San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Prosecutors say Oath Keepers plotted violence
WASHINGTON — For weeks leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four associates discussed using violence to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and when rioters started storming the Capitol they saw an opportunity to do it, a federal prosecutor told jurors Friday as the seditious conspiracy case wound toward a close.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy said in her closing argument to jurors after nearly two months of testimony in the high-stakes case that Rhodes’ own words show he was preparing to lead a rebellion to keep Democrat Joe Biden out of the White House. Rhodes and his co-defendants repeatedly called for “violent overthrow” of the U.S. government and sprang into action on Jan. 6, she said.
“Our democracy is fragile. It cannot exist without respect for the rule of law, and it will not survive if people dissatisfied with the results of an election can use force and violence to change the outcome,” Rakoczy said.
The closing arguments began in Washington federal court after the final pieces of evidence were presented in the trial alleging Rhodes and his band of antigovernment extremists plotted for weeks to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power from Republican Donald Trump to Biden. The jury is expected to begin deliberations Monday, after closing statements from the defense conclude.
Rhodes’ attorney sought to downplay his violent rhetoric in the run-up to Jan. 6, describing it as “venting” and insisting there was no agreement or conspiracy. Defense attorney James Lee Bright said Rhodes’ language was focused on persuading Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act over what he saw as a stolen election.
Rhodes “wasn’t hiding his opinions, he wasn’t hiding any plans,” Bright told jurors. He was “as open as daylight with every plan on what he was asking President Trump to do.”
Evidence presented by prosecutors shows Rhodes and his co-defendants discussing the prospect of violence and the need to keep Biden out of the White House in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, before stashing a cache of weapons referred to as a “quick reaction force” at a Virginia hotel across the Potomac River.
On Jan. 6, Oath Keepers wearing helmets and other battle gear were seen pushing through the pro-Trump mob and into the Capitol. Rhodes remained outside, like “a general surveying his troops on a battlefield,” a prosecutor told jurors. After the attack, prosecutors say, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers celebrated with dinner at a local restaurant.
Defense attorneys have spent weeks hammering prosecutors’ relative lack of evidence that the Oath Keepers had an explicit plan to attack the Capitol. Rhodes, who is from Texas, testified that he and his followers were only in Washington to provide security for right-wing figures including Roger Stone. Those Oath Keepers who did enter the Capitol went rogue and were “stupid,” he said.
The group is the first among hundreds of people arrested in the deadly Capitol riot to stand trial on seditious conspiracy, a rare Civil War-era charge that calls for up to 20 years behind bars upon conviction.