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With the Oath Keepers’ historic seditious conspiracy trials now in the rearview, a new fight with significant implications is on the horizon. Almost all of the defendants—including and perhaps most unsurprisingly of all, Oath Keeper founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes are appealing their convictions.

Between two respective Oath Keeper trials involving seditious conspiracy that played out late last year and early into this one, prosecutors and defense attorneys spent an excess of 16 weeks duking it out in court, poring over mountains of evidence and examining dozens of witnesses including cooperating Oath Keepers. The Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial stretched for more than 60 days and with verdicts reached in May, sentencing is expected in late August and early September. 

It is often repeated and rightfully so: seditious conspiracy is one of the gravest charges that can be brought in the U.S., and it is very rarely prosecuted. When it is, it is not often a successful endeavor. The bar is high and narrow given that the line between First Amendment-protected activities and sedition can be razor-thin.

The U.S. has endured major setbacks in prosecuting sedition cases before, so with two sets of juries delivering guilty verdicts on this count for most of the Oath Keepers indicted on it, (and then later for the Proud Boys), these were huge victories for the Justice Department. 

Huge but tempered.

Tempered because a conviction can also merely mark the end of one chapter and the start of another very tricky one once appeals are in the mix.

In a recent interview with NPR analyzing the Oath Keepers sedition verdicts, extremism expert and author Kathleen Belew pointed out that seditious conspiracy prosecutions can be a useful tool to combat extremist violence in society. She argues that it sends the message to extremist and militia groups, or other groups who use force as a movement, that they won’t be treated with kid gloves or prosecuted as lone actors. The risk of prosecuting extremists includes violent retaliation but as Belew also noted, these same prosecutions have the power to rouse people to the realization that their conduct is risky and potentially quite expensive to cope with legally. 

Perhaps most eloquently, Belew underlined that the only way to tamp down on extremism is to confront it, not look away from it.  

Recently, a report by The Washington Post suggested none of the sedition charges may have even come to pass if a reported skittishness to bring them had persisted at upper levels of the Justice Department at the outset of the Jan. 6 investigations. To read it, it would seem that many felt sedition was a bridge much too far or too risky politically. Marcy picked that WaPo report apart already and exposed key gaps and blind spots in the story so I won’t belabor those points here. 

I will, however, belabor others. 

First, Marcy’s unwinding of the Post story isn’t just context for context’s sake nor is it to browbeat a reporter like Carol Leonnig who is esteemed for good reason. (I have a lot of respect for her work and that of others at the Post, for the record). But Marcy does provide useful context by raising questions that, it would appear, the Washington Post seemed to miss or perhaps failed to appreciate when relying on its sources and then sharing those findings with a public largely unversed in the nuances of Jan. 6 and its related investigations. 

In the same way that Belew suggests sedition trials and convictions can act as an important deterrent to possible criminal extremists, it would seem just as vital that non-criminal, non-seditious Americans accurately grasp these serious proceedings, too. Being empowered with the ability to cut through the bullshit being spun by the far right, or Jan. 6 conspiracy theorists, hinges considerably on having a clear understanding, or at least a thorough consideration, of the historical evidence at the trials themselves.  

For my purposes, perhaps most striking in that Post piece was a detail that later needed to be corrected. In the first iteration of its story, the Post incorrectly stated that the Justice Department attempted to prosecute those involved in the kidnapping plot of Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer with the sedition statute. 

But they did not use it in that case; so the comparison wasn’t just incorrect but it wasn’t apt at its inception. What would be more apt would be to mention how prosecutors used it in the Hutaree Christian militia case from 2010. This is a critical distinction because the Hutaree case is deeply relevant as Oath Keepers appeals are underway. With the Hutaree militia, the judge acquitted the defendants of seditious conspiracy after the government closed its case. U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts felt prosecutors had failed to sufficiently prove the militia members intended to forcibly resist the U.S. government. It was a just lot of vile talk, she found, but it didn’t rise to seditious conspiracy. 

I will broach more about this later in this piece but first, let’s return to some baseline details on the appeals in progress. 


At his sentencing in May, Rhodes puffed up his chest to deliver a self-aggrandizing diatribe extremely short on remorse and extraordinarily heavy on claims of political persecution by the U.S. government and the “weaponization” of free speech by the Justice Department. His attorneys said early into the trial that if they lost, an appeal would certainly follow. 

And it has. 

Rhodes’ lawyers, James Lee Bright and Phillip Linder, did not return a request for comment to emptywheel this week but for the moment, according to the docket at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Rhodes and almost all of his co-defendants from the first trial group including Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and Jessica Watkins, have consolidated their efforts to attempt an appeal.

Another batch of Oath Keepers tried, charged, and convicted of seditious conspiracy include Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, Edward Vallejo, and Joseph Hackett. They were split off into a second trial group for logistical reasons. 

The only Oath Keepers convicted of seditious conspiracy as of Thursday who have yet to officially indicate whether they will appeal are Ed Vallejo and Joseph Hackett.

Vallejo’s attorney, Matthew Peed, wrote in an email to emptywheel this week that he felt it was “likely” his client would appeal. Hackett’s lawyer, Angie Halim, did not return multiple requests for comment. (Key to note: An appeal cannot be formally entered until a defendant’s final judgment makes it onto the docket and neither Vallejo nor Hackett’s final judgment has appeared yet.) 

Rhodes’ attorney Phil Linder told CBS recently he expects it will take months to craft an appeal and one can only assume the same would apply to Kelly Meggs’ attorney Stanley Woodward given the demands on his schedule of late. Woodward also represents Waltine Nauta, former President Donald Trump’s valet and alleged co-conspirator in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case. Woodward also represents Ryan Samsel, a Jan. 6 defendant who figures prominently in most “fedsurrection” conspiracy theories and he represents Frederico “Freddie” Klein, a former Trump-era State Department official. Klein faces a number of charges including assaulting police on Jan. 6, and he goes to trial in October. Woodward will also represent Trump’s former trade adviser Peter Navarro once Navarro’s trial for criminal contempt gets underway in September. Navarro, prosecutors say, defied a subpoena issued to him by the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Over the next 30 days, the Oath Keepers will continue to get their houses in order. Rhodes’ lawyers, according to a recent letter from the court clerk, have not yet been admitted to practice before the appeals court in but they have until July 12 to get admitted. 


After the massive unraveling of evidence and testimony at trial, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which an appeal, especially one from Rhodes, will contain, well, anything particularly novel. But the far more important factor will be whether his appeal will convince an appellate judge that his speech was not seditious.

Another one of his attorneys, Ed Tarpley, said after Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison that the former far-right leader wouldn’t stop speaking up because it was a matter of principle. 

The Justice Department had “weaponized” the First Amendment and used Rhodes’ own words against him to secure a conviction, Tarpley said. 

Rhodes’ words were “used against him” technically speaking. But it wasn’t just his words that helped get him convicted though jurors did see mind-boggling amounts of evidence featuring his communications. 

They heard speeches and reviewed texts and phone calls as well as a recorded meeting where he called for revolution days after the 2020 election. He decried the election as unconstitutional and fraudulent and promoted disinformation to rile up his group or to entice them to act in concert with him. He directed Kelly Meggs, a Florida division leader, to coordinate operations in advance of the 6th and on the 6th. He oversaw the coordination of the gigantic weapons stash, or a quick reaction force (QRF) with the help of his co-defendants. The cache was set up at a hotel in Virginia, just over the Potomac River from the Capitol. Aware of the gun laws in D.C., Oath Keepers, from points all over the U.S., understood and received directions to drop their weapons at the QRF. Rhodes’ future co-defendant Ed Vallejo would stand by awaiting Rhodes’ orders to haul the weapons in if asked. 

The beginnings of Rhodes’ intent were aired out in trial courtesy of a recorded GoTo Meeting with fellow Oath Keepers on Nov. 9, 2020.. Rhodes didn’t mince words and in fact, his fury was so complete, he scared one Oath Keeper into eventually reporting the call to the authorities. 

They would have to fight to keep Trump in office and this wasn’t a metaphorical “fight.”

“Let’s make no illusion about what’s going on in this country. We’re very much in exactly the same spot that the founding fathers were in like March 1775. Now—and Patrick Henry was right. Nothing left but to fight. And that’s true for us too. We’re not getting out of this without a fight. There’s going to be a fight. But let’s just do it smart and let’s do it while President Trump is still Commander in Chief and let’s try to get him to do his duty and step up and do it,” Rhodes said. 

Trump would not urge his supporters to descend on D.C. until Dec. 19, but prosecutors demonstrated that the Oath Keepers’ seditious conspiracy didn’t simply or only start to exist once Trump called for the “wild” event. 

During that Nov. 9 call, Rhodes’ told members they would need to be willing to travel to Washington and prepare to war with “antifa.” This was something he explained had multiple benefits. 

If they were there to stop “antifa” from attacking Trump supporters, it would give Trump a reason to invoke the Insurrection Act and raise Oath Keepers to his side.

“I’m willing to sacrifice myself for that. Let’s start the fight there, OK? That would give President Trump what he needs frankly,” Rhodes said.

Getting Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act so the “fraudulent” election could be stopped was ideal for Rhodes and as the weeks after the election passed and Trump lost lawsuit after lawsuit challenging the results, his desperation grew. 

On Jan. 6, Rhodes never stepped foot inside the Capitol. He stalked its grounds as he communicated with Oath Keepers on site and just moments before Oath Keepers breached, cell phone data showed Rhodes had called Meggs in what prosecutors argued was an order to get inside the Capitol and plow ahead. Prosecutors said the defendants understood, even without it being said explicitly, that this was a means to stop Congress from doing its duty.  At trial, footage after this call in question appears to show Meggs entering the Capitol as if on cue. 

Rhodes wasn’t indicted for propagandizing. He wasn’t indicted for having an opinion contrary to fact. He wasn’t indicted for wanting Trump to be in office even after Trump lost the election and then lost dozens of lawsuits seeking to overturn the results.

Rhodes wasn’t indicted for writing public letters and posting them online urging Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act in order to stop the “fraudulent” election of Joe Biden, a man Rhodes proclaimed was a “puppet” for communist China. (For the record, Rhodes wrote two of these letters; one was published on Dec. 14 and another on Dec. 23, 2021.) 

And Rhodes certainly wasn’t indicted for merely traveling from Texas to D.C. on Jan. 6 to attend a rally with thousands of other people who showed up to support Trump’s Big Lie. 

Rhodes was charged and convicted of seditious conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, and tampering with evidence because his words, when coupled with his conduct and the conduct of the men he oversaw, far exceeded the protections the First Amendment has to offer. 

Rhodes didn’t simply oversee a bunch of loudmouth oafs hand-painting protest signs in a hotel in Virginia before sauntering over to the Capitol to chant outside of it peacefully. 

When he was en route to D.C. from Texas,  bank statements and receipts showed. Rhodes spent more than $10,000 on firearms and gear like sights, scopes, ammunition, and night vision equipment. On their return to Texas after the 6th, Rhodes didn’t stop spending. In fact, he spent at least another $30,000 on weapons and equipment. Jurors saw maps and cell extraction reports that showed how, when, and where Rhodes coordinated these purchases and communications. Jurors saw how Rhodes coordinated with Oath Keeper Joshua James while returning to Texas and how they worked together to collect firearms and tactical gear. And all the while, Rhodes angled to conceal his movements, using his then-girlfriend Kellye SoRelle as a cutout to communicate with Oath Keepers via text through her and her phone. It was revealed to jurors also that James, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, sent a message to Rhodes as late as Inauguration Day saying, “After this… if nothing happens, it’s Civil War 2.0.” 

When former Oath Keeper Terry Cummings, who traveled with other members to D.C. for the 6th, testified against Rhodes in court, he said not since his time in the military had he ever seen so many guns in one place. 

Rhodes’ defense hinged on the argument that Oath Keepers came to Washington merely to serve as a security force for Trump VIPs attending speeches or rallies. One of those VIPs was ratfucker Roger Stone. Oath Keepers Joshua James and Roberto Minuta were tasked to guard him. Yet they would leave Stone at the hotel and speed towards the Capitol on golf carts as soon as Rhodes called them to his side. Meanwhile, Stone hightailed it out of D.C. 

At other times, the defense claimed Oath Keepers came to Washington to provide medical support as needed. Defendant and former Army medic Jessica Watkins had medical training, that was true, but her defense was undercut by her own admission on the witness stand: She did impede police when she forced her way into the Capitol and pushed past them. 

At sentencing, she wept when she recalled memories of the police officer who was overrun thanks to her conduct.

It seemed at trial the defense’s goalposts shifted depending on which defendant was under questioning or how a witness performed. The disclosed purpose for amassing the weapons cache or going to the Capitol regularly shifted around its edges in the Rhodes trial, and so many stories simply didn’t hold up under the scrutiny of cross-examination or redirect.

Memorably, assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler remarked to jurors during closing arguments in the first Oath Keepers trial that for all the claims of Oath Keepers being an organized security force on Jan. 6,  not one defendant was licensed or insured to provide security services and no one held any contracts for these supposed clients. 

And if the evidence from before Jan. 6 or the day of didn’t sink him, what followed proved Rhodes wanted to overthrow a government where Joe Biden was its executive. On Jan. 10, 2021, while downtown D.C. was still bustling with National Guard left over to protect the Capitol and nearby federal buildings, Rhodes took a meeting in a parking lot in Texas with U.S. veteran Jason Alpers. 

