Jurors in Washington, DC, heard opening arguments Monday in the Justice Department’s upcoming seditious conspiracy trial against members of thea far-right anti-government militia whose members are accused of playing a significant role in the .
The trial, which will continue for the remainder of the year, is the second brought by the government against Oath Keepers members present during the 2021 attack on the Capitol during the joint session of Congress when the.
Four co-defendants, Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel and Edward Vallejo, are charged with conspiring to stop the peaceful transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden, along with other felonies including destruction of property and evidence. Each has pleaded not guilty, and their defense attorneys maintain that the government’s allegations go beyond what the evidence in the case can reasonably prove.
“In the words of the defendants, they were at war,” said Assistant US Attorney Troy Edwards, who delivered the government statement. “They were willing to use force and violence to impose their vision of the Constitution.”
Two weeks ago, the Department of Justicefor five different Oath Keeper defendants, including the organization’s founder, Stewart Rhodes. Although all were charged with felonies, only Rhodes and his partner, co-defendant Kelly Meggs, were convicted of seditious conspiracy. The defendants in that trial are awaiting sentencing and face maximum sentences ranging from 40 to 86 years in prison.
Although Rhodes was not present in the courtroom, federal prosecutors and defense attorneys mentioned him in their opening arguments: the government, forpresent in Oath Keepers correspondence, and the defense to distance their clients from those messages.
“This was an invitation to sedition,” Edwards said of Rhodes’ posts comparing his militia to American Revolutionary War fighters.
Scott Weinberg, Moerschel’s defense attorney, rebutted the disparaging characterization of Rhodes, calling him a “right-wing televangelist” who “lives off [militia] quotas.” According to Weinberg, his client was manipulated by Rhodes and other conservative media personalities who profited from Trump’s false claims, he said.
Federal prosecutors allege that Moerschel, along with Hackett, entered the Capitol building in what they describe as a “”, with the purpose of preventing members of Congress from certifying Biden’s electoral victory in 2020. Minuta is accused of entering the Capitol with a separate group, also in stack formation, and confronting police officers once inside.
Vallejo, a 63-year-old man from Phoenix, Arizona, allegedly worked with Rhodes and others toin a Virginia hotel room outside Washington to provide a “Quick Reaction Force,” or QRF, to Oath Keepers operating within the District. The reservation also featured heavily in federal prosecutors’ previous sedition case last month.
Hackett’s attorney, Angela Halim, called the government’s presentation an “oversimplification” of the facts and urged the jury to separate her client from his co-defendants. “There was no unity of purpose,” she said of the government’s conspiracy charge.
The government is expected to start presenting evidence on Tuesday.