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Jury convicts far-right Oath Keepers for US Capitol attack

January 24, 2023

Four members of the group were found guilty of seditious conspiracy for their role in seeking to block the transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election in the second major sedition trial involving the group.

Rioters supporting former president, Donald Trump, wave flags while ransacking the US Capitol on January 6, 2021
Oath Keepers (center) stood out among rioters on January 6 due to their military camouflage, tactical vests and helmetsImage: JT/STAR MAX/IPx/picture alliance

A 12-member jury in Washington, D.C., on Monday, found four members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group, guilty of seditious conspiracy for their role in storming the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 — the day Congress was to certify Democrat Joe Biden's presidential election victory over Republican Donald Trump.

Trump had summoned a massive mob of supporters to Washington in a last-ditch effort to remain in power, calling on them to "march to the Capitol," and "fight like hell."

The rarely prosecuted Civil War era crime of sedition carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison for plotting to overthrow the government of the United States.

What do we know about the four men who were found guilty?

The four individuals convicted Monday, Joseph Hackett of Sarasota, Florida; Roberto Minuta of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel of Punta Gorda, Florida; and Edward Vallejo of Phoenix, Arizona, were also found guilty of felony and obstruction charges.

Moerschel, Hackett and Minuta all entered the Capitol clad in tactical gear on the day of the attack, Vallejo is said to have remained in a nearby Virginia hotel, ready to ferry weapons to DC as part of a "quick reaction force."

None of the four are thought to have had operational planning roles in the attack.

Four people died on January 6, with another five police officers dying in its aftermath. The attack delayed certification of Biden as the winner of the 2020 election by several hours.

Politicians from both parties were forced to shelter in place and later evacuate briefly while angry Trump supporters swarmed the halls of Congress. Some called for members of Congress and former vice-president Mike Pence be be hanged.

Second big Oath Keepers trial

Monday's conviction concluded the second successful trial of members of the group — which recruits among US military service personnel as well as law enforcement. 

In November, Oath Keepers' founder and leader Stewart Rhodes and his associate Kelly Meggs were found guilty of sedition, though three other co-defendants were found not guilty. All five individuals were found guilty of obstructing Congress in the certification of Joe Biden's Electoral College victory.

The trials were originally scheduled to take place together but US District Judge Amit Mehta split them into two due to space restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, the US Department of Justice has brought criminal charges against some 950 individuals involved in the riot that took place on January 6. Many of those awaiting trial face far lesser charges, though another sedition trial involving five members of the far-right Proud Boys — including the group's leader, Henry "Enrique" Tarrio — is currently ongoing.

Jurors heard testimony from law enforcement officers as well as other Oath Keepers who previously pleaded guilty to their own participation in the January insurrection.

One of those who testified, Caleb Berry, told the court that he and others "were going to try to stop the vote count."

That statement was corroborated by Brian Ulrich, who said there was "no other reason to go into that building at that point."

Answering Trump's call to 'fight like hell'

Many of those who have come before the courts have claimed they were simply answering then-President Trump's call for them to come to DC and help him "stop the steal."

The catchphrase was used to motivate people to believe the lie that he had won the election but Democrats had somehow cheated him and his supporters of victory.

The court also heard extensive talk of Oath Keeper founder Rhodes' statements about a "bloody war," and a "civil war" if Biden were allowed to take up his duly elected post.

Federal Prosecutor Louis Manzo underscored that fact in the trial's closing arguments Wednesday.

He told the court, "The defendants could not let the election stand. They could not let Biden come to power."

Defense attorneys, for their part, sought to play down the gravity of the crimes.

The defense suggested the men had come to the Capitol to provide security at speeches ahead of the riot. Rather than conspiring to "stop the steal," their clients had simply been swept up in the excitement of the moment along with thousands of Trump supporters who overran Washington metropolitan and Capitol police to break into Congress.

js/ar (dpa, Reuters)