Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes has been convicted of seditious conspiracy for planning an armed rebellion in an attempt to stop the electoral certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory over Donald Trump.
Rhodes, along with one other member of the far-right militia, was found guilty on Tuesday of the rare Civil War-era charge in the most significant trial yet over the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The verdict, which was delivered by a D.C. federal jury in three days, marks the biggest prosecutorial win in an almost two-year investigation into how a MAGA mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and forced dozens of elected officials into hiding for hours, leaving bloodshed in their wake. Rhodes’ estranged wife, Tasha Adams, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday she is “beyond happy” about the verdict.
“He has absolutely never had to face a consequence in his entire life. This will be the very first time,” Adams added. “He's spent his life making others pay this was past due for him.”
Now, the founder of the far-right militia faces up to 20 years behind bars on the sedition conviction alone. Kelly Meggs, a leader of the Florida Oath Keepers chapter, was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy. Their co-defendants—Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy intelligence officer; member Kenneth Harrelson; and Jessica Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group—were found not guilty of the most serious charge. But every defendant was convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, which itself carries up to 20 years in prison.
Watkins was also convicted of civil disorder after she admitted she helped push law enforcement officers inside the Capitol. Rhodes, along with two others, was acquitted of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. The militia leader was also found not guilty of conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging their duties.
After the verdict was read, Rhodes’ son took to Twitter to respond to the conviction—by posting a link to a YouTube video titled “Happy New Year to you....IN JAIL!”
“So much weight is off now,” Dakota Adams, who along with his mother and siblings has previously described attempting to escape an abusive life at home with Rhodes, added in another tweet.
Over the last month, prosecutors argued that unlike hundreds of other Capitol rioters who falsely believed the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, Rhodes and his fellow Oath Keepers carefully plotted to subvert democracy. While Rhodes did not enter the building, prosecutors said he surveyed his “troops” during the riot, directing their positions from afar “like a general.”
Prosecutors showed jurors text messages and audio recordings to argue that the Oath Keepers began planning to block the results of the 2020 election days after Biden was declared the victor.
“We’re not getting out of this without a fight. There’s going to be a fight,” Rhodes said in a recording of a Nov. 9, 2020, meeting revealed in court. “But let’s just do it smart, and let’s do it while President Trump is still commander in chief.”
Prosecutors said the desire to “fight” only grew as the group stockpiled weapons, coordinated meet-ups, and even planned how Jan. 6 would pan out.
Defense attorneys insisted the private messages to one another amounted to flagrant language and did not reflect any larger conspiracy. Rhodes’ lawyer said throughout the trial that the Oath Keepers were waiting for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, a move that the defense claimed might have allowed them to use force to support him.
Defense attorney Philip Linder said that the Oath Keepers’ main intent on Jan. 6 was simply to be a “peacekeeping force” and to provide security for several speakers throughout the week.
Of the five Oath Keepers to stand trial, Rhodes, Watkins, and Caldwell made the decision to testify in their own defense. Caldwell insisted his comments on private Signal groups—including a threat to former Vice President Mike Pence—were simply words and he had no intent to cause any harm during the insurrection.
Rhodes took a different approach, choosing to throw his fellow Oath Keepers under the bus for their breach of the Capitol.
“I think it was stupid to go into the Capitol. One, because it wasn’t our mission,” Rhodes told jurors. “And two, it opened the door for our political enemies to persecute us. And that’s what happened, and here we are.”
Watkins, on the other hand, took her time on the stand to admit criminal culpability for her role in the riots while continuing to display conspiratorial beliefs. While she initially thought entering the Capitol was a “cool, American moment,” she testified, she now knows it was an illegal action that should have never happened.
But before getting off the stand, Watkins showcased her lingering fondness for fringe ideas about the election.
“Half this country feels this way still,” she said. “Half this country still feels disenfranchised by that election. All this COVID stuff, we didn’t have a free and fair election. And that is not rhetoric.”
While the case wrapped in other militia members, prosecutors showed jurors several recordings to make the case that Rhodes was no bit player, including one where he is heard saying his only regret was not bringing rifles to the Capitol.
“We could have fixed it right then and there. I’d hang fuckin’ Pelosi from the lamppost,” Rhodes said in the recording.