhodes and his followers conspired “to oppose by force the law transfer of presidential power,” the charges say.

At Rhodes’ direction “they coordinated travel across the country to enter Washington DC (and) equipped themselves with a variety of weapons, donned combat and tactical gear” for the attack, it said.

“We aren’t getting through this without civil war,” Rhodes told the Oath Keepers in a group chat weeks before the uprising, according to the indictment.

If Biden became president, he said, “It will be a bloody and desperate fight… That can’t be avoided.”

Rarely used charge 

The nine Oath Keepers will be the first of some 870 charged in the Capitol attack to go on trial for seditious conspiracy.

The majority have been charged with illegally entering the Capitol, illegally disrupting a session of the legislature — the confirmation of Biden as president-elect — and assault on law enforcement officers.

The sedition charge is very rarely used by US prosecutors. The last time a conviction was obtained on the charge was against Ramzi Yousef, the planner of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The charge of seditious conspiracy was used in that case in the absence of a domestic terrorism law, and was used to highlight Yousef’s intent to damage the US government.

In the January 6 case, the charge is being used against members of armed militia groups who took part and allegedly coordinated among themselves to lead the attack.

Members of the Proud Boys, another key player on January 6, were also charged with seditious conspiracy in June, but their case has not gone to court yet.

Insurrection Act defense 

The Oath Keepers was launched in the early 2000s by Rhodes to bring together people, mostly former military, who believed the government was becoming repressive and that the time would come to rise up in an armed revolt.

The trial will focus on allegations that they planned a violent attack on January 6, positioning a stockpile of weapons at a hotel just a few miles (kilometers) from the Capitol, and moved together in a military-style “stack” formation to break through police lines and into the Capitol.

The FBI has collected communications between the group members and has photos and videos of their actions that day.

The group’s lawyers suggest they will defend themselves by saying they understood that Trump would invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act on that day and deputize the militias to lawfully prevent Biden from being confirmed as president.

That claim has raised expectations that the trial could reveal more about links between the Capitol attack and members of Trump’s administration or his personal advisors.

The first days of the trial will focus on jury selection, picking a panel of a dozen out of 120 candidates.

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