The founder of the far-right US militia Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, has been found guilty of "seditious conspiracy" for the January 2021 Capitol storming. A jury in the US capital Washington found the 57-year-old guilty of this particularly serious offense on Tuesday. The leader of the militia faces up to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors have accused the five accused Oath Keepers of planning an "armed rebellion" against the US government. On January 6, 2021, members of the militia, which was classified as anti-government and violent, stormed the Capitol together with hundreds of radical supporters of President Donald Trump. At that point, Democrat Joe Biden's victory in the November 2020 presidential election should be finally confirmed there.
According to the indictment, Rhodes, known for his black eye patch, and the other accused Oath Keepers had bought weapons and combat gear and stored them in a hotel near the capital. Rhodes acted "like a general on the battlefield" during the storming of the Capitol, prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler said during the trial that started almost two months ago.
Rhodes has denied planning an attack on the Capitol. He and his militia only wanted to ensure security at a Trump rally in Washington on the day in question. "The Oath Keepers are essentially a peacekeeping force," Rhodes' attorney Phillip Linder said at the trial.
For weeks after the presidential election, Trump had repeatedly raised allegations of voter fraud. At noon on January 6, 2021, the Republican called on his supporters to march to the Capitol and fight "whatever the hell". The ensuing attack on the Capitol, which left five dead, caused horror around the world and is considered a black day in the history of US democracy.
In the weeks and months after the Capitol storm, more than 870 attackers were arrested. Penalties have already been imposed in numerous cases, including for attacks on police officers. The trial of the Oath Keepers is the first to be charged with 'seditious conspiracy' in connection with the attack on the Capitol. This is aimed, among other things, against attempts to overthrow the US government and is rarely used in the USA.
A jury acquittal for Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers would have been a major setback for the prosecution. Especially since the US judiciary also wants to try members of another extremist group, the Proud Boys, for "seditious conspiracy".
The ex-soldier Rhodes, a law graduate from the US elite university Yale, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009. In particular, the militia recruits former or current police officers and soldiers and wants to defend itself against an alleged tyranny by the US government. As with other extremist groups, there is widespread sympathy for Trump among the Oath Keepers.