Alpers testified that he had “indirect” ties to the Trump White House but no further description was offered in court. Alpers said he linked up with Rhodes through an associate of Allied Security Operations Group, the same group that led an “audit” of voting machines in Antrim County, Michigan. (Michigan, of course, was one of several battleground states where Trump’s lawyers, including Sidney Powell and others, claimed fraud was pervasive. Powell was sanctioned for her role in pursuing such baseless claims in the courts last week.)

The meeting was set so Rhodes could pass a message to Trump. Alpers would secretly record the exchange. Rhodes was furious. He wouldn’t condemn the violence on the 6th but he had other regrets.

If Trump was going to just let himself be removed illegally, Rhodes remarked, “then we should have brought rifles.”

“We could have fixed it right then and there,” he said on the recording before adding that he would “hang fucking [then Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi from the lamppost.”

Furious, he tapped out a message into Alpers’ phone because he expected Alpers would pass it along to his Trump contact. 

Trump would be killed by his enemies if he didn’t act now, Rhodes warned.

‘You must use the Insurrection Act… if you don’t, you and your family will be imprisoned or killed. You and your children will die in prison… you must do as Lincoln did. He arrested congressmen, state legislators and issued a warrant for SCOTUS Chief Justice Taney. Take command like Washington would… Go down in history as a savior of the Republic, not the man who surrendered it… I’m here for you and so are all of my men. We will come help if you need us,” Rhodes wrote. 

He claimed he had 40,000 Oath Keepers backing him and millions of others who felt as they did.

He added: “There’s gonna be combat here on U.S. soil no matter what” and warned that the Biden administration would “disarm us all,” if allowed to take office. 

The message was too extreme for Alpers to pass along. It didn’t help, the veteran testified, that Rhodes’ then-lover Kellye SoRelle, who was also there, was drunk. It put  Alpers off. It was all too unprofessional and his confidence was shaken. On cross-examination, Alpers said he delayed reporting the meeting to the FBI because he didn’t want to get involved any further. 

All of these elements are just slivers of what jurors heard in the weeks-long trial.

There were also several intense days where emotions ran high, including those where the parties started to dig into claims that Oath Keepers went to help Capitol Police after getting inside. 

Meggs, Harrelson, and Watkins attorneys insisted their clients “assisted” U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn who was stationed outside then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Armed with a rifle, Dunn told jurors he knew it wouldn’t take much for someone to grab it off him and make a bad situation worse. He told Oath Keepers to leave, he told them they were hurting police; he told them police were “getting the shit kicked out of them.”

The Oath Keepers wouldn’t leave right away though, they hung around him a bit longer instead. When prosecutors asked Dunn on redirect at trial what would have helped him that day, the officer was succinct: if they left, or never come in, that would help. 

So, to review, here are the convictions from the Oath Keepers sedition cases. (It is worth noting that if Rhodes manages to pull off an appeal, he could also be resentenced.)

On seditious conspiracy:

  • Elmer Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, Joseph Hackett

On conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding

  • Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschell, Edward Vallejo, Joseph Hackett

On obstruction of an official proceeding

  • Elmer Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, Thomas Caldwell, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, Edward Vallejo

On conspiracy to prevent officials from discharging their duties: 

  • Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, David Moerschel, Edward Vallejo, Joseph Hackett

On tampering or destruction of evidence

  • Elmer Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Thomas Caldwell, Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett

Impeding officers during a civil disorder:

  •  Jessica Watkins


When the federal judge presiding over the Hutaree matter tossed all of the sedition charges against those defendants, she explained that prosecutors had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Christian militia members took concrete steps to violently revolt against the federal government with the aid of weapons of mass destruction.

The Hutarees were recorded discussing how police were their enemies and how they wanted to kill them. They discussed how a war against the U.S. government was necessary, too. But Judge Victoria Brown ruled that a conspiracy required a specific plot or a knowing agreement to break the law or a knowing intent to join that effort. Guilt by association was not enough, she said, and neither was repugnant conversation.

A Hutaree defense attorney noted in an interview with The Guardian last October when the Oath Keepers went on trial, that when it came to the Hutaree militia, beyond a lack of a plan, there was also “no action taken.” Hutarees may have shared disdain for law enforcement, communications showed, but, he argued, it pretty much stopped there. 

After the sedition acquittals for the Hutarees in 2012, a law professor from Wayne State University noted to the New York Times that the outcome just went to show how difficult it is to prosecute cases involving groups engaged in political speech. The professor also noted how  Hutarees were “a fairly disorganized group” who may have “talked big” but didn’t seem to be doing much otherwise. 

At the Oath Keepers trial, the defense was insistent that because there was not a concrete plan laying out the Oath Keepers’ precise efforts up to, on, or after Jan. 6, the government’s case was overcharged and amounted to a gross infringement on their First Amendment rights. 

But neither Judge Mehta nor the jury believed that was the case for the Oath Keepers who were ultimately convicted of seditious conspiracy. At Rhodes’ sentencing, Judge Mehta was unequivocal on this point, telling Rhodes he posed an “ongoing peril to democracy.” 

He was the one giving orders, Mehta said. 

“He was the one organizing teams that day. He was the reason they were, in fact, in Washington, D.C. Oath Keepers wouldn’t have been there but for Stewart Rhodes, I don’t think anyone contends otherwise. He was the one who gave the order to go, and they went,” he said. 

When the jury was instructed before deliberations, they were told that a conspiracy was defined as two or more people trying to accomplish some unlawful purpose and in order to sustain a seditious conspiracy charge, they must agree that a defendant conspired with at least one other person to oppose the government by force to delay and impede it; or they reached an agreement to use force in the ordinary sense of the word; or simply that they contemplated using force while at least one defendant actually used it. 

The government had no burden, Mehta said, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an express agreement or an implied one. They just had to prove that the members of the conspiracy met, talked about unlawful objectives, and agreed to some of the details or what the means were by which objectives could be accomplished. The success of that aim was irrelevant. 

Jurors deliberated for three days in the Rhodes trial; jurors in the second trial group took just over a week to reach a verdict. The end results were a mixed bag of verdicts, suggesting that jurors meticulously reviewed each defendant’s conduct. 

Watkins was acquitted of sedition but convicted of conspiracy to obstruct a proceeding, obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent officials from discharging their duties, and impeding officers during a civil disorder. She recruited Oath Keepers and coordinated with them to breach the building and disrupt police on Jan. 6, but the jury, in the end, wasn’t fully convinced her role was central to that of a seditious conspiracist. 

The bar to convict remained high even for someone who recorded themselves breaching the building while actively and repeatedly encouraging others to “push, push, push” because the police “can’t hold us.” Before sentencing her to 8.5 years, Judge Mehta remarked that no one would suggest she is Rhodes or even Kelly Meggs. 

“But your role in those events is more than that of a foot soldier. I think you can appreciate that,” he said. 

Will these words haunt an appeal to come? 

When sentencing Rhodes and Meggs, Judge Mehta was far harder on them than their co-defendants also convicted of seditious conspiracy. He handed down an 18-year sentence to Rhodes and 12 years to Meggs with terrorism enhancements applied. The maximum on seditious conspiracy alone is  20 years. Minuta was sentenced to just 4.5 years; Joseph Hackett to 3.5 years. Vallejo and Moerschel received just 3 years. And again, that would include all of the convictions weighed in. 

Mehta emphasized to Rhodes at his sentencing that there was no question he “took up arms and fomented a revolution” on Jan. 6.

“That’s what you did. Those aren’t my words. Those are yours,” Mehta said. “You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes. You are not here for your beliefs.”

Perhaps this encapsulates the very reason why it matters that the sedition charge was used instead of abandoned early on. The evidence would indicate this wasn’t merely a First Amendment matter. Perhaps it may have been easier for Rhodes or Meggs or other Oath Keepers charged and convicted of seditious conspiracy to wriggle out of an obstruction charge if the focus on sedition wasn’t also on the table to start. 

But whatever the case may be, that’s the recent past. And while important, there’s now an equally if not more important future to ponder just ahead. 

At a time when the U.S. is awash in far-right extremism; when the man who incited the insurrection on Jan. 6 is now twice-indicted yet still running for president and running on a vengeance platform; at a time when he and other right-wing politicians vow to pardon all Jan. 6 defendants if ever given power by the body politic to do it—it will matter what happens with these appeals. 

Will the Oath Keepers convicted of sedition appeal their sentences? Or will they appeal the conviction? Appealing the conviction would seem the likely route given Mehta’s light touch at sentencing for most. And as part of his tough-guy-patriot-against-the-Deep-State-routine, Rhodes has already said he’s willing to do prison time for his beliefs. An appeal on the conviction that could potentially humiliate the U.S. government would seem too tantalizing for a man like Stewart Rhodes to pass up. 

If terabytes of evidence weren’t enough, if hours and hours of video footage weren’t enough, if proclamations and concerted efforts to foment an armed rebellion live on television aren’t enough to maintain the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy convictions, then one must wonder, what will happen if history repeats itself?

ONLY TIME WILL TELL: Seditionist Oath Keepers sentenced amid tears and promises of redemption

When they came to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, and terrorized the U.S. Capitol, the Oath Keepers hellbent on advancing a seditious conspiracy to keep Donald Trump in the White House were self-righteous and self-professed warrior patriots. 

But in the cold light of reality inside a federal courtroom blocks from the U.S. Capitol this past week, some of those self-stylized “warriors,” were rendered to spittling, Kleenex-clutching tearful heaps as they finally faced the consequences of their actions and U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta prepared to sentence them to prison.  

Oath Keepers Roberto Minuta, Edward Vallejo, David Moerschel, and Joseph Hackett went to trial last December and a jury found them guilty in January on multiple counts including sedition and conspiracy to obstruct Congress from certifying the 2020 election. The men were sentenced over two days and roughly a week after leaders of the conspiracy like Oath Keeper founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, and Ken Harrelson were sentenced. 

Roberto Minuta

No longer sporting tactical gear or chemical spray on his hip as he did on Jan. 6 while assaulting and taunting police, Oath Keeper Roberto Minuta appeared Thursday clad in a dark suit with hair neatly coiffed. His eyes rarely lifted to meet Judge Mehta’s as he read from a prepared statement seeking mercy in the face of the Justice Department’s 17-year-sentence recommendation.


Where Minuta had once followed Stewart Rhodes faithfully, in these last moments before sentencing, he sought to set himself apart from him. It was only now, Minuta explained with a calm and even tone, that he realized how profoundly “misled” he had been. 

Rhodes’ leadership was “deranged,” he added. 

When he was seemingly less repelled by Rhodes, Minuta purchased some 5,500 rounds of ammunition in the days before Jan. 6 and while participating in numerous chats where the group’s operations were discussed. It was in mid-December 2020 when he began talking with Rhodes about the need to do something other than peacefully protest if they were to keep Trump in office. He had raved on a Facebook live stream about election fraud and wailed that the “integrity of our democratic system is fucking dead.”

To stand by the results of that year’s election, he continued, would “lead to the boot of the government on your fucking face for eternity.”

For Roberto Minuta, by his own admission, by December 2020, the nation was already at civil war. When another leader of another extremist group, Proud Boy honcho Henry “Enrique” Tarrio posted messages online praising “lords of war” who took to the streets in support of Trump, Minuta posted messages in support online. He would echo similar notions about “war in the streets” on Jan. 6 where he was recorded speeding away from a nearby hotel on a golf cart. He was initially posted up at the hotel as a member of ratfucker Roger Stone’s security detail. 

Minuta’s voice didn’t shake as he spoke to Mehta. He told the judge he had waited a long time to speak to him directly. He told the court he “cringed” at his “embarrassing use of language” and his “display[s] of anger” in the evidence presented.

A line had been crossed on Jan. 6 that destroyed the legitimacy of what he thought was a peaceful protest, he said, and when he taunted police, it was this belligerence that added to their stress. 

Notably, on his way out of the Capitol, Minuta took the time to shove his fingers in an officer’s face as he screeched that “all that is left is the Second fucking Amendment.” 

“The recipients of my verbal belligerence were undeserving and it was misplaced frustration…as a father, I would be embarrassed for my children to see me behaving how I did that day. It would be a perfect example of how not to behave. My poor judgment didn’t stop at belligerence. I entered the Capitol, alarms blazing, chemical irritants in the air, and despite my instincts not to go in, I did,” Minuta said. 

And then, though the 38-year-old Oath Keeper would rebuke Rhodes and disavow the Oath Keepers, he nonetheless propped up a wafer-thin defense that has time and again been blown apart by evidence and dismissed by the courts: on Jan. 6 he was helping police, not harming them. 

“I had an opportunity to help police and I blew it,” Minuta said. “While using my own words as their evidence, it does not look like I was helping police. I failed at assisting police that day and I now perceive myself as an added stressor in what was already a terrible situation.” 

Judge Mehta acknowledged that while Minuta was not necessarily a leader in the way that Kelly Meggs or even Jessica Watkins had been, he nonetheless inspired other Oath Keepers to join a conspiracy analogous to treason.

 It may have only been dozens of Oath Keepers who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, but when they went up the Capitol stairs, they inspired others to do the same. 

But unlike others in the mob that day, Mehta said Minuta clearly understood, at a minimum, that when he showed up, violence was possible. After all, he was prepared to engage in it himself. There was a trail of communications leading up to the 6th proving this and it wasn’t just overheated rhetoric, the judge said. 

He wasn’t charged with seditious conspiracy because he was belligerent. 

“You are not being charged and convicted because of your words. It is because they reflected your state of mind and gave us a window into what you were thinking and why you came to Washington… when you told [Proud Boy] Dominic Pezzola who you just met that Stewart Rhodes thinks the ‘time for peaceful protest is over,’ – the fact that a lightbulb didn’t go off to you at that point to avoid any further contact with Rhodes, to avoid contact with Oath Keepers, or to avoid coming to D.C. on Jan. 6, what inference should one draw?” Mehta said. 

The judge, who is a former public defender with a frequently even-keeled, almost understated delivery, sounded exasperated. 

He sighed deeply. 

Minuta hadn’t simply lost his way on Jan. 6, the judge said. 

Though he empathized with Minuta over the closure of his tattoo parlor during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and even his frustrations over how civil unrest in 2020 metastasized, these factors had still blinded him to better sense. And what was worse, the judge acknowledged, was that despite the show of contrition in court, he still stood before him today contending that he helped police on Jan. 6. 

Opening his eyes wide and looking into Minuta’s face, Mehta said: “You weren’t there to help them. You may have convinced yourself of that but there isn’t any shred of evidence that would be consistent with that intent…and on the way out, you taunted police more. And as you are walking out of the building, after they have laid their own bodies on the line, you don’t thank them. You vilify them some more. There’s nothing that crossed your mind to assist police. You and I will have to agree to disagree on that.” 

The law, he added, also did not permit Minuta to cloak himself in the tradition of the Founding Fathers. Nor does the Second Amendment give him or anyone else the right to battle the U.S. government. 

Given the limited role of his actions in comparison to other conspirators and a lack of evidence supporting claims by the prosecution that Minuta was a leader of Oath Keepers in New York more broadly speaking, Mehta departed significantly from the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation and gave Minuta just 4.5 years. 

Edward Vallejo

Where Minuta was stoic, 64-year-old Oath Keeper Ed Vallejo was overcome with emotion, openly sobbing while speaking to Judge Mehta. Vallejo cut a much different figure in court than he did in footage from the 6th. The wild unkempt beard he sported in 2021 was gone. He appeared frail as his white dress shirt billowed around his torso. His hands shook as he grasped a hard copy of his statement. 

An Army Veteran sober for 40 years after a battle with alcoholism following the loss of his son, Vallejo drove 2,300 miles from his home in Arizona to Washington, D.C. fueled by disinformation. In this way, Mehta acknowledged, Vallejo and others suckered in by disinformation were victims in their own right. 

“That doesn’t mean people aren’t responsible for their own actions,” Mehta said. 

In late 2020, Vallejo had faithfully shared an open letter that Rhodes had issued in December calling on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act so Oath Keepers could be raised to help him stay in power. By the 6th, he was tapped to oversee a stockpile of weapons dumped at a hotel in northern Virginia. The cache was transported by Oath Keepers from around the U.S. The hotel, just outside of Washington and across the Potomac River, was dubbed a “quick reaction force” or “QRF.” 

Though at trial Oath Keepers maintained the QRF was a defensive maneuver only and arranged to support their security detail for Trump VIPs and the like, no such evidence to support this claim ever emerged and Judge Mehta summarily and repeatedly dismissed the notion at sentencing. 

Before Vallejo delivered a tearful plea, Mehta reminded Vallejo that on the morning of the 6th, it was he who went on a podcast with fellow Oath Keeper Todd Kandaris and boasted of unloading rifles (albeit indirectly) and then proceeded to speak of the need for “guerilla warfare” and armed conflict if the certification didn’t go as they wanted it. 

It was Vallejo who spoke of the Oath Keepers as the “final check and balance” on the process. He also mentioned on the podcast that the people on the ground in Washington that day were prepared to do more than taunt police. 

Where Vallejo’s defense attorney Matthew Peed argued those words were bloviations from a “goofy” man, Mehta disagreed.

There were multiple texts Vallejo sent to Rhodes during the attack, telling him he was ready to deploy if someone said the word. There were media interviews revealing his intent to advance the seditious conspiracy. There was also witness testimony at trial stating that Vallejo and Kandaris told Oath Keepers supping at Olive Garden after the attack that they were “waiting to be called to the Capitol.” And if that were not enough, Mehta pointed out, instead of leaving D.C. in short order, on the morning of Jan. 7, Vallejo returned to the Capitol and surveilled and probed police lines to see how law enforcement had responded in the aftermath. Messages show the Arizona Oath Keeper told Rhodes he would only return home if the founder ordered it. He was willing to stay on hand to deliver “after action reports” that would begin after the inauguration, he said. 

And when Kandaris asked Rhodes what to do after the 6th, it was expressed plainly that he and Vallejo were excited about the “next steps.”

Mehta speculated last week on why, ultimately, Rhodes didn’t answer Vallejo’s call to activate the QRF and start hauling guns and rifles and ammunition into Washington. 

I think only Mr. Rhodes knows… perhaps he thought it would take too long to get weapons in or perhaps Mr. Rhodes knew, being the Yale law school graduate that he is, it wouldn’t be wise to respond to Mr. Vallejo, saying he can bring weapons in,” Mehta said.

During the prosecution’s allocution, assistant U.S. attorney Louis Manzo asked the judge to consider: What if Rhodes’ mind had ticked a little bit differently at that moment? 

“Is there any doubt in your honor’s mind that Vallejo would have delivered?” Manzo said. 

The confidence he had in January  2021 was missing in action this week. Vallejo wiped his nose profusely as he spoke through tears, his voice quaking. His cries grew slightly deeper while he hung his head and offered an apology to U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and other members of law enforcement. 

Dunn delivered a charged victim impact statement in May along with Metropolitan Police Officer Chris Owens. 

“It hurt me so bad that [Officer Dunn] is going through so much hurt,” Vallejo rasped, crying through his mea culpa. “I would do anything to help console him… my heart went out to him… I wish with all my soul I had never went… I wish I never associated with Stewart Rhodes… I see now how wrong and foolish I was… my life has been destroyed by this catastrophe in so many ways. I doubt I will ever fully recover from it.” 

Vallejo’s wife, who is 70, is unable to care for their rescue animals or their home if she is alone and he is incarcerated for a significant length of time, he said. Telling Judge Mehta he was a changed man who had “sworn off” politics, the internet, and the outside world and that he had started removing tattoos related to the Oath Keepers and his recent past from his body.

“This wasn’t simply a belief that ballots had been miscast or ballots were brought in illegally. You know, Mr. Vallejo, I can appreciate that concern and that people had it and have had it. And you weren’t alone in that. Whether it was because you genuinely believed it based on your own review of evidence or the former president convinced you of it, you still are where you are,” Mehta said.

There is a process, he emphasized. 

Trump went through the courts and failed to prove election fraud. There was nothing there, Mehta said.

But there was a process.

“What can’t happen is a willingness to take up arms when the process didn’t work out the way you had hoped it would. It can’t be that dozens of judges got it wrong. It just cant be. I can’t imagine a single judge didn’t look at it carefully… if you believe in democracy, you take the good with the bad. You take the results you don’t like,” Mehta said. “Go out into the streets and protest peacefully, sure. Hope for a better outcome, of course. But you can’t conspire to undo a result because you and a group of your cohorts believed that process failed you.” 

Though prosecutors sought 17 years for Vallejo, Mehta only sentenced him to 3 years in detention and one year in home confinement after he is released. The departure in sentencing was somewhat expected after the light touch given to Minuta. Unlike Minuta, Vallejo was not at the Capitol and never went inside. His advanced age was also a boon.

David Moerschel and Joseph Hackett

To close out the week, Oath Keeper and former neurophysiologist turned-convicted-seditionist David Moerschel was also sentenced.

Right behind him was Oath Keeper and former chiropractor Joseph Hackett.

It was Moerschel and Hackett who coordinated the transport of weapons to the QRF with Kelly Meggs, a top leader under Rhodes. Moerschel joined a key text channel Oath Keepers used to communicate on Dec. 20, just one day after Trump invited his supporters to descend on Washington via Twitter. By Christmas Eve, Moerschel told Oath Keepers he thought Trump would wait until every avenue legally had been exhausted before he invoked the Insurrection Act but when Oath Keepers showed up, they would have firearms near D.C. if needed. Moerschel had pondered then: why else would Trump call them up? 

On Christmas Day 2020, Moerschel, who reminded Judge Mehta of his devotion to god and missionary work during his sentencing last week, told Oath Keepers in a group chat that he thought then-Vice President Mike Pence wouldn’t stand by Trump. It was also here that Oath Keeper Jeremy Brown told him he thought the nation was on the brink of war and Moerschel replied by telling Brown about his guns and how he wanted “extra knockdown power” on the 6th. 

He ended up bringing an AR-15 as well as a .45 caliber handgun to the hotel in Virginia.

“He didn’t do this for any other purpose than to wait for Trump or Kelly Meggs or Stewart Rhodes to tell him to use them,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Edwards said Friday. “The safety of our community and balance of our democracy should not hinge on the impulses of madmen. I don’t believe Mr. Moerschel would have ignored someone like Mr. Meggs or Mr. Rhodes should they have said, ‘Go grab the firearms.’”

On the 6th, Moerschel went along with the first stack of Oath Keepers and got inside for just under 15 minutes. Like he had helped provide support with the weaponry, Mehta noted that his presence with the stack contributed to the overall force used to stop proceedings. 

Moerschel rarely lifted his head as his attorney, the judge and prosecutors reviewed the court’s factual findings of his case. Instead, he kept his eyes glued to a paper in front of him. On occasion, the 45-year-old would shift in his seat, clasping closed hands near his mouth as if he was in silent prayer. 

Tall and thin with the contours of his face sharply angular, Moerschel approached the podium and offered a quick preface to his allocution: His wife wasn’t present because they were unable to arrange care for their three children. His voice was clear as a bell as he said this and then, as if on cue with the first word of his prepared remarks, Moerschel’s voice began to quake immediately. 

If there were tears, they were not immediately or as clearly visible, unlike with Ken Harrelson, Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, and Ed Vallejo. Where their faces had flushed, where their tears had flowed, where they were undeniably overcome as they hit random points throughout their remarks—usually triggered by the first mention of a family member they had shamed—Moerschel did not emote as strongly though the sounds of weeping were there, however. 

Moerschel said when he was on the Capitol steps, he had a revelation. 

“I felt like God said to me, ‘get out of here’ and I didn’t and I disobeyed God and I broke laws. I’m not sorry because I’m being punished. I’m sorry because of the harm that my actions have caused other people,” he said. 

 Jan. 6 contributed to a national crisis, he added.

He was sorry for what it had done to his family. In the wake of his indictment, Moerschel lost his job as a neurophysiologist and has since taken work as a landscaper in Florida. (Moerschel, Vallejo, Minuta, and Hackett were granted bond ahead of trial.) 

Mehta remarked on his good upbringing, education, and loving support system. Perplexed how he ultimately ended up on a road to ruin, Mehta told Moerscshel he thought he was a “smart guy” up until the fall of 2020. 

During his remarks, the Oath Keeper riffed to Mehta: he appreciated the compliment but his actions were “really dumb.”

Leaning foward with eyes wide, Moerschel quipped: ”I don’t mean anything bad about Kelly Meggs but he’s a used car salesman and it was really dumb to follow that guy.”

Before rendering the sentence, Mehta told Moerschel that at a time, perhaps his joining the Oath Keepers was rooted in something more noble. He told him he could understand how joining a group of like-minded individuals and then treating that group as a primary source of community, validation, or even “news” could infiltrate one’s thinking. 

“It is something that can suck you in like a vortex,” Mehta said. “And it is very difficult to get out. That is not an uncommon story.”

Moerschel’s lawyer Scott Weinberg argued that but for Trump’s tweet on Dec. 19, his client would have never come to D.C. at all. In effect, Moerschel was taken in by conmen like Rhodes and Trump, Weinberg argued. 

He was “naive,” he said. 

Moerschel was sentenced to just 3 years in prison though prosecutors sought 10. Mehta explained this was because Moerschel came to the conspiracy later than other members, was inside the Capitol very briefly, and did not appear to personally shout at or accost officers. He noted too that Moerschel disassociated with Oath Keepers and had no further dealings with the group after the 7th.

Fellow Oath Keeper Ken Harrelson, who received a 4-year sentence, did not do this. He kept talking to Meggs after the fact. 

“Look, sentencings are—each person is unique and the reasons for sentences are unique to each individual. But I want to say something I haven’t said so far: Sentencings shouldn’t be vengeful or such that it is unduly harsh for the sake of being harsh… different periods of incarceration apply to different people for various reasons,” Mehta said Friday. 

Oath Keeper Joseph Hackett, once a chiropractor with a flourishing practice, was sentenced to 3.5 years though prosecutors sought a 12-year term. 

Wearing a light gray suit and somber expression, Hackett grew emotional and like Vallejo, was overcome though his voice was soft and quiet. He hadn’t realized, he told the court, just how much damage he had done on the 6th, or how many people were scared of him.

It wasn’t until police officers testified that he realized the “full measure” of his actions, he added. He also admitted: he had been too busy thinking of the damage he had caused his own family. 

“I have destroyed my life,” Hackett said. 

He hated himself, he said. And he really hated himself for hurting his daughter and wife who had received death threats since he was first exposed as a rioter at the Capitol.

“I am the reason we are not enjoying a happy and normal life,” he said. 

Angie Halim, Hackett’s defense lawyer, called Hackett a “head-burier” who didn’t get involved with Oath Keepers to be extreme or political. The Oath Keepers didn’t get extreme until the country got extreme, she argued. Trump was saying the election was stolen, high-ranking politicians were too, and, she added, some media outlets failed to dispel the lie, not helping matters. In a flowery blame-shifting plea for her client, Halim beseeched Mehta to “trudge through the layer of human complexity” as he weighed a sentence. 

Hackett, she said, was “scared of his own shadow” and had been for the last two years. 

Hackett was no Rhodes. He was no Meggs either. But he was a recruiter for Oath Keepers who wanted to join the fray on the 6th. 

Mehta acknowledged this as well as the fact that Hackett brought at least one gun on his trek to DC. While evidence wasn’t concrete at trial, according to the Justice Department, Hackett also very likely added an AR-15 to the QRF.

Though Hackett wasn’t inside the Capitol for long, he still showed up in tactical gear and then once inside, ended up lurking outside of then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office.

In a statement seeming to signal a direct rebuffing of those who claim the Oath Keepers acted properly under the First Amendment, Mehta made a point to note that he agreed with prosecutor Alexandra Hughes’ take on Hackett’s involvement with the organization: 

To the extent that the Oath Keepers were a lawful organization with lawful intent, it would have been fine for Hackett to participate. But the lawfulness component changed while he was an active party and “in it” for some time.

Hackett sat up straight in his chair as he heard his sentence. He nodded almost imperceptibly as Judge Mehta reviewed the terms of his supervision. His face didn’t look tense. He looked passive, almost accepting of his fate. In the clatter of his last moments in the courtroom, as lawyers began to gather their things, Mehta told him though his words might sound hollow, he hoped the life he lived before the fall of 2020 was something he could one day reclaim. 

“Make your wife, daughter, and country proud,” Mehta told him. 

Hackett smiled at the judge warmly, closing his eyes for a moment before nodding and mouthing subtly: “Thank you.” 


OATHS BROKEN, OATH KEEPERS BOWED: Sentences for 2 more in marquee Jan. 6 conspiracy case

Raw emotions positively dominated a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. this week as the Justice Department secured significant sentences for two more Oath Keepers involved in a larger conspiracy to forcibly stop America’s transfer of power on Jan. 6, 2021. 

On the heels of an 18-year-sentence delivered to a defiant Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right group, and a 12-year-sentence handed down to Kelly Meggs, Rhodes’ deputy on the 6th, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins, once the founder of the Ohio Regular Militia, to 8.5 years and Kenneth Harrelson, a ground team leader on the 6th, to four years. Both were acquitted of the sedition charge in this case but they were found guilty of multiple felonies including serious obstruction charges. Sedition itself is rarely prosecuted in the United States and rarer still are these prosecutions successful since the bar to prove this sort of conspiracy is set so high. 

This week marked a victory for the Justice Department, the rule of law, and the victims of Jan. 6 even if Donald Trump, the man who started it all, has yet to bear any real legal responsibility for his role in inciting an attack on the U.S. Capitol to stay in power. 

That day may come. But in the meantime, the willing pawns in Trump’s betrayal of the U.S. Constitution and common decency alike will now begin to serve their time. 

Underlining the severity of events, prosecutors initially sought an 18-year sentence for Watkins noting the jury’s conclusion that her true objective on Jan.6 was to storm the Capitol, use her body—and the bodies of her recruits—to violently obstruct the certification of the 2020 election, and intimidate Congress and impede police. 

Judge Mehta told a highly emotional Watkins in court Friday that though she was acquitted of the most serious charge, at the time of Jan. 6 she was nevertheless a self-professed Oath Keeper who conspired to mar and disrupt democratic proceedings and lead recruits who, he believed, wouldn’t have been there but for her leadership. That would include, Mehta noted, Oath Keepers Bennie and Sandra Parker. She also led Donovan Crowl and Graydon Young into the fray. 

Watkins was on the Nov. 9, 2020, GoTo Meeting with Stewart Rhodes and other Oath Keepers, where, Judge Mehta described, the origins of a violent conspiracy began to emerge. Before sentencing, the judge told her she “knew exactly what Rhodes had said, [and] was listening carefully on the call.” 

In that meeting, Rhodes said he had abandoned all hope of a peaceful way to keep Trump in office or stave off a civil war. There was “nothing left but to fight,” and “we’re not getting out of this without a fight,”  he said in November 2020. 

He was primed for violence and ready to issue orders. Watkins was ready to take them. 

Jessica Watkins

She would ask Rhodes then about providing weapons for Oath Keeper events, Mehta noted, pointing to a discussion about transporting altered, weaponized pool cues. She and Oath Keeper Donovan Crowl called them “nightsticks.” 

The foreseeable violence of Jan. 6 was evident in her constant willingness to prepare for it in the days and weeks leading up to the certification, Mehta said. And on that day, Watkins used an “aggressive, assaultive” posture and was “purposeful” as she coursed through the Capitol. Communications between her and others like Oath Keeper Donovan Crowl showed she wasn’t in D.C. merely to provide a security detail for Trump VIPs or to protect Trump supporters attending speeches like she and her defendants argued at trial.

She understood why Oath Keepers had set up the arsenal of weapons they dubbed a “quick reaction force” or a “QRF” at a hotel in northern Virginia, Mehta said. She brought an AR-15 from her home base of Ohio to Winchester, Virginia on the 6th. At trial, she said she decided to leave it at Crowl’s property there because she worried cleaning staff at the hotel outside of D.C. (the QRF) would “freak out” if they saw them. 

In court Friday, Mehta told Watkins he believed she would have gone to get weapons if Rhodes had asked her and it was “small comfort” that she had left her own personal weapon further behind. 

In any event, it is unlikely Watkins would have needed to drive hours back to Winchester anyway: The arsenal at the hotel in Arlington, Virginia, was just over the Potomac River from the U.S. Capitol, and it had more weapons than Oath Keeper Terry Cummings had seen in one place since his time in the military, he testified in October.

Watkins was part of the first stack, or line formation, inside of the Capitol. Leading the group on the ground was Kelly Meggs. He was sentenced to 12 years for seditious conspiracy earlier this week. Watkins used Zello, a walkie-talkie messaging app to communicate her maneuvering inside the Capitol and Mehta said there was no doubt that she pushed her way past police and headed toward the Senate. She could be seen and heard in footage urging “push! push! push!” and encouraging rioters to overrun police. 

Watkins kept some of her communications tied to Jan. 6 intact but others she deleted, and this, both the jury and Judge Mehta concluded, indicated an intent to conceal her activities and obstruct an investigation into her crimes after she was identified in press reports in the wake of the attack. He told Watkins he didn’t know if there was a direct connection between Rhodes’ orders to Oath Keepers to delete communications after the 6th and her decision to remove her own communications but he considered it obstruction nonetheless. 

Mehta agreed to a terrorism enhancement sought by the Justice Department but still went below the guidelines. He was sympathetic to her and her background. Watkins is transgender and she had a difficult upbringing in a strict religious household. Once in the Army she temporarily went AWOL because of harassment from a bunkmate who discovered her online searches involving gender identity. Her military service didn’t earn her any special deference at sentencing. 

“I don’t think you’re Stewart Rhodes. I don’t think you’re Kelly Meggs. But your role in those events was more than a foot soldier. I think you can appreciate that,” Mehta told her in court Friday. 

She nodded slightly as he spoke to her. 

Watkins was racked with emotions during the sentencing hearing. She burst into tears the moment she took the podium and it was her chance to ask for mercy from the court. After somewhat composing herself, she spoke loudly though often her voice would quake as her tears flowed. She clutched a tissue for a few moments as she spoke. Her face flushed.

 I wrote this letter to you today to express my feelings of remorse considering my participation in Jan 6. As I said previously, my actions and behaviors that fateful day were wrong and as I now understand, criminal. This is what has brought me before you today and why you must hold me responsible. The events of Jan. 6 are unfortunate and while I believe in peaceful protest and redress of government, violence is never the answer,” Watkins said.

She expressed her “strong” frustration with people who assaulted police and told Judge Mehta since she had been incarcerated she had studied video evidence online and emphatically claimed she had “solved the crime” of a police assault on Jan. 6 unrelated to her case.

She also said she accepted that “her actions in and around the Capitol inspired those people to a degree.” 

“They saw me there and that probably fired them up,” she said, noting how Oath Keepers were pat on the back as they ascended the Capitol steps. 

“At trial, I said I was an idiot for going in there. But idiots can be held responsible and this idiot must be held responsible,” she said. 

Watkins cried as she left the stand, saying she still loved her country and that it was never her intent to harm it or anyone. She regretted that Metropolitan Police Officer Christopher Owens was not present Friday. She wanted to personally apologize again though she aired the same sentiments at trial while he was in the courtroom. Owens, who was on the receiving end of Watkins’ push inside the Capitol, issued a poignant and painful victim impact statement two days before her sentencing. She was present for it but unable to address him then.

Judge Mehta’s empathy for Watkins was substantial. She had overcome a lot, he said. And in a tone that sounded stern yet near fatherly, the federal judge looked at Watkins earnestly, telling her he believed she was someone who could one day be a role model for others. 

“I’m happy you have found someone who loves you. You and he tried to make a go of it with your own business… you served as a firefighter and a medic, and frankly, I do believe that the purpose of the Ohio State Regular Militia was not to battle our government,” Mehta said. “But somewhere along the line, that all got waylaid and perverted. I don’t know what it was. Whether it was Alex Jones or other corners of the internet you found yourself in; you clearly began to have delusional thoughts about what the risks were if the other guy won and what you would need to do to ensure the safety of your countrymen.” 

No one with a “human bone in their body,” Mehta added, could hear Watkins’ life story and not feel some degree of compassion.

“You have overcome a lot. You are resilient. You are someone who could serve as a role model. I say that at a time when people who are trans are so readily vilified and used for political purposes. It makes it all the more hard for me to understand why there is still a lack of empathy for those who suffered that day. Maybe it’s part of the process, the journey,” Mehta said. 

The “lack of empathy” the judge referred to was tied to Watkins’ remarks in private calls reviewed by prosecutors and raised at sentencing. In one call, she had derided police who came under attack on Jan. 6 and spoke publicly of their post-traumatic stress. 

“‘Boo hoo, poor little police officers got a little PTSD, wah! ‘I had to stand there and hold the door open for people. Wah!'” Watkins had said, according to prosecutor Alexandra Hughes.

Her attorney, Jonathan Crisp, said Watkins had undertaken efforts at deradicalization. She’s been detained for two years. Mehta did raise the question with Crisp of how he could reconcile her seeming callousness in the phone call with her more remorseful presentation in court. The lawyer, who is a JAG and served in Iraq but did not see combat, admitted, “it may sound evil,” to make the comment but it came from an opinion that any wearer of any uniform in law enforcement or military service should expect that risk, danger and sacrifice effectively come with the territory. Crisp argued that wasn’t to diminish the unique circumstances of Jan. 6 and the unexpected conditions police were under, but that was the opinion, deluded as others may perceive it to be.

At her sentencing as well as at Rhodes and Meggs’ sentencing and later, at Harrelson’s, the judge made it a point to underline to each that their sentences would need to reflect the role they played and how serious it had impacted not just people of the United States but also the very people who defended the Capitol with their lives, forsaking their own families, self-interest and self-preservation instincts. 

Mehta said it was an officer’s job to expect sacrifice though this did not diminish their heroism in the face of something that, “I would dare say, even a police officer would have expected [on the 6th.]”

Roughly an hour after Watkins, her co-defendant Florida Oath Keeper Kenneth Harrelson was sentenced by Judge Mehta to four years in prison. Prosecutors initially sought 15. Much like it was with Watkins, Harrelson was deeply emotional before the judge. 

He was acquitted of seditious conspiracy. He was also acquitted of conspiracy to obstruct proceedings and destruction of property. The jury convicted him on just two of six counts that he faced: obstructing an official proceeding and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging his duties. He did not testify at trial whereas Watkins, Rhodes, and co-defendant Thomas Caldwell, did. 

Harrelson was somewhat enigmatic in court. He was reserved throughout roughly 30 days of proceedings; reading from paperwork ceaselessly, his head down and face close to the pages before him. His lawyer, Bradley Geyer, while certainly not a shrinking violet when he would speak before the jury, was among the least chatty attorneys at trial, seemingly preferring to let Harrelson fade into the background. 

Harrelson wasn’t a prolific texter or user of social media and very few of his messages emerged in evidence. He deleted most and deleted Signal off his phone. The extent of his communications around the 6th is something that will remain a mystery for prosecutors for sometime and maybe forever. 

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said in court Friday. 

Prosecutors considered Harrelson a “ground team leader” who took orders from Meggs. Another fellow Oath Keeper, Jason Dolan, told the jury in October he considered Harrelson to be his superior and it was Dolan who also helped transport weapons to the QRF in Arlington. Harrelson also participated in firearms training with Meggs and was close with Rhodes in the days leading up to the critical Nov. 9 GoTo meeting. Like Watkins, Harrelson heard Rhodes call for violence if Trump wasn’t permitted to stay in the White House (despite his defeat). 

At sentencing, Judge Mehta was unwilling to add leadership enhancements to Harrelson’s sentence because while he thought there were elements of Harrelson’s role that could fall into the leadership category, what he reviewed he didn’t consider dispositive proof that the Florida man “controlled” anyone in a significant sense on the 6th.

Harrelson went up the Capitol steps in the first stack led by Meggs and once atop, turned to wave at others to come inside. Once in, he and Dolan screamed “treason!” at police officers and “This is our fucking house!” Dolan told the jury when he was on the stand this was done to put fear into lawmakers preparing to certify the election. 

Kenneth Harrelson

When law enforcement came calling for Harrelson after the 6th, he hid the AR-15 he brought to the D.C. area as well as the rifle case. He failed to tell investigators about several photos he took on the 6th during the melee. 

And, Nestler noted, he didn’t show any remorse in the days afterward. Quite the contrary: he continued to speak with Meggs, Rhodes and Oath Keeper and Roger Stone security goon Jeremy Brown

Mehta told Harrelson he believed he was just as responsible in many ways for the conspiracy as his cohorts on Jan. 6, including his superior Kelly Meggs. He knew the QRF was packed to the gills with weapons, for one, and his time in the Capitol—while fleeting—was not unimportant since it advanced the group’s mutual attempt to stop Congress from its work.

Oath Keepers like Caleb Berry testified at another Oath Keeper trial that Harrelson had bubbled over after leaving the Capitol because he had patted down an officer at one point and made a tantalizing revelation.

“It was clear as day in the video that you did pat down Officer [Ryan] Salke as you are leaving the building and if that were not enough, we had [Oath Keeper] Graydon Young who testified you did pat him down and Caleb Berry said you told him you did the pat down and said you were surprised at how little armor they had,” Mehta said. 

Mehta noted too how Berry, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding in July 2021, said Harrelson was “pumped” at this and excited. Then the men talked about how they could have been more effective if they would have brought gas masks and firearms. 

At the trial and at sentencing, Geyer emphasized how rioters burst into singing the National Anthem on the stairs. And while Geyer and the defendants had invoked that moment with a type of romantic patriotic reverence in court last year, on Friday, Mehta’s tone was pointed when he told the Army veteran” video may have indeed shown rioters singing the National Anthem on the Capitol steps as the Oath keepers ascended and burst inside,  but it, more importantly, showed him walking through the crowd to the landing. 

“And you are the first one. You were the first one to get close enough to see what was happening at the doors and what was transpiring there. Nevertheless, you enter and you immediately start recording and the words “treason!” are being uttered” Mehta said. 

Harrelson claimed once inside, he and Meggs attempted to “help” U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn after coming upon him in the small rotunda near then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office.

A jury may have agreed that as Harrelson made his way through a Capitol under siege, the Florida Oath Keeper would have, at the bare minimum, clearly understood this was not the place to be. The judge said he would only guess that the jury acquitted him of the conspiracy to obstruct charge because they didn’t agree beyond a reasonable doubt that he actually understood how Congressional proceedings actually worked. (Harrelson voted once his entire life and in a state election; had no political interests prior to his involvement with Rhodes and the Oath Keepers and had a very hardscrabble upbringing with a “junkie mom,” his attorney said, and an absentee father.) 

Harrelson has a one-point terrorism enhancement on his sentence because he did intimidate officials: staffers were trapped inside the office he stalked outside of; police inside, like Officer Dunn had been fighting off the mob, defending colleagues, helping people who were overcome, when Harrelson and Meggs came upon him, adding to his already crushing burden. 

When he spoke on his own behalf, Harrelson cried several times, sniffing hard with his body tightening up as he delivered remarks to the court. 

“I got into the wrong car at the wrong time and I went to the wrong place with the wrong people,” Harrelson said before going to explain how he got to D.C.. and was told to report to Michael Greene, a designated Oath Keepers operations leader on the 6th. Greene was acquitted of conspiracy at the third Oath keepers trial in March.

“I have no gripes with the government… I shouldn’t have been there. I should have paid more attention to what was being said [and] on my phone…to Officer Harry Dunn: I would like to truly apologize. when he came up those stairs and expressed that they were killing his friends and carrying out his buddies on stretchers,  all I said was ‘really’? I didn’t know what was happening on the west side…I didn’t know I was hurting anyone and I could have done more and I apologize. I think about that a lot,” he said, choking through tears. “I know I should have done more. I apologize.”

Harrelson continued on to say that he had “demolished” his life, loved his wife and children, was scared for them, and apologized to them as well. 

After Mehta sentenced him, and after the terms of his supervision were read and the Oath Keeper left the courtroom in his prison-issued jumpsuit, he turned his head to the pews and blew his wife a kiss. 

(Coming up this week at the federal courthouse: Oath Keepers and co-conspirators Roberto Minuta, Edward Vallejo, Joseph Hackett, and David Moerschel— all of whom were found guilty of seditious conspiracy—will be sentenced on June 1 and 2.)

‘NOTHING HAS CHANGED, MR. RHODES, NOTHING HAS CHANGED’: Seditious Oath Keeper Elmer Rhodes sentenced to 18 years

After expressing zero remorse and heralding himself to a federal judge as a “political prisoner” who “like Donald Trump only committed the crime of opposing those who are destroying our country,” Oath Keeper Elmer Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role leading and orchestrating a seditious conspiracy to stop America’s transfer of presidential power by force on Jan. 6, 2021. 

It would have been surprising if Rhodes took any other tack when it was his chance to speak. 

But Rhodes offered no surprises at the Prettyman courthouse in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. 

He was unrepentant, just as he was at trial when he testified on his own behalf for a little over a day. Even then, as a jury actively held his fate in their hands, he publicly smeared proceedings in jailhouse interviews while comparing himself to Nelson Mandela. And just four days ago, in yet another interview from jail, Rhodes kept up The Big Lie. 

The 2020 election was fraudulent, he argued, and the U.S. government had launched a “terror campaign” on Jan. 6 defendants. Four days ago he called for “regime change” and in words that could haunt any appeal of his conviction in the future, he added: “We’re going to have to stop it, the American people” and “It’s not going to stop until it’s stopped.” 

In his bright orange jumpsuit on Thursday, Rhodes gripped the sides of the podium as he read eagerly from his lengthy remarks, perhaps soothed by the sound of his own voice. 

“All Jan. 6 defendants are political prisoners. They are grossly overcharged. A steep sentence here won’t help or deter people, it will make people think this government is even more illegitimate than before,” Rhodes said.

He continued on to issue what sounded like a veiled threat with his voice moving from even and calm to more emphatic as his tone was slightly raised. 

“Characterizing Trump supporters as racists, fools and led down the primrose path by Trump as fools doesn’t help either,” Rhodes exclaimed. “My goal will be to be an American Solzhenitsyn to expose the criminality of this regime.”

He said his guilt was “preordained” and told presiding U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta claims that he is a white supremacist should lead him to “sue for defamation.” He said the “regime change” he hoped for a few days ago meant he hoped Trump would win in 2024. He went on a tear about leftist violence and antifa. Rhodes may impress himself or his supporters with such diatribes, but Judge Mehta appeared thoroughly unimpressed. (Mehta has presided over three Oath Keepers trials alone in recent months and his familiarity with this defense is arguably second to none.)

So long did Rhodes’ defiant remarks ramble on that Mehta actually interrupted him at one point and quite politely reminded him that his time speaking was finite. 

When Rhodes was finally done, Mehta looked at the Oath Keeper leader. On Thursday, Rhodes met Mehta’s eyes only sometimes. He frequently jotted down notes as Mehta spoke. 

“Mr. Rhodes, you are convicted of seditious conspiracy. You are a lawyer. You understand what that means,” Mehta said. 

For those who are not, Mehta provided a background. It was true, he said, neither Rhodes nor his conspirators assaulted police. It was true there were those who “did worse” in this regard on Jan. 6 than Rhodes specifically or members of his organization. 

But Rhodes is unique nonetheless. The seditious conspiracy he led against the United States is the most serious crime one can commit against this government, Mehta said. 

“It is an offense against the government to use force. It is an offense against the people of this country,” Mehta told Rhodes. 

The Oath Keeper founder looked right at the judge at this comment. 

“This isn’t confined to one day or how you reacted… it is a series of acts in which you and others committed to use force, including potentially with weapons against the government of the United States as it transitioned from one president to the other. And what was the motive? You didn’t like the new guy. I get it. But let me be clear to you, Mr. Rhodes, and anyone else who is listening: In this country, we don’t paint with a broad brush, and shame on you if you do,” Mehta said.

He continued: “What we cannot have, what we absolutely cannot have is a group of citizens who because they did not like the outcome of an election and don’t believe the law was carried out in the way they believe it should be, for them to take up arms and foment a revolution. That’s what you did. Those aren’t my words. Those are yours… you are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes. You are not here for your beliefs or because Joe Biden is president or because you supported the other guy.”

The evidence presented to jurors was convincing beyond a reasonable doubt, Mehta underlined. And though Rhodes has been quick to whine about unfair jurors, Mehta reminded him Thursday that it was this jury that acquitted him of multiple other counts. 

“But they found you guilty of sedition. That was a jury of your peers. Make no mistake about it,” Mehta said. 

Telling Rhodes the enduring legacy of Jan. 6 belonged to the police and people working on Capitol Hill that day who “protected this democracy as we know it,” Mehta emphasized how law enforcement officers “laid their bodies on the line.” 

“You talk about keeping oaths? No one is more emblematic of that than those police officers. Their heroism, their stamina, their courage. But for their acts, it could have been a far uglier day than it already was and it is one of the blackest stains on our country. People shouldn’t forget that,” he said. 

In the days leading up to Jan. 6, Rhodes convinced dozens of people to come to Washington, D.C. simply because he called on them to do so, the judge said. 

“You sir, present an ongoing threat and peril to this country and to the fabric of this country. You are smart, charismatic, and compelling and that is frankly, what makes you dangerous,” Mehta said. “Anyone think for a moment that Joseph Hackett would come to D.C. with a weapon to fight in the streets? That only happens because of you, Mr. Rhodes.”

Everyone Rhodes called to D.C. for Jan. 6 was a victim of the “lies and propaganda” he shared. It would have been one thing, the judge noted, if Rhodes had looked at what happened on Jan. 6 and said anywhere in his communications with Oath Keepers or in public that it wasn’t a good development. But he didn’t. He celebrated the carnage. 

And just three days after the attack on the Capitol, Rhodes wasn’t dialing it back. 

At trial in November, Jason Alpers, a military veteran and government witness, testified that he met with Rhodes on the night of Jan. 10 in a parking lot outside of an electronics store. Alpers said he was asked to meet with Rhodes by one of Alpers’ former employees. Rhodes, Alpers said, wanted to pass a message to Trump.  

Uneasy about the meeting from the outset, Alpers secretly recorded Rhodes. The recording was played for jurors. 

“If he’s not going to do the right thing, and he’s just going to let himself be removed illegally, then we should have brought rifles,” Rhodes told Alpers. “We could have fixed it right then and there.”

Rhodes said he would have hung then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi from a “fucking lamppost.” 

The Oath Keepers defense has hinged almost entirely on the claim that members did not come to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to foment violence, but to act as a “security detail.” 

After the judge read Rhodes’ own words back to him from that Jan. 10 meeting, Mehta noted: “Doesn’t sound like you were there for a security detail.” 

Mehta pointed to Rhodes’ comments during a “Freedom Corner Rally” broadcast from the jailhouse four days ago and how Rhodes said, “at the risk of another charge, I’m going to leave it at that” after he mentioned finding a “way to fix this” situation for Jan. 6 defendants.

With just a hint of exasperation, Mehta told the 58-year-old: ”Nothing has changed, Mr. Rhodes. Nothing has changed.”

“The reality is, based on the words we hear you speak, the moment you are released, you will be prepared to take up arms against your government. Not because you think the wrong president is in office but because you think that is an appropriate way to have redress of government when the law is applied in a way you don’t think it should be,” Mehta said. 

And then perhaps encapsulating the very gravity of his decision, Mehta told Rhodes that when the Oath Keeper found himself in a bad place, “everyone else did too, leaving everyone as objects of his willingness to engage in violence.”

“And we just cannot have that in this country,” Mehta said.  

In an interview during a break in proceedings Thursday, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn told me it was clear that Rhodes had no remorse. 

“He didn’t care how much time he got,” Dunn said. 

The sentence brought him little comfort, he said. 

Rhodes is “misguided,” and he is fixated on assigning himself labels, Dunn said. Rhodes picked “political prisoner” as his label because he certainly wasn’t going to choose the more accurate one of “insurrectionist,” Dunn said. 

If Trump is elected in 2024 or Ron DeSantis wins the White House or there is any political candidate that has sympathy for seditionists, Dunn expects there could be pardons for Oath Keepers in the future. DeSantis has already said he would consider them. Including one for Trump. 

“That’s why we need to make sure they don’t get the opportunity to pardon them. That’s why we have to have people vote for people who aren’t insurrectionists or seditionists. There is a possibility it could happen we have to make sure it doesn’t. We the American people,” Dunn said. 

Rhodes’ sentence gave him little solace. Dunn said while it was abundantly clear to him that Mehta understood the threat Rhodes poses to society until there is also accountability for Trump, lawmakers, or even some of the influencers involved with undertaking or promoting the violence and destruction of Jan. 6, he genuinely worries about what is ahead.

“My heart and mind still wander about this looming threat. It’s hard to find comfort knowing this threat still exists,” Dunn said. 

