Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four other defendants linked to the far-right militia group are set to go on trial next week on charges of seditious conspiracy arising from the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol by then-President Donald Trump’s supporters.
Here is a look at the defendants due to go on trial on Sept. 27 and the charges they face.
Rhodes, 57, of Granbury, Texas, is a former US Army paratrooper turned Yale University-educated lawyer. He is the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers. The group, which contends the federal government is encroaching on its rights, focuses on recruiting current and former military, police and emergency service members, according to the Justice Department.
Rhodes, as well as his co-defendants, is accused of conspiring to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power in a failed bid to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the 2020 election. Rhodes and the other defendants face the rarely prosecuted charge of seditious conspiracy, a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and defined as attempting “to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States.”
He and the other defendants also face charges that include obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents. Rhodes and the others have pleaded not guilty.
According to the indictment, Rhodes began encouraging his Oath Keepers followers in November 2020 to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.” Trump has made false claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.
Rhodes set up a chat on the encrypted messaging app Signal in which members planned to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6, when Congress was scheduled to certify Biden’s victory, according to the indictment. Rhodes spent thousands of dollars on firearms and related equipment before and after Jan. 6, the indictment stated.
He entered restricted Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, directed Oath Keepers members by text and telephone on what positions to take up around the building, and continued plotting with co-conspirators after the attack, according to the indictment.
Caldwell, 68, of Berryville, Virginia, helped coordinate preparation for what the Oath Keepers called quick reaction force, or QRF, teams, which were ready to rapidly transport weapons into Washington from just outside the city to support operations around the Capitol, according to the indictment.
The indictment said Caldwell, a retired US Navy lieutenant commander who once worked for the FBI, took a reconnaissance trip into Washington in November 2020, chose a hotel in suburban Arlington, Virginia, as the quick reaction force’s base of operations, and mapped routes to the Capitol from the hotel.
During the Jan. 6 attack, Caldwell joined with others in pushing past barricades and climbing stairs to a balcony in a restricted area on the west side of the Capitol building, according to the indictment.
Caldwell has denied he was a member of the Oath Keepers but prosecutors have said he has strong ties to the group.
Meggs, 53, of Dunnellon, Florida, was the head of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers and led a first group of members into the Capitol on Jan. 6, according to the indictment.
Meggs and other Oath Keepers members, many wearing paramilitary clothing and patches with the Oath Keepers insignia, marched in an organized military fashion up the east steps of the Capitol and stormed through a heavy set of doors into the building alongside a mob, the indictment said.
Harrelson, 41, of Titusville, Florida, helped Meggs in organizing the Florida Oath Keepers and was part of the militia group that stormed into the Capitol building, according to the indictment.
These members pushed forward as part of a mob that “assaulted law enforcement officers guarding the doors, threw objects and sprayed chemicals toward the officers and the doors, and pulled violently on the doors,” the indictment added. Harrelson and others later moved toward the House of Representatives chamber in search of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, but did not find her, it said.
Watkins, 40, of Woodstock, Ohio, led the Ohio team of Oath Keepers at the Capitol on Jan. 6, according to the indictment. The Afghanistan war veteran charged into the building with other members and commanded those around her to push against a line of officers guarding the hallway to the Senate chamber, before retreating when officers used a chemical spray, the indictment says.
Meggs, Harrelson and Watkins also face charges of destruction of government property due to damage done at the Capitol building, according to the indictment.
Three other Oath Keepers defendants - Joshua James, Brian Ulrich and William Todd Wilson - pleaded guilty this year to engaging in seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack. They are awaiting sentencing and could potentially be called as witnesses at the trial.
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