Stewart Rhodes, founder of the right-wing militia group Oath Keepers, was found guilty of seditious conspiracy for planning to violently overthrow President Joe Biden‘s 2020 Electoral College victory.
Rhodes is the latest January 6 rioter to be convicted for transgressions that day, when supporters of ousted President Donald Trump sieged the U.S. Capitol in a failed effort to force Congress to block Biden’s win. Throughout his seven-week trial, prosecutors sought to paint Rhodes as seeking to plot a violent insurrection aimed at disrupting the peaceful transfer of power.
Rhodes could face 20 years in prison. A jury found Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, the Florida Oath Keepers leader, guilty of the rarely used seditious conspiracy charge. Prior to the jury’s decision on Tuesday, the charge had not been used for decades in the U.S.
The United States Code defines seditious conspiracy as conspiring to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States or to levy war against them.”
It also defines the charge as using force to “prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States” or to “seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.”
Lawmakers created the seditious conspiracy law following the Civil War. It was used to charge Southerners who fought against the U.S. government and could continue to do so. The charge is rarely used nowadays, as it is seen as difficult to prove due to its broad definition.
No one had been convicted of seditious conspiracy since 1995, when Omar Abdel-Rahman was found guilty for his role in planning to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993. He died in federal prison in 2017.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2010 brought seditious conspiracy charges against members of the Hutaree militia, accusing the group of planning an uprising against the government, according to the Associated Press. A judge acquitted the charge, arguing prosecutors did not prove the militia had a detailed plan to do so.
Legal experts on Tuesday praised the DOJ for successfully prosecuting Rhodes.
“Great work by DOJ to charge seditious conspiracy and make the case that attacking Congress to stop the transfer of presidential power is a serious crime. Accountability is essential to deterrence,” tweeted former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade.
Court documents revealed messages exchanged between Rhodes and other Oath Keepers ahead of the riot. In one, Rhodes wrote: “We will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them. That’s what’s going to have to happen.”
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