WASHINGTON (AP) — In the second batch of guilty verdicts related to the extremist group’s efforts to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election, a jury on Monday convicted four members of the Oath Keepers of seditious conspiracy.
In addition to the rarely used seditious conspiracy charge, the four — Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel, and Edward Vallejo — were found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiring to obstruct.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ordered the four placed under 24-hour house arrest with limited exceptions and internet usage restrictions until they are sentenced, “despite the nature of these charges, which are undeniably serious.”
Scott Weinberg, Moerschel’s attorney, told reporters that “we’re pretty disappointed with the verdict” and that they intend to appeal.
Moerschel and the other defendants, he claimed, were “swept up by the president’s ‘Stop the Steal’ nonsense,” adding, “While people are responsible for their own actions, I think it’s important that all people take stock” and “take everything with a grain of salt, because following somebody blindly leads to a terrible situation.”
Following a five-week trial, the jury began deliberations on Thursday morning.
According to prosecutors, the four used a “perverted version of American history” to justify their actions on January 6, 2021.
“The Capitol attack was a means to an end,” Assistant United States Attorney Louis Manzo told jurors during closing arguments on Wednesday. He claimed that the group took advantage of the riot to achieve their goal of preventing Congress from counting electoral votes and confirming Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
“January 6th was merely a battle. “The entire plot was to prevent the transfer of power,” Manzo explained.
Prosecutors said Vallejo was staged in a Virginia hotel with a rifle stockpile — dubbed a “Quick Reaction Force” — while Hackett, Moerschel, and Minuta led groups to breach the Capitol.
Brian Ulrich, a member of the Oath Keepers’ Georgia chapter who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, testified during the trial, which began on December 12. Ulrich testified that he participated in the Capitol storming in order to halt the counting of Electoral College votes.
“At that point, there’s no other reason to go into that building,” Ulrich explained.
Manzo also showed jurors clips from a selfie-style video of Minuta, which was apparently recorded in his car. In the video, an enraged Minuta yells about fake ballots, complains that Congress hasn’t done enough to address the issue, and threatens that children will become “slaves” if people do nothing.
“Millions will perish,” Minuta said in another video clip. “What the hell. So, what?… I’m not scared, and I’m ready to f—- off.”
The four defendants were charged in the same seditious conspiracy case that involved Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and went to trial in October. Because of the large number of defendants, the case was divided into two trials.
In November, Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, the leader of the group’s Florida chapter, were convicted of seditious conspiracy. Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, and Thomas Caldwell, three more defendants from the first trial, were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted on other felony charges, including obstruction of a federal proceeding. All five are awaiting their sentences.
Weinberg stated after the verdict on Monday that his client would have fared better if he had been on trial alongside Rhodes. “I’d have someone to point to as the real bad guy. As a result, I believe there was a disparity in the verdicts.”
Minuta’s lawyer, Bill Shipley, told reporters he didn’t think it was possible for the four defendants to get a fair trial from Washington jurors, whom he called “residents of a small judicial district who in one way or another were almost all impacted by the events of January 6th.”
In Washington federal court, a third seditious conspiracy trial is underway involving members of the Proud Boys, another extremist group charged with attempting to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.
Seditious conspiracy, a rarely used Civil War-era statute, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
In their opening statements, lawyers for the defendants in the second trial stated that their clients did not conspire to overthrow the government.
Angela Halim, the defence attorney, argued that Hackett, who had no military or law enforcement experience, was lumped into a “narrative” crafted by prosecutors about the Oath Keepers.
“There was no intention of attacking the Capitol. “There was no plan to disrupt the Electoral College process,” she said of Hackett, who was captured on closed-circuit television inside the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Weinberg followed a similar path. “This is not a well-organized group,” he explained.
“These gentlemen had Twitter fingers, not trigger fingers,” Weinberg joked, referencing Drake’s lyrics.
Vallejo, an Arizona resident, veteran, and former Oath Keeper, arrived in Washington on January 6 with “nothing but a servant’s heart,” according to his lawyer.
“Ed brought 30 days’ worth of food with him, not just for himself but for a group, and he thought he was going to a campground where he would set up a food kitchen and cook for protesters,” defence attorney Matthew Peed said during opening statements. “And it would be something like a festival.”
He also emphasised that Vallejo had not met his co-defendants until the day of the trial’s jury selection.