Federal Judge Upholds Sedition Charges Against Oath Keepers


Federal Judge Amit Mehta has now ruled against attempts by individuals involved with the violent, far-right group known as the Oath Keepers to get charges including seditious conspiracy dismissed and to move their case out of Washington, D.C. and into the Eastern District of Virginia.

The case concerns actions these individuals took in connection to the Capitol riot. Stewart Rhodes, founder and national leader of the Oath Keepers, is among those charged with seditious conspiracy in the case; he and others assembled weapons and prepared in a coordinated fashion for potentially lethal violence in the lead-up to January 6. Rhodes and eight other individuals charged in this case also failed to get the charges they’re facing of obstruction of an official proceeding dismissed; Mehta opted to uphold the charge. Mostly, that charge has survived challenges from defendants. “They also failed to dismiss a count of conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging official duties,” Law&Crime reports.

Mehta wrote the court had “little trouble concluding that the Vice President and members of Congress were engaged in ‘the execution of any law of the United States’ on January 6th” — meaning, contrary to arguments from the charged Oath Keepers, their alleged actions are in fact covered by the seditious conspiracy charge. As for the attempt to get the case moved into Virginia, Mehta observed the move wouldn’t even automatically make that much of an apparent difference in the jury selection process. The argument from the Oath Keepers was that keeping the proceedings in D.C. would mean a biased jury pool.

“The two jurisdictions are not so dissimilar as it relates to the events of January 6th,” Mehta concluded. “Both are part of the same media market, so potential jurors are getting January 6th news coverage from largely the same sources in both jurisdictions. People who work or do business at the U.S. Capitol Building often live in and commute from the northern Virginia suburbs. Residents of Arlington County and Alexandria were subject to a curfew on January 6th, and the Governor of Virginia issued a state of emergency and sent the Virginia National Guard and state troopers to assist on Capitol Hill the same day.” In other words, the push to move the case doesn’t even necessarily make sense according to the defendants’ logic. Aside from that factor, Mehta found there’d been no legitimate showing that there was presumptive “juror prejudice” and that “mandatory transfer” of the case was in order.

Among pieces of survey data presented by the Oath Keepers is a finding that D.C. residents reported they could be “fair and impartial” as jurors at a rate higher than people elsewhere, but those responsible for the survey questioned these findings, positing that the results might show D.C. residents are less cognizant of limitations to their own potential impartiality. “But that is at best pure conjecture, and at worst an intentionally contrived theory meant to explain away an unfavorable finding,” Mehta concluded. He also questioned the nature of the polling itself: it included responses from individuals across the Eastern District of Virginia, but the Oath Keepers specifically targeted the Alexandria Division — which is close to D.C. — for their transfer. Among other points, Mehta also pointed to how, despite defendants pointing out that other jury trials involving January 6 defendants ended with convictions, the “mere existence of other guilty verdicts does not mean that the jury pool is inherently tainted.”

Featured image: Tyler Merbler, available under a Creative Commons license