Prosecutor: Oath Keepers saw Jan. 6 as ‘first battle’ in war

Dec 11, 2022, 7:02 AM | Updated: Dec 12, 2022, 7:06 pm
FILE - Violent rioters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2...

FILE - Violent rioters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. Opening statements are expected to begin Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, in the second seditious conspiracy trial against members of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group charged in the Jan. 6, Capitol attack. The defendants facing jurors in the latest trial are Joseph Hackett, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, and Edward Vallejo. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

              FILE - Members of the Oath Keepers extremist group stand on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. Opening statements are expected to begin Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, in the second seditious conspiracy trial against members of the far-right Oath Keepers charged in the Jan. 6, Capitol attack. The defendants facing jurors in the latest trial are Joseph Hackett, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, and Edward Vallejo. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
            
              FILE - Violent rioters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. Opening statements are expected to begin Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, in the second seditious conspiracy trial against members of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group charged in the Jan. 6, Capitol attack. The defendants facing jurors in the latest trial are Joseph Hackett, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, and Edward Vallejo. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Four Oath Keepers charged with plotting to stop the transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden accepted an “invitation to sedition” issued by the far-right extremist group’s founder, a federal prosecutor said Monday at the start of a second trial for group leaders and members.

Jurors heard opening statements two weeks after a different jury convicted Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs of seditious conspiracy and other charges stemming from a mob’s attack on the U.S, Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Rhodes is jailed awaiting sentencing and wasn’t in court on Monday, but a prosecutor repeatedly brought up his name. Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Edwards said Rhodes issued a “call to action” before his followers carried out a violent plot to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s electoral victory.

“This was an invitation to sedition,” the prosecutor said.

The defendants in the latest trial are Joseph Hackett of Sarasota, Florida; Roberto Minuta of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel of Punta Gorda, Florida; and Edward Vallejo of Phoenix. They are charged with several other felonies in addition to seditious conspiracy.

Their lawyers’ opening statements often echoed arguments that Oath Keepers’ attorneys made at the first trial. In particular, they said group members never had a plan to attack the Capitol or stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote.

Moerschel’s attorney, Scott Weinberg, accused prosecutors of “overpromising and underdelivering.” The lawyer said many Oath Keepers members were elderly, out-of-shape men who were “playing military” and prone to bluster in their online chats.

“These gentlemen used Twitter fingers, not trigger fingers,” Weinberg told jurors, paraphrasing lyrics by the Canadian rapper Drake.

Jurors are expected to hear testimony from prosecutors’ first witness on Tuesday.

Prosecutors say Oath Keepers members stashed guns at a hotel in Virginia for a “quick reaction force” that could shuttle weapons into Washington, D.C., on Rhodes’ order. On Jan. 6, two groups of Oath Keepers stormed the Capitol after thousands of other rioters breached the building. The guns stashed at the hotel were never deployed.

Rhodes and other Oath Keepers viewed the Jan. 6 attack as the “street fighting phase” and “just the first battle in a war,” Edwards said.

Defendant Hackett’s attorney, Angela Halim, said the Oath Keepers came to Washington not to attack but to provide security details at a “Stop the Steal” rally where Trump addressed a crowd of his supporters.

“At no point did anyone say that they were going to attack the Capitol,” Halim told jurors. “There was no unity of purpose.”

The defense lawyer accused prosecutors of presenting a “warped version” of the defendants’ actions.

“There was a rush to judgment,” Halim said.

Hackett, Moerschel and other Oath Keepers approached the Capitol in a military-style stack formation before they entered the building, according to prosecutors. Minuta and his group from a second stack of Oath Keepers clashed with police after heeding Rhodes’ call to race to the Capitol, Edwards said.

Minuta was a New York leader for Rhodes and believed the Oath Keepers were “part of a revolution,” according to Edwards. The prosecutor said Minuta was “filled with rage about the election” that Trump, the Republican incumbent, falsely claimed was stolen from him.

Hackett repeatedly warned other Oath Keepers about “leaks” and the need to secure their communications before Jan. 6, according to Edwards. Moerschel was “careful with his words but intentional in his actions,” the prosecutor said.

Vallejo, a U.S. Army veteran and Rhodes ally, drove from Arizona to prepare with the “QRF” — the quick reaction force — at the hotel outside Washington. Jurors heard an audio recording of Vallejo talking about a “declaration of a guerilla war” on the morning of Jan. 6.

