“They concocted a plan for an armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy,” said prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler in his opening remarks Monday.
As the jury trial for Oathkeepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell began, the government continued playing to the sensitivities of a jury saturated with media messages instilling fear from the events of Jan. 6.
“They did not go to the Capitol to defend or help. They went to attack,” Nestler said.
Rhodes and others were charged with seditious conspiracy along with 4-6 other respective counts earlier this year. Seditious conspiracy carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Rhodes-the leader of a national organization promoting limited government-is accused of coordinating an overthrow the government. However, members of his group were providing security to speakers at the Stop the Steal Rally.
The government alleges he committed crimes on the basis of making travel plans to DC, purchasing tactical gear, and stating personal beliefs to “defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic” in public and private conversations. In addition, it questions his use of the 2nd Amendment to purchase firearms after Jan. 6.
A courtroom observer witnessed Rhodes’ attorney, Phillip Linder, bombarded by objections from the government five times in less than 10 minutes. However, Linder explained the Oathkeepers’ purpose was to to confront Antifa if they were there.
Caldwell’s attorney, David Fischer, showed how throughout the group’s existence, there was never an issue of violence. Oathkeepers volunteers used their military skills to provide security during the Hurricane Harvey cleanup and over a dozen natural disasters.
Fischer also explained the Oathkeepers’ weapons location-outside of DC- was simply to react in an emergency. He indicated the government misread or over-read evidence early in its failed investigation of Caldwell. Caldwell and others in his case were indicted six times. Prosecutors cast the disabled veteran with severe medical issues as “the number one suspect,” despite the fact he never entered the Capitol.
“They [government prosecutors] selectively edit and take the most outrageous statements that politically attuned and politically active people make,” Fischer said.
The current Rhodes trial involves the same judge, prosecutors, and primary defendants as the initial Caldwell case.
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