A day prior, when Dunn delivered a victim impact statement to the defendants, Rhodes rarely looked at Dunn. He was writing notes most of the afternoon. On occasion, he did look up though his face was expressionless. 

Dunn described how the violence on Jan. 6 upended his life and left him, nearly 900 days later, “a shell of his former self,” Rhodes didn’t look up then. Then Dunn uttered three words that snapped the extremist leader right to attention: “real oath keepers.” 

Dunn was describing how on the day he testified at the Oath Keepers trial, he was originally scheduled to speak to first responders. But instead of talking to them—“real oath keepers, real victims”— he had to testify instead and tell the jury about “what actually happened” on Jan. 6. 

Dunn turned to look right at the defendants when he said this. Rhodes looked back at Dunn. His head was already cocked to one side but the “real oath keepers” remark prompted Rhodes’ neck to crane downward even further. He didn’t blink. He seemed to bristle instead, though he kept it just barely under the surface. 

Tasha Adams, who recently won her divorce after a years-long estrangement from Rhodes, told me in an interview Thursday that she thinks Rhodes is “incapable” of feeling remorse. 

“He only ever adjusts his version of reality to fit into his personal storyline. He believes he has done nothing wrong, that he has been wronged himself, and that someday he’ll get even,” Adams wrote in an email. 

In court Thursday, Rhodes was “speaking to get the attention of DeSantis and Trump,” she said. 

“He is in this for the pardon and the long game, even if that is not 2024. Even if it means 2028. He is not sorry. He is only sorry it wasn’t bigger,” she wrote. 

As for Adams, there is closure with the sentence.

She has been outspoken about her now ex-husband as she watched the trial from afar. She has publicly described his history of abusing her or isolating her. And when the government submitted its sentencing proposal, prosecutors included excerpts of an interview with Adams where she described the depths of Rhodes’ abuses against her and their children. 

“There was always violence in little ways. If he was really mad over something, he would want to do what he called martial arts training which included sticks and knives with a dulled edge or a knife with its edge taped. He would usually hurt us when he would do this training and it would always wind up with whoever he was angry at at the time. It was never just rough training or when he was happy with you… I don’t know if you can see all the scars on my arms. That’s from knife training. He would keep me pinned down in a chair….and he would hit the chair or sofa next to my head when he was upset with me,” she told Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy. 

“[I have] closure in that I know at least we have a couple of years of peace. I’m more focused on getting passed this next election, but at least we are all in the clear for a while.  It is also a statement. It says that Stewart is definitively not a good guy. Which is extremely powerful to me, after decades of people telling me what a good man is and how lucky I am,” Adams said Thursday.

Today, her children are happy and relieved, she said. 

“They were of course hoping for 25 years. But 18 is pretty solid. I think they’re mostly glad to just not have to think about him for a while,” Adams wrote. 

I also asked Adams what the big takeaway was for the day or what she thinks society can do to move away from extremism. 

“That is a very big question. I wish we could find a way to move away from the fear of change. I really believe that is what extremism is deeply rooted in. Extremists are a group of people whose self-worth is completely entangled with a way of life that society has grown up and left behind. We don’t need those old belief systems of race, and gender and control anymore. And yet they truly they believe they will cease to exist in any meaningful way without them. I don’t know if there is a way to solve it, beyond time and communication (whenever possible,)” she wrote. 

Judge Mehta also sentenced Rhodes’ 54-year-old co-defendant Kelly Meggs to 12 years in prison on Thursday. Meggs was found guilty of seditious conspiracy, too. (Rhodes was also convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents and proceedings. Meggs was also found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct a proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging their duties, and tampering with documents or proceedings.)

Meggs cried several times as he spoke in court, reeling at the pain he said he caused his family. Many of his family members, including his sister and son, attended the hearing. No one showed up for Rhodes. The moment Meggs’ sister, Crystal, approached the podium to provide character testimony, Meggs began to weep. His face turned red and his shoulders shook as he cried. A marshal handed him a box of tissues. 

“I truly apologize for being here,” Meggs said, choking through tears. “It has not only ruined my life but the life of my entire family.”

Meggs’ son, Zachary, asked Mehta to show mercy on his father. His father put him through college and employed him at a car dealership, he said. Without his father at home, he fears he won’t be able to keep the family’s house.

Meggs’ wife, Connie Meggs, was tried separately and found guilty in March for obstructing an official proceeding. Connie was one of several Oath Keepers who breached the Capitol in a stack formation on Jan. 6. 

Zachary is getting married soon and he told Judge Mehta he “would really like to have my father at the wedding.” 

Meggs’ lawyer, Stanley Woodward, also represents Connie Meggs and as such, didn’t find it prudent to read a letter she wrote in support of her husband in court. Meggs, as he cried, said his “deepest regret is the pain I’ve caused my wife.” 

“I have failed her. I have caused my wife more pain than she should ever deserve, incarceration and home confinement for two years all because of me,” he said. 

Meggs also lamented how he lost his life as he knew it, including things like cars and retirement accounts. 

“Everything has been taken away… I’ve been taken away from my family for 828 days. I want to apologize to everyone I’ve let down,” Meggs said amid tears.

Meggs also addressed Officer Dunn who was seated in the pews behind him. Though Mehta said neither the jury nor he ever found any evidence to support the claim by Oath Keepers at trial that they were “helping” Dunn on the 6th, Meggs nonetheless circled around that unsupported claim once more Thursday.

Then he apologized. 

“Officer Dunn, if my presence in any way affected you, I do apologize, sir,” Meggs said before a U.S. Marshal quickly approached him and told him to turn around and address the judge. Defendants are not allowed to turn to address people in the pews. 

During the trial, prosecutors showed jurors a patch Meggs wore on Jan. 6.  It read, “I don’t believe in anything, I’m just here for the violence.” 

Before he was sentenced, Meggs said yes, he did wear a patch that said “I’m just here for the violence.” 

“I wasn’t there to cause violence or instigate violence. I was there to keep the violence from happening to anyone. It’s what I had done so many times before and what I was doing that day,” Meggs said. 

Whether he forgot or omitted it for convenience, Meggs did not mention the front half of the slogan: “I don’t believe in anything.” 

Meggs admitted the language he used in numerous texts and Oath Keepers communications was vile, but he chalked it up to hyperbole. 

And as to his own public comments about the trial—which have included the assessment that it is “bullshit” and that the jury is biased—Meggs said only: “I don’t blame them for having bias. I would too if my town had been locked down for some violent event but I still think they were biased.” 

In truth, the jury was vetted for bias extensively by both prosecutors and the defense, and in the end, the final verdicts were a mixed bag of acquittals and convictions. 

Mehta addressed Meggs directly before sentencing him. 

There may have been dispute by the defense about whether Meggs was looking for Nancy Pelosi once inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, for example. But while on this day he called that language unfortunate and hyperbolic, nonetheless, “there was a lot of it,” Mehta said. 

Witnesses at trial described how Meggs went searching for Rhodes on Jan. 6 and turned to him for direction and leadership. Meggs also led efforts to coordinate and establish a huge arsenal of guns to be held at a hotel in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. This was what Oath Keepers dubbed a “quick reaction force” or QRF.

Mehta was at times incredulous with Meggs’ defense.

If Oath Keepers were there for security, why did they need the QRF? If the Oath Keeper talk was bombast and just bombast—well, Mehta said, he could understand a person believing that to be the case with one message.

But two? Or three? 

“I don’t know how anyone can stand here today and say this is just bombast. You were telling others on this ‘OK FL hangout chat,’ you were prepared to die and that’s what patriots did by the thousands,” Mehta said. 

And like he told Rhodes during his sentencing, it didn’t sound like Meggs was part of any security detail; the jury didn’t believe that and neither did he. Meggs didn’t even step foot in the area he claimed he was slated to be in to provide security, the judge added. And it didn’t help matters that Meggs had discussed bringing Proud Boys to D.C. to act as force multipliers on the 6th. 

The former chapter leader may disagree with the jury’s decision and that’s fair, Mehta acknowledged.

“But we have a process like this for a reason. In the mind of the 12 people in that jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, you committed conspiracy offenses in many ways that day,” Mehta said. 

The pain Meggs expressed in court was tangible and the judge said he felt it deeply.

“I have felt it deeply with every sentence I’ve made in connection to [Jan. 6] cases,” Mehta said. 

He added that he still finds it “astonishing how average Americans somehow transformed into criminals in the weeks before Jan. 6.”

“In contemplating violence to prevent the transfer of power: maybe you were just under the spell of Mr. Rhodes. I don’t know. Even today, I get it. I don’t really blame you for it. Unlike Rhodes, who I think poses a real threat, you’re not in the same category but you do continue to say things that are not consistent with reality,” he said.

This February, Meggs said in a media interview that police had invited people inside the Capitol and that he thought it was acceptable for him to walk through the door. Mehta also underlined the absurdity of Meggs’ claims that somehow if there was just more closed-circuit footage from the 6th made public, he would be absolved. 

That blurs the fact that there was access to every single hour of his conduct that day, Mehta said. 

In the end, Meggs still opposed the U.S. government by force.

“We have a process,” Mehta underlined. “It’s called an election. If your guy or gal loses, you hope for better results next time. You don’t take to the streets or join in for a war in the streets. You don’t rush into the U.S. Capitol with the hope of trying to stop the electoral count.”

On Friday, Rhodes’ and Meggs’ co-defendants Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson will be sentenced. Fellow co-defendant Thomas Caldwell’s sentencing date was originally set for this Wednesday but it was vacated on Monday as Judge Mehta awaits a ruling from the circuit in another Jan. 6 case that will provide a definition of the “corruptly” requirement in the obstruction of an official proceeding statute.

Stewart Rhodes: Yale Law Grad, Seditionist, Terrorist, and Ongoing Threat to Democracy

Judge Amit Mehta, one of the most measured judges in DC, just sentenced Stewart Rhodes to 18 years in prison.

In sentencing Rhodes, Judge Mehta observed,

I dare say Mr. Rhodes, and I have never said this to anyone I have sentenced: You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country, the Republic and the very fabric of democracy.

Brandi Buchman will have a much more detailed report much later today, after fellow seditionist Kelly Meggs also gets his sentence.

Until then, consider this an thread for talking about Yale Law Grads who take up terrorism.

Update: Kelly Meggs, the car salesman who set up cooperation between the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, 3 Percenters, and Roger Stone before the attack and led the main stack into the Capitol, was sentenced to 12 years.

I’m really grateful we’ll have more of Brandi’s evocative reports from the courthouse. If you’d like to support Brandi’s coverage, please consider donating

House January 6 Committee: Public Hearings – Day 7

This post and comment thread are dedicated to the House January 6 Committee hearings scheduled to begin Tuesday July 12, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. ET.

Please take all comments unrelated to the hearings to a different thread.

The hearings will stream on:

House J6 Committee’s website:

House J6 Committee’s YouTube page:

C-SPAN’s House J6 hearing page:

C-SPAN’s YouTube page:

Check PBS for your local affiliate’s stream: (see upper right corner)

PBS Newshour stream:

Twitter is expected to carry multiple live streams (NBC, PBS, Washington Post, Reuters, CSPAN, Bloomberg):

Broadcast and cable network coverage TBD, check your local broadcast affiliate or cable provider’s lineup.

Twitter accounts live tweeting the hearing:

Marcy’s Twitter thread:

Brandi Buchman-DailyKos:

Scott MacFarlane-CBS:

Laura Rozen:

If you know of any other credible source tweeting the coverage, please share a link in comments.

The witnesses scheduled for today’s hearing are:

Jason Van Tatenhove, former media director for the Oath Keepers

Stephen Ayres, defendant charged and convicted for disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds

There may be other witnesses; some may be present only as video clips. Today’s hearing is expected to focus on relationship between messaging by Donald Trump and the reaction of white nationalist groups Oath Keepers and Proud Boys who were key to breaching the Capitol Building on January 6.

~ ~ ~

Any updates will appear at the bottom of this post; please bear with any content burps as this page may be edited as the day progresses.

Again, this post is dedicated to the House January 6 Committee  and topics addressed in testimony and evidence produced during the hearing.

All other discussion should be in threads under the appropriate post with open discussion under the most recent Trash Talk.

To new readers and commenters: welcome to emptywheel. New commenters, please use a unique name to differentiate yourself; use the same username each time you comment.

Comment policy

Community guidelines

If you are leaving a comment, please be concise; 100 words is the optimum length.

If you are sharing active links your comment may be delayed by auto-moderation.

If contributors and moderators seem slow, it’s because they’re dealing with higher than usual volume of comments including trolling.

Caution: moderators will have much lower tolerance for trolling.

~ ~ ~

Long-time community member harpie isn’t available to participate in the thread here today, but she left two Twitter threads to read in preparation for today’s hearing.

First, from Capitol Hunters:

Second, from J.J. McNab:

House January 6 Committee: Public Hearings – Day 1 [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Any updates will be published at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

This post and comment thread are dedicated to the House January 6 Committee hearings scheduled to begin Thursday June 9, 2022, at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Please take all comments unrelated to the hearings to a different thread.

The hearings will stream on:

House J6 Committee’s website:

House J6 Committee’s YouTube page:

C-SPAN’s House J6 hearing page:

C-SPAN’s YouTube page:

Check PBS for your local affiliate’s stream: (see upper right corner)

Twitter is carrying multiple live streams (NBC, PBS, Washington Post, Reuters, CSPAN, Bloomberg):

MSNBC will carry coverage on their cable network with coverage beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET as well as on MSNBC’s Maddow Show podcast feed. Details at this link.

