‘There was no plan’: Oathkeepers begin mounting defense against sedition charges for conspiracy

‘There was no plan’: Oathkeepers begin mounting defense against sedition charges for conspiracy

“There was no plan,” said Stanley Woodward, a defense attorney for Florida Oath Keepers leader Kelly Meggs, who was indicted along with Rhodes and three other defendants.

“I’m not going to ask you to agree with Mr. Meggs’ political beliefs, his preferences for President of the United States,” Woodward continued. “I’m going to ask you to read, to hear the evidence in this case … and to decide whether the evidence is a plan, an agenda, something nefarious or, as others have noted, hyperbole, political rhetoric.

The case against the Oath Keeper is one of the most significant to emerge from the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which led to about 900 arrests and a sweeping nationwide investigation that the Justice Department called the largest in American history. Although hundreds of defendants face felony charges for attempting to obstruct congressional proceedings, only the leaders of the Oath and the far-right Proud Boys face sedition charges for the conspiracy. Prosecutors say both groups orchestrated plots to stop the transfer of power by force.

Prosecutors spent all of October laying out the case that Rhodes and Meggs – along with Kenneth Harrelson of Florida, Jessica Watkins of Ohio and Thomas Caldwell of Virginia – amassed an arsenal of firearms in Arlington, Va., and prepared to forcibly prevent Biden from taking office .

The five co-defendants joined the group chats and calls — some of which were recorded and provided to investigators — discussing their desire to keep Trump in office, their hope that Trump would designate the Oath Keepers as a federalized militia to help retain power, and their expectation of a bloody civil war if he doesn’t. Prosecutors also centered their case on thousands of text messages, signal chats and social media messages that showed the defendants expressing increasingly threatening views about their efforts to keep Trump in power, and by force if necessary.

Nearly two dozen members of the group, including Watkins, Meggs and Harrelson, joined the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — and Meggs later told an aide that he was looking for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And after that date, many of them deleted scores of messages that investigators only found after seizing the phones of other people targeted as accomplices.

But defense lawyers say those private messages represented “conversation” between associates and were not backed up by anything the group members actually did. They never brought their firearms into Washington, the lawyers said. Although some of them had hoped Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act — a 19th-century statute they thought authorized Trump to declare the Oath Keepers a state-sanctioned militia to help him stay in power — no order she never arrived, they noticed.

In the days leading up to Jan. 6, there were no messages “of armed insurrection, of attacks on law enforcement officials, of an invasion or occupation of the Capitol, of attacks on congressional staff, of preventing a peaceful transfer of power,” argued Brad Geyer, Harrelson’s attorney. There is no evidence, he added, that Rhodes ever ordered any member of the group to enter the building or attempt to disrupt Congress that day.

As January 6 approached, the Oath Keepers intensified their use of encrypted messaging apps to communicate their plans, mixing discussions about the election results with logistical discussions about providing security at the Trump rally. Rhodes, an associate of Trump allies Roger Stone and Alex Jones, agreed to provide security for the two men and other speakers.

Defense attorneys say those personal security details were the only reason the Oath Keepers agreed to travel to Washington, and their presence at the Capitol was a result of the massive march. The weapon they collected at the Comfort Inn in Arlington was a common feature of many other security operations the Oath Keepers have conducted at large protests and events over the years, they added.

The Oath Keepers “have never caused a disturbance at any event where they have provided security services,” argued Harrelson’s attorney, Brad Geyer.

The first defense witness, Watkins’ fiancé, Montana Siniff, told jurors that Watkins never had a plan to attack the Capitol or try to stop Biden from taking office. He said he considered Watkins’ trip to Washington for the Jan. 6 rally a no-brainer, as he expected her to serve in a security role. If he had understood that the trip was about instigating the transfer of power, he said, he would have tried to prevent her from leaving.

Siniff added that he did not leave because he had no interest in doing security work and had to attend to his bar business in Ohio.

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