Four members of the far-right group the Oath Keepers, including an individual who was involved in planned protection for Trump ally Roger Stone on January 6, were convicted by a federal jury this week of seditious conspiracy in connection to their actions taken around the Capitol violence back in 2021.
In terms of consequences, the offense comes with up to 20 years in prison if found guilty, making it roughly on par — in that regard, specifically — with the criminal offense of obstruction of an official proceeding, which federal prosecutors have used against numerous Capitol riot participants. The charge, though, carries an obviously significant political impact, as does, of course, the conviction. It’s yet another formal confirmation — after multiple others pleaded guilty to the offense and a different jury convicted Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, alongside another prominent member — that what transpired at the Capitol at Trump’s encouragement was the execution of a seditious conspiracy targeting the transfer of presidential power. Prosecutor Louis Manzo called members of the group “traitors” during trial.
There was a real possibility of even further violence at the Capitol, and prosecutors highlighted during trial how lethal attacks from participating Oath Keepers on officials or police were a distinct possibility. As recapped by The Washington Post, Manzo pointed to revelations that Oath Keeper Kenneth Harrelson pushed against police to reveal whether body armor was present. “Shooting officers” was among the options for which some of these figures were prepared, Manzo said. The four individuals convicted at trial this time were Joseph Hackett, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, and Edward Vallejo. (Minuta was the defendant among those seeking to provide protection for Stone that day.) Revelations indicate Vallejo was still ready for action even after the Capitol riot was long over, showing back up at the building the next day.
There is a third trial connected to the Capitol riot on seditious conspiracy charges that remains ongoing. That case, which is also unfolding in federal court in D.C., targets members of the fellow far-right extremist group the Proud Boys. In particularly memorable terms, an attorney for one of the defendants in the Oath Keepers trial dug in on the idea that the violence that took place at the Capitol was more spontaneous than a reflection of weeks or even months of planning. “The breach of the U.S. Capitol was a surprise to each and every one of the Oath Keepers,” Hackett’s attorney, Angie Halim, claimed to the jury. Is that why they stockpiled weapons and why Vallejo showed back up the next day? What — was he possessed by a demon and woke up there?
Trump has previously called for the release of all those detained in connection to the riot. Although certain developments connected to the violence, like the case of a rioter caught plotting the murder of law enforcement agents ostensibly involved in building the case against him, are somewhat more recent developments, seditious conspiracy charges were unveiled over a year ago, before Trump made his remarks. This is what Trump stands for and has shown no substantive sign of abandoning as the 2024 presidential election approaches.