WASHINGTON (CN) — Lawyers for five people charged with plotting to overthrow the U.S. government after the 2020 presidential election delivered closing arguments on Monday, giving jurors little time before the Thanksgiving holiday to deliberate.
Throughout the course of the eight weeks of trial, prosecutors have presented troves of records, photos and videos to support the theory that the defendants planned, recruited and stocked up on weapons as part of a larger plot to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.”
Stewart Rhodes, who founded the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, and four of his associates are accused of using force to drive members of Congress out of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to occupy the building for a period of time, and to stop a ceremony that Congress was conducting at the time to certify the results of the presidential election. Five people died in the Capitol attack, and the ceremony had to be called off and rescheduled.
But to prove the charge of seditious conspiracy, prosecutors must show that the five defendants had an actual agreement to "overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force" the U.S. government.
Bradford Geyer, an attorney for defendant Kenneth Harrleson, did not call any witnesses nor did he present a case during the trial. He insisted Monday, however, that the Capitol building had already been breached by the time Harrelson got there, meaning he could not have been one of the leaders of the insurrection.
“Does anyone realize that this would require a time machine for such an assertion to be true?” Geyer asked the jury.
Police began evacuating members of Congress from the Capitol at around 2:13 p.m., shortly after the first breach occurred on the west side of the building, he said. At that point, he continued, Harrelson was still working security, one of the six or seven security details the Oath Keepers had stationed around Washington that day to safeguard people who would be speaking at a rally organized by the outgoing President Donald Trump.
Geyer said it was not until around 2:39 p.m. that Harrelson made his way into the east side of Capitol building as part of a military-style stack with Jessica Watkins, 40, and Kelly Meggs, 53, both of who are indicted alongside Harrelson.
Once he entered through the Capitol door, the lawyer continued, Harrelson spent only about 17 minutes inside.
“They want you to turn this man’s life upside down for 17 minutes,” Geyer told jurors, insisting that Harrelson did not personally force out any members of Congress. “He needs your help.”
“And when it comes to this nonsense about seditious conspiracy,” Geyer added, the government did not even attempt to tie Harrelson and his other four co-defendants with those he insists were actually leading the assault on the Capitol: the core group of provocateurs.
Those people, the lawyer said, arrived at the Capitol grounds in the early hours of Jan. 6. They had bullhorns and were pamphleteering, he said, and they are the ones who first breached the Capitol and were clearly trying to stop the government and the electoral college from carrying out their ceremony.
The government sold the defendants as being the leaders of the insurrection, but Geyer said “it was those west-side perpetrators” — people who were “cracking skulls” — who conspired to breach the Capitol and were the first ones to do so.
The three defendants were not the first ones in nor the last ones out, Geyer said, claiming that “they weren’t the leaders of anything” other than perhaps the leaders of scary words. He told jurors the government “has a time problem” because the time that things transpired does not comport with prosecutors’ theory that the Oath Keepers were the leaders of last year’s insurrection.