Attack on the Capitol: A figure from America’s far-right charged with “incitement”.
More than 20 months after the attack on the US Capitol, a long-awaited trial opens Tuesday in Washington in which several members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, including its founder Stewart Rhodes, face charges of “sedition”.
Known for his eye patch and fiery speeches, this former soldier will appear with four co-defendants for five weeks in a federal courthouse located a stone’s throw from Congressional headquarters.
On January 6, 2021, they, along with thousands of other Donald Trump supporters, attacked the temple of American democracy as elected officials certified Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.
Since that coup, more than 870 people have been arrested and around 100 have been sentenced to prison, including perpetrators of violence against the police. But nobody has ever had to defend themselves against “incitement of the people”.
The allegation, which stems from a post-Civil War law designed to suppress the South’s last rebels, “can be difficult to prove,” said Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor turned law professor at the University of Michigan.
He faces 20 years in prison and is implicated as planning the use of force to overthrow the government or oppose any of its laws. It differs from the insurgency, which has a more spontaneous character.
“There’s also a connotation of disloyalty to the country, not just to specific government actors,” notes Barbara McQuade. For them, however, “the motive is clear in this case, where the attack was clearly directed at elected members of Congress.”
This charge was rarely used: the last conviction for sedition was in 1998 against Islamist militants responsible for a bombing of the World Trade Center in New York five years earlier.
– stick d’armes –
In the case of the attack on the Capitol, prosecutors held him against just fifteen people, all members of two far-right paramilitary groups, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.
Stewart Rhodes and four regional leaders of his militia – Kelly Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson – are the first to be tried in this capacity.
Her trial begins with the selection of 12 jurors from a panel of 120 citizens.
According to the indictment, “they conspired to use force to oppose the legal transfer of power to the President.”
Specifically, Stewart Rhodes is accused of having started rallying his troops in November 2020. “We can’t get out of this without a civil war,” he wrote to them in a coded message two days after the presidential election.
In the weeks that followed, prosecutors said he spent thousands of dollars buying night vision goggles, guns and ammunition while his accomplices organized “unconventional combat training” and transportation to Washington.
Since carrying guns is strictly regulated in the capital, they are accused of storing part of their arsenal in the nearby suburbs for later use.
On January 6, they marched toward the Capitol, helmeted and clad in riot gear. Some had formed a column to break in and turned back after receiving tear gas.
Stewart Rhodes had stayed a little further away, armed with a radio, to give his orders. The Oath Keepers “stand ready to answer his call to arms,” the indictment said.
– riot –
The 50-year-old, a former law graduate from Yale University, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009 and recruited former soldiers or police officers, initially to fight against the state, which was considered “oppressive”.
Like other radical groups, this militia was seduced by Donald Trump’s anti-elite rhetoric and unreservedly supported allegations of voter fraud raised – against all evidence – by the Republican.
During the trial, his attorneys will argue that Stewart Rhodes and his followers did not want to overthrow the government, but rather expected the Republican billionaire to call the insurrection, under an 1807 law allowing American presidents to mobilize certain military forces in exceptional circumstances .
For the prosecutors, it’s just a matter of giving their actions a “legal touch”.
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