AP – Jury selection got underway yesterday in the trial of the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group and four associates charged with seditious conspiracy, one of the most serious cases to emerge from the January 6, 2021, attack on the United States (US) Capitol.
Stewart Rhodes and the others are the first January 6 defendants charged with the rare Civil War-era offence to stand trial for what authorities allege was a serious, weekslong plot to violently stop the transfer of presidential power from election-denier Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
The case against Rhodes and his Oath Keeper associates is the biggest test yet for the Justice Department in its massive January 6 prosecution and is being heard in federal court in Washington.
Seditious conspiracy can be difficult to prove and the last such guilty verdict was nearly 30 years ago.
Hundreds of people have already been convicted of joining the mob that overran police barriers, brutally beat officers and smashed windows, sending lawmakers fleeing and halting the certification of Biden’s electoral victory.
But prosecutors in the case against the Oath Keepers will try to show that the Oath Keepers’ plot to stop Biden from becoming president started before all the votes in the 2020 race had even been counted.
Authorities said Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper and a Yale Law School graduate, spent weeks mobilising his followers to prepare to take up arms to defend Trump.
The Oath Keepers repeatedly wrote in chats about the prospect of violence, stockpiled guns and put “quick reaction force” teams on standby outside Washington to get weapons into the city quickly if they were needed, authorities said.
The day before the riot, authorities said, Rhodes met with the leader of another far-right extremist group, then-Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio, in an underground parking garage in Washington, though little is known publicly about what they discussed. Tarrio is charged separately with seditious conspiracy alongside other Proud Boys and is scheduled to stand trial in December.