The four defendants “perverted the constitutional order” and conspired to “impose their views of the Constitution, their views of America, on the rest of the country,” Edwards said.

“That day, these defendants halted the peaceful transfer of presidential power,” he said.

While the convictions of Rhodes and Meggs were a major victory for the Justice Department, three of their co-defendants were acquitted of seditious conspiracy. The question for the second trial is whether prosecutors will be persuade jurors to convict lower-level defendants.

Seditious conspiracy, a Civil War-era offense, can be difficult to prove, especially when the alleged plot is unsuccessful. Rhodes and Meggs were the first people in decades found guilty at trial of the charge, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

Thomas Caldwell, of Berryville Virginia; Jessica Watkins of Woodstock, Ohio, and Kenneth Harrelson of Titusville, Florida, were acquitted of sedition in the first case. But all five defendants in that case were convicted of obstructing Congress’ certification of Biden’s win, a conviction that calls for as many as 20 years behind bars.

In Rhodes’ case, prosecutors spent weeks arguing the Oath Keepers were not whipped into an impulsive frenzy by Trump on Jan. 6 but came to Washington intent on keeping him in power at all costs. Authorities say the Oath Keepers discussed their plans in encrypted chats for weeks before the riot and stashed the weapons in case they were needed to support their plot.

But while investigators combed through thousands of messages sent by Rhodes and his co-defendants, none specifically spelled out a plan to attack the Capitol itself. Defense attorneys emphasized that fact throughout the trial to argue there was never any plot. They said the Oath Keepers didn’t come to Washington for violence but to provide security for people like Trump ally Roger Stone at events before the riot.

Three other Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with investigators in the hopes of getting lighter sentences. But they were never called by prosecutors to the witness stand in Rhodes’ case. It’s unclear whether they might take the stand in the latest trial.

Another sedition trial is also expected to begin later this month against former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and other leaders of that extremist group.

____

Richer reported from Boston.

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the Capitol riot at: https://apnews.com/hub/capitol-siege

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Signage outside PayPal headquarters in San Jose, Calif., is pictured on March 10, 2015. PayP...
Associated Press

PayPal to cut 2,000 jobs in latest tech company cost-cutting

PayPal said Tuesday it will trim about 7% of its total workforce, or about 2,000 full-time workers
18 hours ago
FILE - Australian $5 notes are pictured in Sydney on Sept. 10, 2022. King Charles III won’t featu...
Associated Press

King Charles III won’t appear on new Australian bank notes

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — King Charles III won’t feature on Australia’s new $5 bill, the nation’s central bank announced Thursday, signaling a phasing out of the British monarchy from Australian bank notes, although he is still expected to feature on coins. A new Indigenous design will replace the previous portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Child in California mountain lion attack leaves hospital

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A 5-year-old boy who was attacked by a mountain lion while hiking in rural Northern California with his mother and grandfather has been released from a hospital, authorities said Wednesday. The boy had raced ahead of the adults on a trail in San Mateo County, south of San Francisco, Tuesday when […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Robert Hadden, center, leaves the federal courthouse in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. A ...
Associated Press

NY judge jails ex-gynecologist who abused 100s of women

NEW YORK (AP) — An ex-gynecologist convicted of sexually abusing hundreds of patients was ordered to spend the next two months in jail as he awaits sentencing, a federal judge in New York City ruled Wednesday. After hearing statements from some of the victims during the bail hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman tersely […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Mohammed Reza Mesmarian appears in court during his arraignment at the Regional Justice Cent...
Associated Press

Colorado man held in Nevada solar plant fire unfit for trial

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada judge has ruled a Colorado dentist unfit for trial following his arrest last month in what authorities characterized as a terror attack on a solar power facility serving Las Vegas Strip casinos. Mohammed Reza Mesmarian’s attorney, Nick Pitaro, said Wednesday that two psychiatrists found his client was unable to […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Teacher Jessica Flores directs students as they work on laptops in a classroom in Newlon Ele...
Associated Press

10 states mull cross-border rules to tackle teacher shortage

DENVER (AP) — Every Colorado school district, like many across the country, began 2023 understaffed. That’s caused classes to be crammed together, school bus routes to shrink, Spanish language courses to get cut from curriculums, and field trips to be nixed. This has prompted lawmakers in Colorado and other states to suggest legislation that would […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Prosecutor: Oath Keepers saw Jan. 6 as ‘first battle’ in war