The Department of Justice has signed up this Monday somewhat fundamental in its investigation into the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Four members of the Oath Keepers (Los Guardianes del Juramento) and have been found guilty of seditious conspiracy for their roles in those riots, the most serious episode against American democracy in recent times. The verdict against the four comes two months after the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, and his lieutenant Kelly Meggs were found guilty for their part in that attack.
The four sentenced this Monday are Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel and Edward Vallejo. They were accused of seeking to prevent the certification, that historic January 6, of Joe Biden as the legitimate president of the United States after his electoral victory in November 2020. That day, a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop that process and prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
Among other things, prosecutors accused Vallejo of having been in charge of a shipment of weapons in a hotel in Virginia, near Washington and the Capitol on the other side of the Potomac River. That armament, as planned by the participants, should be the “rapid reaction force” in the insurrection. For their part, Hackett, Moerschel, and Minuta led groups that forcibly entered the headquarters of the US Congress.
The guilty verdict caps a five-week trial in which prosecutors accused the four defendants of resorting to a “perverse” version of history to justify their actions. It is the second against Oath Keepers after the one held against Rhodes, Meggs and three other members of the militia. The judges had decided to hold two separate hearings as a precaution against covid, to allow sufficient social distances.
In both cases, prosecutors had argued that the storming of the Capitol was the result of a deliberate plan to prevent Biden from peacefully taking over from Trump in the White House despite winning the November presidential election. That day, some 10,000 people marched on the Capitol and some 800 stormed the building. Five people were killed and about 140 agents protecting the US Congress building were injured.
The inmates now face a sentence that can bring them up to twenty years in prison for a crime that Americans had barely heard of in recent times until the events of January 6. In addition, they have also been convicted of conspiring to destroy federal property and conspiring to obstruct an official act. The four will remain under house arrest until a new sentencing hearing is held.
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“Attacking the Capitol was a means to an end,” the prosecutor in charge of the case, Louis Manzo, had told the jury in his closing arguments last Wednesday. “January 6 was just a battle. The entire conspiracy was intended to stop the transfer of power,” he alleged.
Defense attorneys in this case alleged that the charges against their clients were based on messages and texts on social media, partially selected and interpreted out of context. “The evidence simply does not exist,” said Minuta’s lawyer, William Shipley.
On the contrary, the prosecutors responded with videos that the defendant had posted on social networks on the day of the attack. In one of them, Minuta is seen making comments like “You know what? Millions are going to die. And?” or “Prepare your fucking soul. Get right with God.”
The verdict of this Monday has been reached at the same time that in a parallel trial another jury found guilty of obstructing the proceedings of Congress Richard Barnett, 62, a man who posed with his feet on the table in Nancy Pelosi’s office during those riots and who now faces a sentence of a maximum of twenty years in prison. Another trial is also pending against five members of a similar far-right group, the Proud Boys, including its leader, the Cuban-American Enrique Tarrio.
The Justice Department has filed charges against nearly 950 people, of whom at least 450 have pleaded guilty to crimes ranging from trespassing on federal property to sedition to assaulting law enforcement officers. At least 192 participants in those riots have received prison terms.
This Monday’s verdict represents an accolade for the Department of Justice, which sees a jury accept its arguments and also convict lower-ranking members of the Oath Keepers on sedition charges. As of November, only Rhodes and Meggs had been found guilty of that charge. Three other militiamen were acquitted of that crime, although they were convicted of obstruction of Congress when it certified the recount of electoral votes that granted Biden the presidency.
A special prosecutor, Jack Smith, is investigating separately the role that Trump and his circle could have played in that event. The bipartisan congressional commission that examined the case recommended in December that the Justice Department bring charges against the former president, considering that he incited or supported the attempted insurrection. As legislators began counting Biden’s votes in the Electoral College on Capitol Hill, the then-still president urged his supporters to head to the Capitol to protest. The real estate magnate, who has already announced that he will run in next year’s presidential elections, has hinted that if he wins he could pardon some of those convicted for their role in the riots.
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