A jury began deliberations on Tuesday in the trial of Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, charged with sedition for his role in the 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
The 57-year-old Rhodes and four other members of the group are accused of plotting to overturn the results of the November 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
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Hundreds of supporters of former president Donald Trump are facing prosecution for their roles in the January 6, 2021 assault on Congress.
But they have faced lesser charges than those lodged against Rhodes and the other four Oath Keepers, who prosecutors say plotted an armed rebellion against the government of the United States.
Rhodes, an eyepatch-wearing former soldier and Yale law school graduate, and the other four defendants have been charged with seditious conspiracy, which carries up to 20 years in prison.
The 12-person jury began deliberations on Tuesday after a nearly two-month trial.
A not-guilty verdict in the case would be a setback for the Department of Justice, which plans to try members of the Proud Boys, another right-wing extremist group, on the same charges.
During the trial, prosecutors accused the Oath Keepers of stocking weapons at a hotel near Washington and joining the crowd that stormed the Capitol in a bid to block the certification by Congress of Biden’s election victory.
Rhodes did not personally enter the building but directed his followers like a battlefield general, prosecutors said.
– ‘Off-mission’ –
Rhodes took the witness stand during the trial and denied his group planned to assault the Capitol, saying they were in Washington only to provide security at rallies.
“It was not part of our mission for that day to enter the Capitol for any reason,” Rhodes said.
Speaking in military terminology, he admitted that a number of Oath Keepers went “off-mission” and entered the building.
He said co-defendant Kelly Meggs, the head of the large Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, was “an idiot” for taking his people inside.
“I think it was stupid to go into the Capitol. It opened the door for the political persecution of us. And that’s where we are,” Rhodes told the court.
Prosecutors showed the jury text messages between Rhodes and his followers that called for action if Trump himself failed to act to prevent certification of Biden as the next president.
If the jury is unable to reach a verdict on Tuesday, they will pause their deliberations until next week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.