ABC, NBC, CBS will carry the hearings live on broadcast and CNN will carry on its cable network.

Fox News is not carrying this on their main network. Their weeknight programming including Tucker Carlson’s screed will continue as usual and will likely carry counterprogramming.

Twitter accounts live tweeting the hearing tonight:

Brandi Buchman-DailyKos:

Scott MacFarlane-CBS:

Chris Geidner-Grid News:

JustSecurity’s team live tweeting:

If you know of any other credible source tweeting the coverage, please share a link in comments.

Marcy will not be live tweeting as the hearing begins 2:00 a.m. IST/1:00 a.m. UTC/GMT. She’ll have a post Friday morning Eastern Time. Do make sure to read her hearing prep post, though.

An agenda for this evening’s hearing has not been published on the committee’s website.

~ ~ ~

Any updates will appear at the bottom of this post; please bear with any content burps as this page may be edited as the evening progresses.

Again, this post is dedicated to the House January 6 Committee  and topics addressed in testimony and evidence produced during the hearing.

All other discussion should be in threads under the appropriate post with open discussion under the most recent Trash Talk.

To new readers and commenters: welcome to emptywheel. New commenters, please use a unique name to differentiate yourself; use the same username each time you comment.

Comment policy

Community guidelines

If you are leaving a comment, please be concise; 100 words is the optimum length.

If you are sharing active links your comment may be delayed by auto-moderation.

If contributors and moderators seem slow, it’s because they’re dealing with higher than usual volume of comments including trolling.

Caution: moderators will have much lower tolerance for trolling.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 7:30 P.M. ET 10-JUN-2022 —

According to Scott MacFarlane-CBS there will be a total of six House J6 Committee hearings this month.

House J6 Committee hearing schedule (as of eve 6/10/2022):

Monday June 13 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
10:00 AM | 390 Canon HOB
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Wednesday June 15 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
10:00 AM | 390 Canon HOB
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Thursday June 16 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
1:00 PM | 390 Canon HOB
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Tuesday June 21 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
**10:00 AM ET | Date-Time-Place Subject to Confirmation**
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Thursday June 23 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
**8:00 PM ET | Date-Time-Place Subject to Confirmation**
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Date, time, and location of the next three hearings have been published on the U.S. House of Representatives’ calendar. The last two have not yet been confirmed and published.

An Inventory of the January 6 Investigation on Merrick Garland’s First Day

Overnight on the day that Merrick Garland got his first briefing on the January 6 investigation, DOJ asked for a 60-day extension of time in the Oath Keepers’s conspiracy case. As part of the motion, they cite what has been done on the investigation so far. That inventory includes:

  • Over 900 search warrants, executed in almost all fifty states and the District of Columbia
  • More than 15,000 hours of surveillance and body-worn camera footage from multiple law enforcement agencies
  • Approximately 1,600 electronic devices
  • The results of hundreds of searches of electronic communication providers
  • Over 210,000 tips, of which a substantial portion include video, photo and social media
  • Over 80,000 reports and 93,000 attachments related to law enforcement interviews of suspects and witnesses and other investigative steps
  • Involvement of 14 law enforcement agencies, including:
    • U.S. Capitol Police
    • DC Metropolitan Police Department
    • FBI
    • DHS
    • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
    • US Secret Service
    • US Park Police
    • Virginia State Police
    • Arlington County Police Department
    • Prince William County Police Department
    • Maryland State Police
    • Montgomery County Police Department
    • Prince George’s County Police Department

As the filing lays out, the government and the DC Public Defender’s office are trying to set up a system making available the general set of evidence to all defendants, while providing more specific evidence directly to the defendant. Some of that has started in this case.

The government has already provided defense counsel with preliminary discovery, including: arrest paperwork; recordings of custodial interviews, where available; paperwork and photographs relating to premises search warrants; data extracted from several of the defendants’ cellular telephones and social media accounts; some defendants’ hotel records; and some photographs and video recordings, from publicly available sources, of the defendants participating in the alleged offenses.

But most of the defendants in this case have already opposed a continuance, including Donovan Crowl, Kelly and Connie Meggs, Graydon Young, and Thomas Caldwell.

Not only must they be aware that others will get added to the conspiracy, broadening the scope of their potential criminal exposure under the conspiracy. But the government also clearly envisions the potential of more charges (possibly including seditious conspiracy).

Some of the conspiratorial activity being investigated, such as the activity under investigation in this matter, involves a large number of participants. The spectrum of crimes charged and under investigation in connection with the Capitol Attack includes (but is not limited to) trespass, engaging in disruptive or violent conduct in the Capitol or on Capitol grounds, destruction of government property, theft of government property, assaults on federal and local police officers, firearms offenses, civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, possession and use of destructive devices, and conspiracy. [my emphasis]

Given Amit Mehta’s inclinations in any case, he might grant the continuance but put several of the defendants on home detention. We’ll know more about his inclinations at a hearing at 3.

Josh Hawley Shocked and Alarmed to Discover the FBI Would Follow the Money behind Right Wing Terrorists

There wasn’t much useful oversight in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray today. Democrats got him to repeat, over and over, that there is no evidence that Antifa or people only pretending to be pro-Trump were behind the January 6 insurrection. But there was almost no mention of Trump as the unifying force behind the disparate groups there. Instead of talking about how the Former President’s lies riled up the insurrection, Ben Sasse focused on people in their mother’s basement and grandmother’s attic.

There was a lot of focus on how a January 5 FBI report predicting that Congress might be targeted got disseminated, but none on why the FBI didn’t know what the rest of us did much earlier than that: that these unhinged terrorists were coming to DC in large numbers. No one raised QAnon until Wray dodged Richard Blumenthal’s questions about whether members of Congress pushing QAnon conspiracies exacerbate the problem.

Lindsey Graham and John Kennedy tried to score points because someone didn’t activate the National Guard in time, all the while pretending not to understand that the single person in DC who had unquestioned authority to order the Guard to the Capitol, but did not, was the Commander in Chief at the time.

Things got really weird when Republicans expressed concern about surveillance.

Mike Lee — who actually is a champion of civil liberties — suggested the only reason why right wingers might have been interviewed by the FBI would be by geolocating those who attended the rallies, even if they didn’t enter the Capitol. Then he bizarrely asked if the legal process behind such surveillance was FISA, which targets foreign threats, or National Security Letters.

Crazier still was Josh Hawley’s follow-up to Mike Lee’s questions.

Hawley, who’s not a champion of civil liberties and normally likes to beat up social media companies, asked a series of questions that seemed utterly ignorant — shocked really — how over the course of arresting almost 300 people, the FBI would show probable cause to obtain geolocation data, metadata, financial data, and social media data.

Hawley: Can I just go back to a series of questions that Senator Lee asked you? He asked you about the geolocation and metadata aspect gathering related to, gathering of metadata, that is, related to your investigation of the January 6 riot. You said you weren’t familiar with the specifics. Can I just clarify your responses to him. So when you say you’re not familiar, are you saying you don’t know whether the Bureau has scooped up geolocation data, metadata, records from cell phone towers. Do you not know. Or are you saying that the Bureau maybe has or hasn’t done it. Just tell me what you know about this?

Wray: So when it comes to geolocation data specifically — again, not in a specific instance, but even the use of geolocation data — I would not be surprised to learn but I do not know for a fact that we were using geolocation data under any situation in connection with the investigation of January 6. But again, we do use geolocation data under specific authorities in specific instances. Because this is such a sprawling, that would not surprise me. When it comes to metadata, which is a little bit different, obviously than geolocation data, I feel confident that we are using various legal authorities to look at metadata under a variety of situations. But, again, the specifics of when, under what circumstances, with whom, that kind of thing, I’m not in a position to testify about with the sprawl and size of the investigation. And certainly not uh in a, you know, Congressional hearing.

Hawley: What authorities do you have in mind? You say that you’re using the relevant authorities, what authorities are they?

Wray: Well, we have various forms of legal process we can serve on companies that will allow us to get acc–

Hawley: And that’s been done?

Wray: We’re using a lot of legal process in connection with the investigation, so, yes.

Hawley: But, specifically, serving, serving process on companies, using, invoking your various legal powers to get that data from companies, that’s been, that’s been done, of gathering this data?

Wray: In gathering metadata? I, I,

Hawley: Yeah.

Wray: Again, I don’t know the specifics, but I feel confident that that has happened because metadata is often something that we look at. And we have a variety of legal tools that allow us to do that under certain circumstances.

Hawley: What about the cell tower data that, uh, was reportedly scooped up by the Bureau on the day, during, in fact, while the riot was underway. What’s happened to, what’s happened to that data? Do you still have it. Has it been retained? Uh, do you have plans to retain it?

Wray: Again: whatever we’re doing with cell phone data, I’m confident we’re doing it in conjunction with our appropriate legal tools–

Hawley: Well, how — here’s what I’m trying to get at, I think it’s what Senator Lee was trying to get at. How are we going to know what you are doing with it, and how are we going to evaluate the Bureau’s conduct if we don’t know what authorities you’re invoking, what precisely you’re doing, what you’re retaining. I mean, this is, you said to him repeatedly you weren’t familiar with the specifics, you’ve now said it to me. I don’t know, I’m not sure how this committee is supposed to evaluate anything that the Bureau is doing — you’re basically saying just “trust us.” I mean, how are we gonna know? Do we have to wait until the end of your investigation to find out what you’ve done?

Wray: Well, certainly I have to be careful about discussing an ongoing investigation, which I’m sure you can appreciate. Uh, but, uh, all the tools that we have done in conjunction with prosecutors and lawyers from the Justice Department. Now, if there’s information we can provide you, before an investigation’s completed that goes through what some of the authorities we have, the tools we have, etcetera we could probably provide some information like that that might be useful to you to help answer the question.

Hawley: That would be helpful. Thank you. I’ll hold you to that. Let me ask you about some other things that have been reported, um in the press, particularly there have been a series of reports that the Bureau has worked with banks in the course of the investigation into the January 6 riot, both before and after, and that some banks, particularly Bank of America, may have handed over data for 200 plus clients who may have used their credit or debit cards to make purchases in the DC area. What do you know about this? Has Bank of America voluntarily turned over information to the Bureau about its customers?

Wray: I don’t know of any of the specifics so I’d have to look into that.

Hawley: And so has the FBI requested similar information from any other companies to your knowledge?

Wray: Again, sitting here right now, I do not know the answer to that question. I do know that we work with private sector partners, including financial institutions in a variety of ways, all the time, in a variety of investigations. But exactly the specifics of what may or may not have happened here? That I don’t know sitting here as we’re talking today.

Hawley: As I’m sure you can appreciate, my concern here is that 12 USC 3403 prohibits financial institutions from turning over confidential client records, unless of course they’ve got reasonable suspicion that there’s a crime being committed. Now the news reports on this have reported that financial institutions were doing this in cooperation with the Bureau without any such indication of a crime, they’re just turning over reams of consumer data. That obviously would be a major legal problem. A major legal concern. Can you try and get me some answers to these questions? I appreciate you say you don’t know today, you’re not aware of what’s going on, but can you look into this and follow-up with me on this?

[Wray acknowledges that the FBI has many authorities]

Hawley: What about the, some of the technology companies, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, Amazon. Has the the FBI had contact with those tech platforms following the events of the Sixth?

Wray: We’ve certainly had contact with a number of the social media companies in connection with the Sixth. So that much I know.

Hawley: Has the Bureau sought to compel any of those companies to turn over user data related to the Sixth?

Wray: Well, again, I can’t tell you the specifics here, but what I will tell you is that we, I feel certain that we have served legal process on those companies which we do with some frequency and we have received information from some of those companies. And whether that’s true from every single one of the companies you listed I can’t say for sure but I suspect it is, because we work with the Social Media companies quite a lot.

Hawley: Are you aware of any of the companies voluntarily turning over data to the Bureau in relationship to the events of the Sixth?

Wray: Sitting here right now, I can’t say for sure.

I knew when I read The Intercept piece making thinly sourced allegations that this would happen, that right wingers trying to protect right wing terrorists and possibly even themselves would profess shock that the FBI used very basic investigative techniques to investigate an attack on the Capitol (Hawley seems to be relying, as well, on Fox News reports, including Tucker Carlson).

But I find it shocking that the former Attorney General of Missouri, with an office full of staffers, can’t review the arrest documents for the 270 people publicly arrested so far to answer these questions. Had he done so, he would have seen that affidavit after affidavit talks about obtaining warrants, including (for non-public data) from Facebook. And the single reference to Bank of America I can think of — describing Kelly Meggs paying for rooms in VA and DC in conjunction with the attack — makes it clear that the FBI used some kind of legal process.

Records obtained from the Comfort Inn in Arlington, Virginia, show that a credit card belonging to Kelly Meggs was used to pay for a room at the hotel on the nights of January 5 and 6, 2021.21 The room, with two queen beds, was booked in the name of a different person suspected of being affiliated with the Oath Keepers.

21 Pursuant to legal process, the government obtained records from Bank of America, which show two charges to the Comfort Inn on January 5, 2021, each for $224. The records also show that on January 7, 2021, Kelly Meggs paid a charge of $302 to the Hilton Garden Inn, located at 1225 First Street NE, Washington, D.C.

