The founder of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia has been found guilty of seditious conspiracy for his involvement in last year’s attack on the US Capitol.
Stewart Rhodes instigated a plot to forcefully block Congress from certifying the victory of Democrat Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
During an eight-week trial, jurors heard that Rhodes – a former Army paratrooper who wears an eye patch after accidentally shooting himself in the face with his own gun – had rallied his followers to defend Mr Trump.
Prosecutors showed the jury encrypted messages, recordings and surveillance videos where Rhodes spoke about the prospect of a “bloody” civil war, and warned group members they may have to “rise up in insurrection” to defeat Mr Biden if Mr Trump did not act.
Rhodes, who attended law school at Yale but has been disbarred as a lawyer, spent thousands of dollars on an AR-platform rifle, magazines, mounts, sights and other equipment on his way to Washington DC before the riot.
Footage was played to the court of Oath Keepers stashing weapons at a Virginia hotel for a “quick reaction force”, although the weapons were never used.
There was also a record of Rhodes expressing regret for not having brought rifles to Washington DC on the day of the riot and saying he could have hanged US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from a lamppost.
On 6 January, the day of the riot, Oath Keepers wearing combat gear were seen among the crowd, while Rhodes remained outside like a “general surveying his troops on the battlefield”, a prosecutor said.
Afterwards, he joined fellow militia members at a nearby restaurant to celebrate.
On trial alongside Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, was Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, and three others.
The jury took three days to find Rhodes and Meggs guilty of seditious conspiracy – a Civil War-era charge that has not been used at trial since the 1995 prosecution of Islamist militants who planned to bomb New York City landmarks, although three other Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to the charge.
Rhodes, who was also convicted of obstructing an official proceeding, but acquitted of two other conspiracy charges, could be jailed for up to 20 years.
His lawyer Ed Tapley described the verdicts as a “mixed bag”, adding: “We are grateful for the not guilty verdicts received, we are disappointed in the guilty verdicts.
“There was no evidence introduced to indicate there was a plan to attack the Capitol.”
In defending Rhodes, lawyers tried to prove his rhetoric was just bluster, and that the Oath Keepers had no plan before 6 January to attack the Capitol.
The Oath Keepers had come to Washington DC only to provide security for figures such as long-time Trump ally Roger Stone, they said.
Testifying in his own defence, Rhodes said he had no idea his followers were going to storm the Capitol, adding that those who did were acting “stupid” and outside their mission.
Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in 2009 and it recruits current and former US military personnel, law enforcement and other first responders.
In December, four more group members will be on trial accused of seditious conspiracy, as will members of another right-wing group the Proud Boys, including its former chairman Enrique Tarrio.