After several days of deliberation on Tuesday (local time) in the US capital Washington, a jury found Rhodes guilty, among other things, of seditious conspiracy – a criminal offense that has rarely been recognized in the country’s judicial history.
Rhodes was accused along with four co-defendants of leading an “armed rebellion” against the US government – with the aim of using violence to prevent the democratic transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election.
Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice filed charges against Rhodes and other participants in the Capitol attack. Among other things, they planned to travel to Washington in January 2021 and organized weapons, paramilitary equipment and training in combat techniques in advance, it said.
Stewart Rhodes like “General on the battlefield”
Specifically, the ex-soldier Rhodes, who completed a law degree at the US elite university Yale, and the other accused “Oath Keepers” bought weapons and combat equipment and stored them in a hotel near the capital.
Rhodes, known for his black eye patch, acted “like a general on the battlefield” during the Capitol storm, prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler said during the trial that started at the end of September. Several of the defendants had entered the Capitol themselves, while others had taken care of further coordination outside the congressional seat and partly outside the city.
Accused: “No plans” for Capitol attack
Rhodes claimed during the trial that he had no plans to attack the US Capitol. On the day in question, he and his militia only wanted to ensure security at a rally by President Donald Trump in Washington.
In addition to the 57-year-old from the US state of Texas, a leading member of the “Oath Keepers” from Florida was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy. Three other defendants were not sentenced for the politically particularly explosive facts, but for other crimes such as obstructing official proceedings.
Maximum penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment possible
The sentences for Rhodes and the other convicts will be determined at a later date – a date has not yet been set. The maximum penalty for seditious conspiracy is up to 20 years imprisonment. The crime is not easy to prove.
To do this, the prosecution must prove that two or more people conspired to overthrow the US government or to use force to defy its authority. An example of this is the sentence handed down in the 1990s against the mastermind behind the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.
Attackers should be held “accountable”
“The Department of Justice is determined to hold accountable those criminally responsible for the attack on our democracy on January 6, 2021,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said after the decision.
Rhodes’ lawyers, however, reacted disappointed to the verdict. “We believe we have presented a case which has shown through evidence and testimony that Mr. Rhodes did not commit the crime of seditious conspiracy,” said one of his attorneys. “No evidence was presented to indicate there was a plan to attack the Capitol.”
Members of the “Oath Keepers” along with hundreds of other radical supporters of the president-elect stormed the Capitol when Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 presidential election was to be finally confirmed there.
Five people were killed in the riots. The attack on the heart of US democracy shook the country. Trump had previously incited his supporters in a speech. The attack caused horror around the world and is considered a black day in the history of US democracy.
Around 900 arrests
In the weeks and months that followed, around 900 attackers were arrested. Penalties have already been imposed in hundreds of cases, including for attacks on police officers. The trial of the Oath Keepers was the first to be charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack on the Capitol.
An acquittal would have been a serious setback for the prosecution, especially since the US judiciary also wants to try members of another extremist group, the “Proud Boys”, for seditious conspiracy.
Investigations against Trump
Trump, who has already entered the 2024 presidential race, has not yet been prosecuted by the US judiciary for storming the Capitol. But that could change: Attorney General Garland appointed prosecutor Jack Smith a week and a half ago as special counsel. Among other things, Smith will examine Trump’s role in the storming of the Capitol. He will also be responsible for investigating classified documents confiscated from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.