Four members of the Oath Keepers were convicted Monday of seditious conspiracy in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol in the second major trial of far-right extremists accused of conspiring to forcibly keep President Donald Trump in power. .
The verdict against Joseph Hackett of Sarasota, Florida; Roberto Minutes from Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel of Punta Gorda, Florida; and Edward Vallejo of Phoenix comes weeks after a different jury convicted the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, in the mob attack that stopped the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
It’s another big victory for the Justice Department, which is also seeking sedition convictions against the former Proud Boys frontman and four associates. The trial against Enrique Tarrio and his lieutenants began earlier this month in Washington and is expected to last several weeks.
The Washington jury deliberated for about 12 hours over three days before returning their guilty verdict on the rarely used charge, which carries up to 20 years in prison. The four were also convicted of two other counts of conspiracy, as well as obstructing an official proceeding: Congressional certification of the 2020 election. Minuta, Hackett and Moerschel were acquitted of lesser charges.
The judge did not immediately set a date for sentencing. The judge denied the prosecutors’ offer to lock up the men while they awaited sentencing, deeming they were not a flight risk. They were ordered to remain in house arrest with electronic surveillance.
It was one of the most serious cases brought up so far in the wide-ranging investigation on January 6, which continues to grow two years after the riot. The Justice Department has charged nearly 1,000 people in the riot, and the count is rising by the week.
Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters after the verdict that he is “grateful to the prosecutors, agents and staff for their excellent work.”
Oath Keepers leader Rhodes and Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the earlier trial that ended in November. They were the first people in decades found guilty in the trial on the Civil War-era charge. Three other Oath Keepers were cleared of the charge in that case, but found guilty of other felonies. All are awaiting sentencing.
Lawyers for Moerschel and Minuta suggested after the verdict that their clients were hurt by not being able to appear at trial alongside Rhodes because the judge split the case into two groups. Moerchel’s attorney, Scott Weinberg, said he could have singled out Rhodes as the “real bad boy.”
“I think it would be easier to be a low-level person in the same case as Stewart Rhodes, who is basically the figurehead of this organization,” Weinberg said.
William Shipley Jr., Minuta’s attorney, said he was disappointed and “somewhat puzzled” by the verdict. He said the government witnesses did not hold up to scrutiny and there were gaps in the evidence presented.
“We really don’t think that in the 15 days of trial testimony the government really had a good day,” Shipley said.
Vallejo left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Joseph Hackett’s attorney, Angela Halim, declined to comment after the verdict.
Prosecutors told jurors that Rhodes and his band of extremists began preparing an armed rebellion shortly after the 2020 election to keep Trump in power. The messages show Rhodes and the Oath Keepers discussing the prospect of a “bloody” civil war and the need to keep Biden out of the White House.
“Our democracy was under attack, but for the defendants it was all they trained for and a time to celebrate,” prosecutor Louis Manzo told the jury in closing arguments.
Prosecutors alleged that the Oath Keepers stockpiled weapons and hid them in a Virginia hotel for so-called “rapid reaction force” teams that could quickly send weapons to Washington to support their plot if needed. The weapons were never used.
Defense attorneys tried to dismiss the violent messages as mere bragging, saying the Oath Keepers came to Washington to provide security at events before the riots. They seized on prosecutors’ lack of evidence that the Oath Keepers had an explicit plan to storm the Capitol by January 6, telling the jury that the extremists who attacked the Capitol acted spontaneously like thousands of other rioters.
Prosecutors argued that while there is no evidence specifically outlining a plan to attack the Capitol, the Oath Keepers saw the riot as a means to an end and swung into action in an apparent opportunity to help keep Trump in power. .
Hackett, Moerschel and other Oath Keepers approached the Capitol in a military-style stack formation before entering the building, according to prosecutors. Minuta and his group from a second stack of Oath Keepers clashed with police after heeding Rhodes’ call to run to the Capitol, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said Vallejo, a US Army veteran and Rhodes ally, drove from Arizona to prepare with the “QRF,” the rapid reaction force, at the hotel on the outskirts of Washington. Jurors listened to an audio recording of Vallejo speaking about a “guerrilla war declaration” on the morning of January 6.
Three other Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in hopes of obtaining a lighter sentence. They are among about 500 people who have pleaded guilty to riot-related charges.
Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst and Andrew Harnik contributed from Washington.
Follow AP’s coverage of the riot at the Capitol at: https://apnews.com/hub/capitol-siege