Treason conviction marks moment of accountability for oath keepers

Treason conviction marks moment of accountability for oath keepers

Oath Keepers militia leader Stewart Rhodes was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for his role in a seditious plot to incite the Jan. 6 pro-Trump violence, Matthew M. Graves, the federal prosecutor who oversaw the government’s investigation of the Capitol attack, released a statement accompanying the facts that underscored the historic nature of the moment.

“More people were convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the siege of the Capitol on January 6, 2021,” Mr. Graves wrote, “than in any other criminal incident since the statute came into force during the Civil War.”

President Donald J. Nearly two and a half years after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to derail a peaceful transfer of power, Mr Rhodes’ conviction was the most high-profile statement of accountability in an episode that seems certain. remains a dark spot in American history and a flashpoint in American politics.

Among the more than 1,000 criminal charges filed so far by the Justice Department against those who played a role in the attack, Mr Rhodes was prosecuted for leading his followers to march on the Capitol in two separate military-style “pile”. He was charged with conspiracy to commit an attack. ,” stood out in the way that Judge Amit P. Mehta, who sentenced him, told the court on Thursday.

“Mr. Rhodes, you have been convicted of seditious conspiracy; you are a lawyer, you understand what that means,” said Judge Mehta. “Seditious conspiracy is one of the most serious crimes a person can commit in America. is one of the

Perhaps for this reason, charges of treason have been rarely used for decades, being reserved for select groups of defendants against whom prosecution was conspicuously threatened by the government.

Sedition cases have been filed against communists, Islamic terrorists and white nationalists. In some cases there has been success. But given that the statute requires prosecutors to prove an agreement to use violent force to resist the government’s laws or authority — a difficult hurdle to jump — many cases have failed.

All of the treason trials on January 6 have taken place just a short distance from the site of the attack – at the federal courthouse that sits just a few blocks down Constitution Avenue from the Capitol.

Scholars of political violence have widely viewed the proceedings as a major attempt by the Justice Department to respond to the onslaught with broad indictments and go as far as the law will allow to hold extremists’ feet to the fire and defend the foundation. . Democratic system.

So far there have been three separate January 6 sedition trials, resulting in a total of 10 sedition convictions and four sedition acquittals. Four more have pleaded guilty to sedition and have avoided trial. All of these defendants were members of Mr. Rhodes’ organization, the Oath Keepers, or Proud Boys, another prominent far-right group.

But even the deluge of sedition cases has done nothing to stem the tide of far-right extremism. This month, a Texas man fueled by Nazi ideology fatally shot eight people at an outlet mall outside Dallas. In late April, one of the sedition cases went to a jury, a neo-Nazi group protesting a drag show in Columbus, Ohio, flying a swastika flag.

At the same time, the two main Republican presidential contenders – Mr Trump and Gov Ron DeSantis of Florida – have both suggested they might issue pardons to many of those convicted of participating in the January 6 events. Rhodes himself said at his sentencing hearing, the Capitol riot defendants are viewed by many people not as violent criminals, but as “patriots” and “political prisoners”.

On Friday, two swearing-ins involved in the trial with Mr Rhodes, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson, were given prison terms of eight and a half years and four years respectively – though on charges of obstructing the certification of the election, rather than rioting. Four members of the Proud Boys convicted of treason – including their former leader, Enrique Tarrio – are due to be sentenced in August, along with a fifth member of the group who was found guilty of lesser conspiracy counts.

Throughout the trials – two that involved the oath-keepers and one that focused on the Proud Boys – defense attorneys repeatedly claimed that prosecutors had merely expanded the traditional understanding of conspiracy law, or even Proved his case by distorting it.

The government, the lawyers pointed out, was never able to find the smoking gun, indicating that either the group had an explicit plan or a plan to use force to prevent the lawful transfer of power on 6 January. There was a clear agreement. And that was despite having collected hundreds of thousands of internal text messages and turning many members of the groups into cooperative witnesses.

The lawyers also argued that the defendants who went to trial were not as violent as on 6 January, especially compared to other rioters. Mr. Tarrio, for example, was 50 miles from Washington in a Baltimore hotel room at the time of the attack.

In response, prosecutors argued that all of the defendants had ties to comrades who had committed violence at the Capitol or produced an arsenal of weapons in Virginia. He also claimed that criminal conspiracies are rarely hatched in broad daylight and that the agreements made by the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys to disrupt the democratic process were made in an indirect and unintended manner.

Conor Mulroy, a prosecutor in the Proud Boys trial, told the jury during closing arguments, “It could be a wink and a nod of mutual understanding.”

The fact that both judge and jury in Washington accepted this broad definition of conspiracy marks a major victory for the Justice Department in prosecuting the rioters on the ground on January 6th.

But the indictments have done little to address a different question: What legal responsibility does Mr. Trump bear for an attack intended to keep him in office despite losing the election?

The issue was brought to the attention of Attorney General Merrick B. Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed by Garland, is the focus of the investigation. It is not clear what charges, if any, Mr Smith might make against the former president in the January 6 inquiry, but the outcome of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys trials have left some lawyers and legal experts wondering whether a A similar approach could be used to build a treason case against Mr. Trump.

If a conspiracy to violently oppose the authority of government is a wink of an eye or a nod of a head to include conspirators, could it be possible to link Mr. Trump to that crowd by creating a seditious conspiracy Go who stormed the Capitol. His inflammatory speeches and tweets?

More than a year ago, Judge Mehta issued a ruling in three civil lawsuits seeking to hold Mr. Trump accountable for the violence of the Capitol attack, suggesting that the former president had actually taken the oath of office. had entered into a conspiracy with. Keepers and Proud Boys on 6 January.

More important, Judge Mehta also said it was plausible that Mr Trump – based largely on his words alone – had aided and abetted ordinary rioters who threatened or attacked police officers that day.

But Alan Rosenshtein, a former Justice Department official who now teaches at the University of Minnesota Law School and has written extensively about treason, cautioned that the oath as any kind of precedent could constitute treason. Keepers and Proud Boys cases can be difficult to use. The Case Against Mr. Trump.

“Trump is a unique defendant in a league of his own,” Mr. Rosenshtein said. “He’s also a chaotic agent and lays out his actions in a way that suggests he’s done any sort of planning which has always been the difficult part.”

zach montag Contributed reporting.


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