WASHINGTON (AP) — For weeks leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four of his colleagues discussed using violence to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and that’s when rioters began storming the Capitol. they see an opportunity to do so, a federal prosecutor told jurors Friday as the wounding seditious conspiracy case is closing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy said in closing arguments to jurors after nearly two months of testimony in the high-stakes case that Rhodes’ own words indicated he was preparing to lead a rebellion to protect Democrat Joe Biden. out of the White House. Rhodes and his co-defendants have repeatedly called for a “violent overthrow” of the US government and launched the action on January 6, they said.
“Our democracy is fragile. It cannot exist without respect for the rule of law, and it will not survive if people who are dissatisfied with the election results can use force and violence to change the results,” said Rakoczy.
Closing arguments began in Washington federal court after the final piece of evidence was presented in the trial alleging Rhodes and his band of anti-government extremists plots for several weeks to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power from Republican Donald Trump to Biden.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations Monday, after closing statements from the defense.
Rhodes’ attorney sought to downplay his violent rhetoric in the run-up to January 6, describing it as “venting” and insisting there was no agreement or conspiracy. Defense attorney James Lee Bright said Rhodes’ language was focused on convincing Trump to invoke the Sedition Act over what he sees as a stolen election.
Rhodes “didn’t hide his opinion, he didn’t hide any plans,” Bright told jurors. He’s “open as day with every plan about what he’s asking President Trump to do.”
Evidence presented by prosecutors showed Rhodes and his co-defendants discussed the prospect of violence and the need to keep Biden away from the White House in the weeks leading up to January 6, before setting off a cache of weapons in what they called a “quick reaction.” style” at the Virginia Hotel across the Potomac River.
On January 6, Oath Keepers wearing helmets and other combat gear were seen pushing through a pro-Trump mob. and into the Capitol. Rhodes remained outside, like a “general analyzing his troops on the battlefield,” prosecutors told jurors. After the attack, prosecutors said, Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers celebrated over dinner at a local restaurant.
Defense attorneys have spent weeks blasting prosecutors’ lack of evidence that the Oath Keepers had an explicit plan to attack the Capitol. Rhodes, who is from Texas, testified that he and his followers only in Washington to provide security for right-wing figures including Roger Stone. The Oath Keepers who entered the Capitol went rogue and were “stupid,” he said.
Rhodes testified that the mountain of writings and text messages showed him rallying his band of extremists to prepare for violence and discussing the prospect of “bloody” civil war ahead of January 6. It’s just bombastic talk.
Prosecutors sought to rebut the suggestion that Rhodes’ rhetoric was merely flamboyant, urging jurors not to be “grossed” by messages that were not only “funny” but “gravely serious”.
“The way they set themselves up to be above the law is why they are here today,” he said. “A sense of entitlement that leads to frustration followed by anger and then violence – that’s the story of this conspiracy.”
Rhodes’ attorney said his client was back in his hotel room eating chicken wings and watching TV when rioters began storming the Capitol. He said the Oath Keepers never deployed a “quick reaction force” arsenal.
“You are the Keystone Police of insurrectionists, or there is no insurrection,” he told the jury, referring to the incompetent police officers in silent films.
Two other defendants testified in the case. Jessica WatkinsWoodstock, Ohio, echoed that his actions that day were “really stupid” but maintained that he was not part of the plan and was “swept along” with the mob, which he compared to a crowd gathered in a store for sale. The popular shopping day is known as Black Friday.
Advocate Thomas Caldwell, a Navy veteran from Virginia, evaded a sobering piece of evidence: a message he sent trying to ship weapons from Virginia across the Potomac to Washington. He testified that he was serious about his queries, although he struggled to explain other messages referring to violence on January 6.
The other two defendants, Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson, both of Florida, did not testify. Meggs’ attorney, Stanley Woodward, said there were thousands of people involved, and that his client was not the first person to enter the Capitol. Attorneys for the other defendants are expected to make closing arguments Monday.
The group is the first among hundreds of people arrested in the deadly Capitol riots to stand trial on conspiracy to commit sedition, a rare Civil War-era charge that calls for up to 20 years behind bars upon conviction. The stakes are high for the Justice Department, which last secured such a conviction at trial nearly 30 years ago and plans to try two more groups on the charges later this year.
Follow AP’s complete coverage of the Capitol riots at https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege.