WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal jury in Washington heard closing arguments on Friday in the government’s case against the founder of the Oath Keepers and four others charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy began her nearly two-hour summation by focusing on how Stewart Rhodes had called for a civil war, “with all of its horrors and all of its violence,” two days after Democrat Joe Biden defeated the incumbent President Donald Trump in the 2020 race for the White House.
“We are not getting through this without a civil war,” Rhodes wrote to members of his right-wing extremist group on Nov. 5, 2020. “Prepare your mind, body, and spirit.”
Rakoczy described America's more-than-200-year history of peaceful transfer of presidential power as a critical tradition of its democracy and noted that closely contested elections have previously divided many Americans and left them angry. Yet time after time, she said, power was transferred peacefully because Americans respected the rule of law — but “not these defendants.”
The mountain of evidence presented over the trial now in its eighth week, she said, has shown that, in the aftermath of the 2020 election, Rhodes banded together with his co-defendants and agreed to do whatever was necessary — up to and including use of force — to stop the lawful transfer of power to President Joe Biden.
And on Jan. 6, Rakoczy continued, they outfitted their operation with an “arsenal of deadly weapons” that they transported to the Washington area from across the nation.
“They seized the opportunity to stop the transfer of power by attacking the U.S. Capitol,” she said.
Rhodes, 57, and his co-defendants, Thomas Caldwell, 68; Kelly Meggs, 53; Kenneth Harrelson, 41; and Jessica Watkins, 40, each face counts for seditious conspiracy. Prosecutors say they communicated about their plans to overthrow the government via encrypted chats, stocked up on weapons and traveled across the country to carry out an attack that left five people dead and delayed Congress from certifying the election.
“On Jan. 6, our democracy was under attack,” Rakoczy said — the manifestation of a plot that the defendants trained for, and “that is why we are here.”
The prosecutor said the attack on the seat of the American government led to U.S. Capitol police officers cowering at the doors of the building, desperately trying to defend, protect and secure it, while Congress members and staff barricaded themselves inside the House Chamber and then-Vice President Mike Pence fled for his safety.
Rakoczy made clear to jurors that the five defendants are not charged with entering into an agreement ahead of Jan. 6 to storm the Capitol. Rather, they are charged with using their operation to attack the Capitol so that the lawful transfer of power would not occur.
Attacking the Capitol was just a “means to an end” for the defendants, she said — they prepared to use force, used force on Jan. 6 and continued plotting to stop the lawful transfer of power in the aftermath.
One of the indicted men, Thomas Caldwell, 68, testified in his own defense earlier this week that he cannot be considered a member of the Oath Keepers because he never paid dues. Both he and his wife testified that their purpose for coming to Washington was to see the outgoing President Donald Trump at the Ellipse, a park south of the Capitol, for a protest predicated on the falsehood that Democrats stole the election. It is the defense of Rhodes and his other accused co-conspirators that they came to provide security detail as the Oath Keepers have done throughout their 13-year history.
Rakoczy emphasized that even lawful reasons for coming to Washington on Jan. 6 would not negate criminal liability if the jury finds that the defendants had agreed beforehand to stop the lawful transfer of power by force.