The evidence is there to convict Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and his co-conspirators of the seditious conspiracy charges that they face in the trial that began Monday, federal prosecutors said, and they then proceeded to give jurors a taste of what they will learn over the course of that trial.
Displaying incriminating texts from Rhodes, the prosecutors demonstrated just how difficult the Oath Keepers leader’s attorneys’ job will be.
“We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” Rhodes said in an encrypted message sent to senior members of his militia just two days after the election that Trump lost so decisively.
Federal prosecutors contend that between the time that Rhodes sent that message and the January 6th insurrection, the Yale-educated Oath Keepers leader organized his militia and developed and executed a plan to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in American history.
“Ever since our government transferred power from George Washington to John Adams in the year 1797, we have had a core custom of routine and peaceful transfer of power,” said the Justice Department’s Jeffrey Nestler in Federal District Court in Washington.
“These defendants tried to change that history,” the prosecutor continued. “They concocted a plan for an armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of democracy.”
Rhodes’ attorney, Phillip Linder, begged to differ.
“Even though it may look inflammatory,” he told the jury, “they did nothing illegal.”
With the evidence that the prosecution presented in its opening statement, Rhodes and his fellow defendants will have a tough time making that case.
One particularly incriminating piece of evidence is an audio recording made by a fellow Oath Keeper during a meeting Rhodes had with an unidentified person in the days immediately after the insurrection in which he was asking them to convey a message to Donald Trump that the fight was not yet over.
On the recording, Rhodes can be heard complaining about what went wrong on January 6th.
“My only regret is that they should have brought rifles,” he said, adding, “We could have fixed it right there and then.”
Quotes like this could indicate that Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers will have a hard time convincing the jury that they were only in Washington DC to provide “security” for speakers at the day’s political rallies. With every sign pointing to the fact that they were expecting Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act that day, for which they had stockpiled an arsenal across the river in Virginia, the road to a verdict of “not guilty” will be another uphill battle.
Check-in with Occupy Democrats in the days ahead for more details of the Oath Keepers trial and the evidence that emerges.
Original reporting by Alan Freer at The New York Times.