A grand jury has already found that these credit card charges — the coordinated spending of people who forced their way into the Capitol wearing tactical gear after providing “security” for right wing figureheads — was evidence of a conspiracy, “to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.”

And the Senator from Missouri who shared that goal seems awfully concerned that the FBI is using very routine legal process to investigate the larger conspiracy.

Jessica Watkins Defends Herself by Claiming the Armed Militia Parade Was Part of the Plan

In a bid to spring her client from jail pre-trial, Jessica Watkins’ attorney Michelle Peterson accuses the government, twice, of wielding rhetorical flourishes to portray Watkins’ actions in the worst light.

The government’s rhetorical flourishes aside, there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Ms. Watkins would be either a risk of flight or a danger to her community if she were released on stringent conditions.


The government’s motion for detention is filled with rhetorical flourishes design to inflame the passions of its readers without supporting evidence, e.g., “Watkins single-minded devotion to obstruct though violence” p.1, “this was a moment to relish in the swirling violence in the air” p. 2, and references throughout to her attire as “camouflage.”

It’s true that the government motion for detention portrays Watkins’ actions as a grave threat.

The profoundly brazen nature of Watkins’s participation in the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol was uniquely dangerous and continues to impact security in the District and beyond. Watkins joined a violent mob that overwhelmed law enforcement and destroyed government property, re-creating in modern times events not seen in this nation since the War of 1812. In this backdrop, Watkins and her co-conspirators formed a subset of the most extreme insurgents that plotted then tried to execute a sophisticated plan to forcibly stop the results of a Presidential Election from taking effect. And she did this in coordination and in concert with a virulently antigovernment militia members.

But Peterson accuses the government of rhetorical excess while excusing Watkins’ own actions and inflamed self-description of them by suggesting that Watkins was simply helpless in the face of Trump’s lies.

His supporters said he would invoke the Insurrection Act to use the military to ensure his continued presidency despite the election results, which they viewed as fraudulently reported in large measure because of the rhetoric of the President, his congressional supporters, and the right-wing media.


However, these statements if made, were made in November, shortly after the election in the wake of the then President’s heated rhetoric about the election being stolen.


While some of the rhetoric she allegedly engaged in is troubling, she fell prey to the false and inflammatory claims of the former president, his supporters, and the right wing media.

Unless and until Trump’s own crimes get added to these conspiracy indictments, these detention memos will continue to dispute what to call the terrorist event that happened on January 6. Until that time, the government will be relying on legal maneuvers, like charging the Oath Keepers with abetting the physical damage to the Capitol — because the doors through which they breached the building suffered significant damage — as a way to get the presumption of detention tied to a domestic terrorism charge. And defense attorneys will continue to argue that entering the Capitol in military formation after two months of preparation for action in response to the election outcome does not amount to a crime of violence.

I don’t believe we need a domestic terror statute. But we need language to describe domestic terrorism. Because we don’t have agreed on language for this thing, an event that forced the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, and the Vice President-Elect to flee from threats of imminent assassination, these disputes will continue to struggle to fit these actions into our existing categories.

Still, even in Peterson’s description of the problem, there are problems with this story. Watkins’ brief admits that she engaged in apocalyptic rhetoric, but suggests that all happened in November, long before and dissociated from the apocalyptic event.

The government includes statements Ms. Watkins is alleged to have made about the election and the need to fight, kill, or die for rights and statements about being prepared to fight hand to hand. However, these statements if made, were made in November, shortly after the election in the wake of the then President’s heated rhetoric about the election being stolen. They are not even alleged to have been made about the January 6 events. The statements were not directed towards law enforcement and are as easily interpreted as being prepared to encounter violent counterprotesters as they had on earlier occasions. And importantly, according to the government, Ms. Watkins made it clear that she would do nothing that was not specifically requested by the President. However misguided, this shows an intent to abide by the law, not violate it. [my emphasis]

Peterson describes the events of January 6, by contrast, as the natural response of veterans anticipating that the then-President might invoke the Insurrection Act, as his disgraced former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and others demanded.

His supporters said he would invoke the Insurrection Act to use the military to ensure his continued presidency despite the election results, which they viewed as fraudulently reported in large measure because of the rhetoric of the President, his congressional supporters, and the right-wing media. The report of the potential invocation of the Insurrection Act took root in the online community of Trump supporters and led many local militias to believe they would have a role if this were to happen. Ms. Watkins was one of those people. In November, she believed that the President of the United States was calling upon her and her small militia group to support the President and the Constitution and she was ready to serve her Country in that manner. However misguided, her intentions were not in any way related to an intention to overthrow the government, but to support what she believed to be the lawful government.

The problem is, these claims are totally refuted by the timeline.

Flynn was probably the earliest prominent advocate for martial law. That was on December 1, after the November comments in question. Watkins, meanwhile, was looking for a sign even before that, on November 9.

Her concern about taking action without his backing was evident in a November 9, 2020, text in which she stated, “I am concerned this is an elaborate trap. Unless the POTUS himself activates us, it’s not legit. The POTUS has the right to activate units too. If Trump asks me to come, I will. Otherwise, I can’t trust it.”

That’s before the earliest Trump incitement cited by the defense, a November 21 rally in GA.

See id., Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter (Nov. 21, 2020 3:34 PM) (Watch: Hundreds of Activists Gather for ‘Stop the Steal‘ Rally in Georgia via Breitbart News Big Rallies all over the Country.

The earliest moment when Watkins spoke specifically in terms of the Insurrection Act was December 29, long after some of her most inflammatory comments.

In a text exchange with Co-defendant Donovan Crowl on December 29, 2020, she informed, “[w]e plan on going to DC on the 6th” because “Trump wants all able bodied Patriots to come,” and how, “[i]f Trump activates the Insurrection Act, I’d hate to miss it.”

Yet as early as October 26, Watkins was already timing militia training to inauguration.

Watkins emphasized this point to another recruit on October 26, 2020, noting, “the election is imminent. We do have Basic Training/FRX coming up in January though … others who join before then without experience will be REQUIRED to attend for the full week. Donovan already has his Drill Sergeant mode going haha. The rest of us will be training with them to get us all field-ready before inauguration.”

That shows a continuity between Watkins’ pre-election statements and post election plans.

On November 9,2020, WATKINS, the self-described “C.O. [Commanding Officerl of the Ohio State Regular Militia,” sent text messages to a number of individuals who had expressed interest in joining the Ohio State Regular Militia. In these messages, WATKINS mentioned, among other things, that the militia had a weekJong “Basic Training class coming up in the beginning of January,” and WATKINS told one recruit, “l need you fighting fit by innaugeration.”

And some of her most inflammatory language came in mid-November, such as when, on November 17, she spoke of killing and dying for “our” rights.

I can’t predict. I don’t underestimate the resolve of the Deep State. Biden may still yet be our President. If he is, our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.


[I]f Biden get the steal, none of us have a chance in my mind. We already have our neck in the noose. They just haven’t kicked the chair yet.

Or, her comments on November 19 about going “underground if this coup works.”

Indeed, on November 19, 2021, Watkins went so far as to text a contact that, “If anything, we need to go underground if this coup works,” as well as for the need “to be cautious as hell going forward” since “[i]f they still this election, we are all targets after Jan 20th.”

Again, this precedes the first instance of incitement from Trump cited by Watkins’ attorney, on November 21.

Moreover, Peterson’s claim that when Watkins spoke of the beauty of the insurrection to a reporter, she was just referring to the National Anthem, is totally refuted by the actual record.

Their evidence is that 40 minutes after the Capitol had been breached, she went to the Capitol and entered the building. By that time, the door had already been opened. The government acknowledges that “the crowd aggressively and repeatedly pulled on and assaulted” the doors of the building to get inside, causing damage. Ms. Watkins is charged with aiding and abetting this offense, but there is no evidence that this was something she had a criminal intent to do. She would have to have shared in the intent to destroy property, when in fact, she attempted to stop people from destroying property. She talked of the beauty of the peaceful protest, but acknowledged that it was only beautiful until she started hearing glass break. When she spoke of the beauty, she was referring not to the violence, but to the chants of USA and the singing of the National Anthem.

In the actual interview, Watkins specifically spoke of “standing our ground” against the cops because “they attacked us.”

“To me, it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw until we started hearing glass smash. That’s when we knew things had gotten really bad.” Watkins also states, “We never smashed anything, stole anything, burned anything, and truthfully we were very respectful with Capitol Hill PD until they attacked us. Then we stood our ground and drew the line.”

Her claim that “they attacked us,” may reflect her co-conspirator Thomas Caldwell’s false claim that the cops were “teargassing peaceful protestors.”

On January 6,2021, at approximately 2:06 p.m., CALDWELL sent WATKINS a text message stating: “Where are you? Pence has punked out. We are screwed. Teargassing peaceful protesters at capital steps. Getting rowdy here… I am here at the dry fountain to the left ofthe Capitol[.]”

That is, it’s not just Donald Trump who riled her up. So did her buddies in the militia (as she riled up fellow members).

Moreover, Watkins’ lawyer makes much of the fact that Watkins’ formation did not enter the Capitol until 40 minutes after it was breached. But that was long after she operated on a belief that the cops had targeted “protestors,” and it reflected actions planned a week in advance.

Perhaps the most intriguing comments in Watkins’ filing — and the most unintentionally damning — are the description of Watkins serving as “escort” or “security” for pro-Trump politicians.

Ms. Watkins has no prior history of violence and has tremendous respect for law enforcement and the Constitution of the United States. Indeed, although misguided, she believed she was supporting the Constitution and her government by providing security services at the rally organized by Mr. Trump and the republican lawmakers who supported his goals.


On January 5 and 6, Ms. Watkins was present not as an insurrectionist, but to provide security to the speakers at the rally, to provide escort for the legislators and others to march to the Capitol as directed by the then President, and to safely escort protestors away from the Capitol to their vehicles and cars at the conclusion of the protest. She was given a VIP pass to the rally. She met with Secret Service agents. She was within 50 feet of the stage during the rally to provide security for the speakers. At the time the Capitol was breached, she was still at the sight of the initial rally where she had provided security. The government concedes that her arrival at the Capitol was a full 40 minutes after the Capitol had been breached. [my emphasis]

I believe this is the first description of the Oath Keepers’ role as “security” as these events in any of the legal filings in the case. But it doesn’t seem to help any of the co-conspirators.

Jessica Watkins was invited to an extremist revival event and given a VIP badge. She did so in the guise of providing security. But she admits she was almost 50 feet away from the stage, in no way the right location to be providing security (moreover, I think this claim is somewhat inconsistent with that the reported analyses shows, because members that would become the Stack left early, perhaps in response to Caldwell’s text).

Her brief further describes that she and her kitted-out militia were to provide “escort” to marchers to the Capitol, and she appears to know the intent was to march to the Capitol. One way or another, that still means her stated purpose — the reason she was wearing a VIP pass provided by official organizers (including Ali Alexander and Alex Jones) — was to ensure that those marching on the Capitol were accompanied by a militia that had plans to take up arms if things went badly.

I’m really grateful to Watkins’ attorney for providing the FBI reason to go ask the Secret Service and event organizers about this plan for an armed escort to the Capitol. This may accelerate the process of incorporating at least Roger Stone and Jones into these conspiracy indictments.

But it simply doesn’t help the cause of claiming that the Oath Keepers weren’t part of an organized conspiracy to interrupt the legal vote count. Does that mean that Jessica Watkins should be detained because people incited by the Proud Boys demolished the Capitol door? No. Does it mean she poses a threat because the organization she help[ed] lead started planning even before the election to have people trained to take action? Yes.

In November, Watkins wanted to make sure that Trump himself wanted her militia to take action. Her lawyer claims that Watkins was awaiting the invocation of the Insurrection Act. But even without that invocation, according to this filing, she envisioned serving as the military guard for a march of people from the White House to the Capitol seeking to overturn the election results.

And thanks to this defense filing, prosecutors can start talking about this earlier part of the conspiracy now.

Update: Peterson has submitted a clarification that has made the comments about the Secret Service even more damning. She didn’t meet the Secret Service. She spoke with them as she was coming through security for the VIP pen, from which she fancies she was “providing security.” And they told her to leave her tactical gear outside the pen.

Jessica Watkins, through counsel, respectfully submits this clarification to her motion for release pending the outcome of her case. Counsel apologizes for being less than clear on a couple of points raised in the original motion – something that unfortunately became obvious by media inquiries. Counsel in no way meant to imply that Ms. Watkins met with the Secret Service. A better verb would have been “encountered.” Ms. Watkins spoke with Secret Service members early in the day when she was coming through the check in point for the VIP area. The point counsel was attempting to make was that she encountered law enforcement, including Secret Service officer on her way to providing security for the rally. She was given directives about things she could and could not do, including directions to leave all tactical gear outside of the VIP area, and she abided by all of those directives. Ms. Watkins does not suggest that she has any direct knowledge that her role as security was sanctioned by anyone other than people involved in organizing the rally. She certainly did not mean to suggest that she was hired by the U.S. Secret Service to perform security. Counsel again apologizes for any confusion created by the inartful language used in the motion.

Effectively, then, hours before she entered the Capitol, which was full of protected people, including the Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore, Vice President-Elect, and the Vice President that Donald Trump had just targeted, Watkins was told not to bring her tactical gear close to another set of protected people. And once she left the VIP pen where she was “providing security,” she put that tactical gear back on.

That only serves to emphasize the degree to which she was targeting Congress.