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Four oath-holders, including two from Florida, convicted of seditious conspiracy Jan. 6 – NBC 6 South Florida

Four members of the Oath Keepers were convicted on Monday of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol in the second major trial of far-right extremists accused of plotting to use force to keep President Donald Trump in power.

The verdict against Joseph Hackett of Sarasota, Florida; Roberto Minuta of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel of Punta Gorda, Florida; and Phoenix’s Edward Vallejo comes weeks later after another jury convicted the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, of the mob attack that stopped confirmation of President Joe Biden’s election victory.

It’s another major victory for the Justice Department, which is also seeking sedition convictions against the former Proud Boys leader and four associates. The trial of Enrique Tarrio and his lieutenants opened in Washington earlier this month and is expected to last several weeks.

The Washington jury deliberated for about 12 hours for three days before returning their guilty verdict on the rarely used charge, which carries up to 20 years in prison. The four were also convicted on two other charges of conspiracy and obstruction of an official process: Congressional confirmation of the 2020 election. Minuta, Hackett and Moerschel were cleared of minor charges.

The judge did not immediately set a date for the sentencing. The judge denied the prosecution’s request that the men be locked up while they await sentencing because they did not pose a risk of escape. They were ordered to remain under house arrest with electronic surveillance.

It was one of the most serious cases brought up so far in the January 6 full-scale investigation, which continues to mount two years after the riot. The Justice Department has charged nearly 1,000 people with the riot, and the number is rising by the week.

Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters after the verdict that he was “grateful to the prosecutors, agents and staff for a job well done.”

Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, and Kelly Meggs, head of the Florida chapter, were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the previous trial, which ended in November. They were the first people in decades to be found guilty in court on Civil War-era charges. Three other Oath Keepers were acquitted of the charge but found guilty of other serious crimes. They are all awaiting sentencing.

Lawyers for Moerschel and Minuta indicated after the verdict that their clients were hurt by not being able to stand alongside Rhodes in court because the judge split the case into two groups. Moerchel’s attorney, Scott Weinberg, said he could have pointed to Rhodes as the “real villain.”

“I think it would be easier to be a low-level person in the same instance as Stewart Rhodes, who’s basically the poster child of this organization,” Weinberg said.

William Shipley Jr., Minuta’s attorney, said he was disappointed and “a little confused” by the verdict. He said the government witnesses had not stood up to scrutiny and that there were gaps in the evidence presented.

“We didn’t really think the government really had a good day in the 15 days of negotiations,” Shipley said.

Vallejo left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Joseph Hackett’s attorney, Angela Halim, declined to comment after the verdict.

Prosecutors told jurors that shortly after the 2020 election, Rhodes and his gang of extremists began preparing an armed rebellion to keep Trump in power. News shows Rhodes and the Oath Keepers discussing the prospect of a “bloody” civil war and the need to keep Biden out of the White House.

“Our democracy was under attack, but for the defendants, it was all they had trained for and a moment to celebrate,” prosecutor Louis Manzo told the jury in his closing argument.

Prosecutors claimed the Oath Keepers had amassed guns and stashed them in a Virginia hotel for so-called “Quick Reaction Force” teams, who could quickly bring guns to Washington to aid their conspiracy if needed. The guns were never used.

Attempting to downplay violent messages as mere bluster, defenders say the Oath Keepers came to Washington to provide security at pre-riot events. Taking advantage of prosecutors’ lack of evidence that the Oath Keepers had an explicit plan to storm the Capitol before Jan. 6, they told the jury that the extremists who attacked the Capitol acted spontaneously like thousands of other rioters .

Prosecutors argued that while there is no evidence of a plan to attack the Capitol, the Oath Keepers viewed the uprising as a means to an end and took action on an apparent opportunity to keep Trump in power.

According to prosecutors, Hackett, Moerschel and other Oath Keepers approached the Capitol in a military stacked formation before entering the building. Minuta and his group from a second batch of Oath Keepers clashed with police after responding to Rhodes’ call to run to the Capitol, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said Vallejo, a US Army veteran and Rhodes ally, drove from Arizona to prepare with the “QRF” — the rapid reaction force — at the hotel outside of Washington. The jury heard an audio recording of Vallejo speaking about a “declaration of a guerrilla war” on the morning of January 6.

Three other Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in hopes of a lighter sentence. They are among about 500 people who have pleaded guilty in connection with rioting.

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Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporters Lindsay Whitehurst and Andrew Harnik contributed from Washington.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Capitol riot at: https://apnews.com/hub/capitol-siege

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