‘There was no plan’: Oath Keepers begin mounting defense to seditious conspiracy charges

“There was no plan,” stated Stanley Woodward, the protection lawyer for Kelly Meggs, chief of the Florida Oath Keepers, who’s charged alongside Rhodes and three different defendants.

“I received’t ask you to agree with Mr. Meggs’ political opinions, his choice for the president of the USA,” Woodward continued. “I’ll ask you to learn, to listen to the proof on this case … and to resolve whether or not the proof was a plan, a scheme, one thing nefarious or whether or not, as others have noticed, they symbolize hyperbole, political rhetoric.”

The case towards the Oath Keepers is without doubt one of the most vital to emerge from the investigation of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, which has led to about 900 arrests and a sweeping nationwide investigation that the Justice Division has known as the biggest in American historical past. Though a whole bunch of these charged face felony expenses for making an attempt to disrupt congressional proceedings, solely the leaders of the Oath Keepers and the far-right Proud Boys face seditious conspiracy expenses. Prosecutors say each teams orchestrated plots to cease the switch of energy by drive.

Prosecutors spent all of October laying out a case that Rhodes and Meggs — together with Kenneth Harrelson of Florida, Jessica Watkins of Ohio and Thomas Caldwell of Virginia — amassed an arsenal of firearms in Arlington, Va., and ready to violently stop Biden from taking workplace.

The 5 co-defendants joined group chats and calls — a few of which had been recorded and offered to investigators — discussing their want to maintain Trump in energy, their hope that Trump would designate the Oath Keepers as a federalized militia to assist retain energy, and their expectation of a bloody civil struggle if he didn’t. Prosecutors additionally centered their case on 1000’s of textual content messages, Sign chats and social media messages that confirmed the defendants expressing more and more menacing views about their efforts to maintain Trump in energy, by drive if obligatory.

Almost two dozen members of the group, together with Watkins, Meggs and Harrelson, joined the mob that breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 — with Meggs later telling an affiliate he had looked for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And after that date, lots of them deleted scores of messages that had been solely recovered by investigators after seizing the telephones of different individuals focused as co-conspirators.

However protection attorneys say these personal messages amounted to “speak” amongst associates, not backed up by something the group members really did. They by no means introduced their firearms into Washington, the attorneys have famous. Although a few of them had hoped Trump would invoke the Rebel Act — a Nineteenth-Century statute they thought empowered Trump to declare the Oath Keepers a state-sanctioned militia to assist him stay in energy — no order ever got here, they famous.

Within the days main as much as Jan. 6, there have been no messages “about armed riot, about attacking legislation enforcement officers, invading or occupying the Capitol, attacking congressional employees, stopping the peaceable switch of energy,” contended Brad Geyer, Harrelson’s lawyer. There’s no proof, he added, that Rhodes ever ordered any members of the group to go contained in the constructing or search to disrupt Congress that day.

As Jan. 6 approached, the Oath Keepers intensified their use of encrypted messaging apps to speak about their plans, mixing conversations in regards to the election outcomes with logistical discussions about offering safety at Trump’s rally. Rhodes, an affiliate of Trump allies Roger Stone and Alex Jones, had agreed to offer safety for the 2 males and different audio system.

Protection attorneys say these private safety particulars had been the one cause the Oath Keepers agreed to journey to Washington, with their presence on the Capitol an outgrowth of the march by the big crowd. The weapons they amassed at a Consolation Inn in Arlington had been a typical function of many different safety operations carried out by Oath Keepers at giant protests and occasions for years, they added.

The Oath Keepers “by no means precipitated a disturbance at any occasion through which they offered safety companies,” argued Harrelson’s lawyer, Brad Geyer.

The primary protection witness, Watkins’ fiancé, Montana Siniff, informed jurors that Watkins by no means had any plan to assault the Capitol or attempt to stop Biden from taking energy. He stated he seen Watkins’ journey to Washington for the Jan. 6 rally as unconcerning, since he anticipated she could be performing a safety function. Had he understood the journey to be about subverting the switch of energy, he stated, he would have tried to forestall her from going.

Siniff added that he didn’t go as a result of he didn’t have any curiosity in performing safety and needed to are inclined to his bar enterprise in Ohio.

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