Arguments begin in trial of Trump supporters over Capitol Hill assault

Members of the pro-Trump mob in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The shirtless “QAnon Shaman,” Jacob Anthony Chansley, was sentenced in November to 41 months in prison. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Their lawyers are expected to argue that they did not want to overthrow the government but expected Trump to declare a state of insurrection.

Opening arguments in the sedition trial of several members of the radical right-wing Oath Keepers militia, including its founder Stewart Rhodes, began Monday, more than 20 months after the assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Rhodes, a former military man known for his eye patch and fierce tirades, and four regional militia leaders are accused of attacking the congressional headquarters in Washington on Jan. 6th, 2021 in order to keep Donald Trump in the White House, despite his election defeat.

On that day, all five assaulted the temple of American democracy along with a thousand other supporters of Republican Trump, at a time when the congressmen were certifying the victory of Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. The defendants were present in the room on Monday.

Their lawyers are expected to argue that they did not want to overthrow the government but hoped Trump would declare a state of insurrection under an 1807 law that allows U.S. presidents to mobilize certain armed forces in exceptional circumstances. 

The jurors were selected last week after Judge Amit Mehta denied a defense request to move the trial out of Washington on the grounds that residents might be biased toward the defendants because of the violence unleashed on Jan. 6, 2021.

Rhodes’ attorney also asked the magistrate to prohibit during the trial the use of terms frequently used to refer to the Oath Keepers, such as “anti-government,” “organized militia,” “extremists,” “racists,” and “white nationalists.”

Since the assault on the Capitol, more than 870 people have been arrested and about 100 have received prison sentences, including the perpetrators of violence against the police. But until now, no one has faced “sedition” charges. 

Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson are the first to be tried on this charge.

This charge comes from a law passed after the U.S. Civil War to suppress the last rebels in the South. Punishable by 20 years in prison, it involves planning to use force to overthrow the government or oppose one of its laws. It differs from insurrection, which is more spontaneous in nature.

According to the indictment, the defendants “conspired to forcibly oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power.” Specifically, Rhodes is accused of beginning to gather his troops in November 2020. “We are not going to get out of this without a civil war,” he wrote to them two days after the presidential election, in an encrypted message.

TYT Newsroom