Jury selection is scheduled to get underway Tuesday for the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and four other members of the right-wing militia group charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell are charged with conspiring to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power,” according to the government’s sweeping indictment, which was unsealed earlier this year.
The biggest charge, seditious conspiracy — trying “to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States” — carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
All five have pleaded not guilty, and Rhodes’ attorneys have indicated that he plans to argue he wasn’t plotting anything illegal — he was just trying to prepare his members to take action if then-President Donald Trump activated “militias” by invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807.
“They were not there to storm the Capitol, to stop the certification, to take over the Government,” Rhodes’ lawyers argued in court papers. “They were waiting for President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act.”
Prosecutors said the alleged conspiracy started in early November 2020, as it became clear that Trump had lost the presidential election. “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. It’s too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit,” Rhodes wrote in an encrypted group chat on Nov. 5, 2020, two days after the election, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said Rhodes helped organize “quick reaction forces,” some of them at a hotel in nearby Virginia.
“Rhodes stood at the center of the seditious conspiracy — orchestrating plans to use force, recruiting and financing co-conspirators, purchasing weaponry and tactical gear, inciting support and action, and endeavoring to conceal his and other coconspirators’ crimes,” prosecutors said in a court filing.
Rhodes unsuccessfully tried to delay the trial for 90 days this month, arguing he’d had a “complete, or near-complete breakdown of communication” with his attorneys and wanted a new lawyer to represent him. The U.S. district judge presiding over the case in Washington, D.C., Amit Mehta, denied the request but said the new lawyer could join Rhodes’ defense team.
“We can make room. We’ve got enough tables,” Mehta said at a court hearing Sept. 7.
A pool of about 150 jurors have already filled out questionnaires, answering questions that included what they know about the Oath Keepers and the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, whether they or anyone close to them were at the Capitol that day and whether they’ve watched any of the congressional hearings on the attack. The pool will start to be whittled down Tuesday as potential jurors face questions from government prosecutors and lawyers for the defendants.
The trial is expected to last about six weeks.
Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.
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