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Trump’s far-right supporters go on trial for Jan. 6 “sedition”

More than 20 months after the assault on the United States Capitolthis Tuesday begins the long-awaited trial in Washington in which members of the far-right group Oath Keepers, including its founder, Stewart Rhodesthey will have to answer for “sedition”.

Known for his eye patch and his incendiary speeches, this ex-military man will appear alongside four other defendants during a five-week trial in a federal court a few kilometers from the seat of Congress.

The January 6, 2021the five stormed the temple of American democracy along with a thousand other supporters of Donald Trump, at a time when congressmen certified the victory of Democrat Joe Biden in the presidential elections.

Since this riot, more than 870 people have been arrested and a hundred have already received prison sentences, especially those who violently attacked police officers, but until now no one had had to face the charge of “sedition”.

This accusation, stemming from a law adopted after the American Civil War to suppress the last remaining rebels in the South, “can be difficult to prove”explains Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and current University of Michigan law professor.

Punished by 20 years in prison, this charge implies having planned the use of force to overthrow the government or to oppose any of its laws. It differs from insurrection, which has a more spontaneous character.

“There is also a connotation of disloyalty towards the country, not only against certain government actors”McQuade points out. For her, however, “the motive is clear in this case, in which the attack was clearly directed against congressional legislators”.

weapons depot

The sedition charge has been little used: the last conviction was issued in 1998 against Islamist militants responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York five years earlier.

In the case of the assault on the Capitol, prosecutors reserved this accusation to only about fifteen people, all members of two extreme right-wing paramilitary groups, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

Stewart Rhodes and four regional leaders of his militia – Kelly Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson – are the first to stand trial.

His process will begin with the selection of 12 jurors from a group of 120 citizens.

According to the indictment, “conspired to oppose by force the legal transfer of presidential power”.

Specifically, Rhodes is accused of having started gathering his troops in November 2020. “We’re not going to get out of this without a civil war.”wrote to them two days after the presidential elections in an encrypted message.

In the following weeks, according to prosecutors, he spent thousands of dollars buying night vision devices, weapons and ammunition, while his accomplices organized training in “unconventional combat” and transportation to Washington.

Since the carrying of weapons is strictly prohibited in the US capital, they are accused of storing part of their arsenal on the outskirts of the city with the idea of ​​using it later.

Insurrection

On January 6, armed with helmets and combat gear, they marched to the Capitol. Some had formed a column to storm the building and had turned around after receiving irritant gas.

Rhodes had stood a little further back, armed with a radio, in order to give orders. The Oath Keepers “were ready to answer his call to arms”according to charging documents.

A former Yale law graduate, the 50-year-old founded Oath Keepers in 2009, recruiting ex-soldiers or police officers, initially to fight the federal state he saw as “oppressive”.

Like other radical groups, this militia was seduced by Trump’s anti-elite rhetoric and fully supported the accusations of electoral fraud leveled -against all evidence- by the Republican.

During the trial, his lawyers will argue that Rhodes and his acolytes did not want to overthrow the government but rather hoped that the Republican president would declare a state of insurrection, by virtue of an 1807 law that allows the presidents of the United States to mobilize certain armed forces in exceptional cases.

For prosecutors, it’s just about giving “a veneer of legality” to their actions.

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