Oath Keepers founder has been convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
A January 6 verdict came in today. A federal jury found Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes guilty of seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack on the Capitol. One other member of the far-right group was also convicted of seditious conspiracy, but three co-defendants were acquitted on that charge. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us live from the courthouse. Hey, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: The jury deliberated on this. It took them three days. In the end, the jury found Rhodes guilty of seditious conspiracy, as we mentioned, but he faced other charges. How did those go?
LUCAS: Well, look, the big win here for the government was getting a conviction for Rhodes on that central charge of seditious conspiracy that you mentioned. And that's a big deal because of the symbolic and political weight of that charge. The jury decided that Rhodes tried to oppose by force the authority of the U.S. government. Now, Rhodes was also convicted on two other counts, obstruction of an official proceeding, in this case, Congress' a certification of the Electoral College count on January 6. And he was also found guilty of tampering with documents, essentially destroying evidence after January 6. But he was acquitted of two conspiracy counts that he was facing as well here. So it wasn't a clean sweep.
KELLY: Okey-dokey. And I mentioned he had co-defendants. There were five people total on trial. What - where did the jury land on the rest of them?
LUCAS: Well, only one other defendant, a man by the name of Kelly Meggs, was found guilty of seditious conspiracy. And Meggs was the leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers on January 6. He was the man who led a group of Oath Keepers dressed in tactical gear, in military formation, up the steps and into the Capitol on January 6. The three other defendants, though - Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell - were all acquitted of seditious conspiracy. But every defendant here did face multiple charges. Every single one of them was convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding. And that's important because it carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. They were also all found guilty of at least one other count. Each defendant today in the courtroom took in the verdict in their own way. Rhodes jerked his head down and scribbled a note to himself as the foreperson read out loud the verdict. Jessica Watkins nodded vigorously when she was found not guilty of seditious conspiracy. And Thomas Caldwell closed his eyes several times as the verdict was announced.
KELLY: So to sum up - a win for the government, obviously, getting a conviction of Stewart Rhodes on the big central charge, but it sounds like otherwise a bit of a mixed verdict. How is each side interpreting it?
LUCAS: Well, look, this was a long trial. Jury selection began in the end of September. There were around eight weeks of testimony, and there were multiple defendants, as we've said, and multiple counts. And in the end, the jury took three days to sort through it all and come to this verdict. And as I said, it's not a clean sweep for the government. But the verdict does indicate that jurors took their time and closely evaluated each and every count and as it relates to each and every defendant. And at least some of the defense attorneys here took note of that. Rhodes' lawyer, James Bright, for one, said as much. And he also said that he believes that the defendants, particularly his defendant, Stewart Rhodes, got a fair trial here in D.C.
KELLY: You've spent a lot of days in that courtroom tracking this trial, I know. So let me invite you to step back and give us the big picture view. What might this mean for the Justice Department's overall investigation of January 6?
LUCAS: Well, as I said, getting a conviction on this central charge of seditious conspiracy is important for the government. They accused Oath Keepers here of trying to use force to oppose the authority of the government and to prevent Joe Biden from taking office. So getting a conviction on that is important because it relates to Stewart Rhodes, but also because it bolsters the department's view that January 6 was a uniquely dangerous day for American democracy. It was more than just a protest that got out of hand. And look, this trial is just the first seditious conspiracy trial connected to January 6. Another group of Oath Keepers is set to go on trial in December, as are several leaders of the far-right Proud Boys. And today's verdict could be seen as a bellwether of sorts for those trials to come.
KELLY: Thank you, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you.
KELLY: NPR's Ryan Lucas.
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