Guilty Verdicts In Jan 6 Trial & Respect For Marriage Act Passes With Bipartisan Support

Heather Cox Richardson

Today, after an eight-week trial and three days of deliberations, a jury of five women and seven men found Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 57, the founder and leader of the right-wing Oath Keepers gang, and Kelly Meggs, 53, who led the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, guilty of seditious conspiracy and other charges related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. It found Rhodes guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents and proceedings, and found Meggs guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties, and tampering with documents or proceedings.

The jury also found three additional defendants from the organization—Kenneth Harrelson, 42; Jessica Watkins, 40; and Thomas Caldwell, 68—guilty of related felony charges.

The Department of Justice proved that after President Joe Biden won the November 3, 2020, election, Rhodes, Meggs, and others began plotting to use force to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power. 

Beginning in late December 2020, they planned to travel to Washington, D.C., on or around January 6, 2021, to stop Congress from certifying the electoral college vote that would officially elect Biden. They recruited others, organized combat training sessions, and smuggled paramilitary gear to the area around the Capitol. They planned to take control of the Capitol grounds and buildings on January 6. 

According to the Department of Justice, on that day, “Meggs, Harrelson, and Watkins, along with other Oath Keepers and affiliates—many wearing paramilitary clothing and patches with the Oath Keepers name, logo, and insignia—marched in a ‘stack’ formation up the east steps of the Capitol, joined a mob, and made their way into the Capitol. Rhodes and Caldwell remained outside the Capitol, where they coordinated activities” and stayed in touch with quick reaction force teams outside the city, which were ready to bring in firearms to stop the transfer of power. 

That a jury has now found two people guilty of seditious conspiracy establishes that a conspiracy existed. Former federal prosecutor Randall D. Eliason, who teaches law at George Washington University, told reporters Spencer S. Hsu, Tom Jackman, and Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post: “Now the only remaining question is how much higher did those plans go, and who else might be held criminally responsible.” While federal prosecutors sought only to tie Rhodes to the other Oath Keepers, both sides agreed that Rhodes communicated with Trump allies Roger Stone, Ali Alexander, and Michael Flynn after the election. 

There are two more seditious conspiracy trials scheduled for December. One is for five other Oath Keepers; the other is against the leaders of the far-right gang the Proud Boys, led by Henry ‘Enrique’ Tarrio. 

Yesterday, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election are not covered by presidential immunity as his lawyers argued. The judge noted that he was acting not as a president in defense of the Constitution, but rather in a different role as a candidate when he tried to overturn the election. Sullivan said: “Persuasive authority in this district specifically recognizes that there is no immunity defense for Former President Trump for ‘unofficial acts’ which ‘entirely concern his efforts to remain in office for a second term.’”

The South Carolina Supreme Court today unanimously ordered Mark Meadows, who was Trump’s last White House chief of staff, to testify before the Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Meadows was on the phone call Trump made to Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger on January 2 to demand he “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” making his testimony key to the investigation. Meadows lives in South Carolina, where he tried to argue that he could not testify because of executive privilege. Lower South Carolina courts disagreed, and now the state’s supreme Court has said that Meadows’s arguments are “manifestly without merit.” 

In Washington, Trump advisor Stephen Miller testified today before the grand jury investigating the events of January 6, 2021. The Justice Department subpoenaed Miller in September. He also testified before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Also in Washington today, the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which provides federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages for the purposes of federal benefits like Social Security, and requires states to recognize such marriages, although it does not require them to perform such marriages. The law is an attempt to get out in front of the Supreme Court, whose right-wing members have suggested they would invalidate marriage equality after ending protections for reproductive rights. Thirty-six Republicans voted against the bill, with 12 Republicans joining the Democrats to pass it. 

The Senate bill amends one passed in July by the House, which will now have to agree to the changed measure and is expected to do so. House speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a vote for next week.

Today Pelosi also announced that Congress will take up the legislation Biden asked for yesterday: a law to put in place the deal between the railroad corporations and the railway unions. Four of 12 unions have rejected the deal because of its lack of paid sick days. In a letter to her colleagues, Pelosi expressed reluctance to bypass standard ratification procedures but said, “we must act to prevent a catastrophic strike that would touch the lives of nearly every family: erasing hundreds of thousands of jobs, including union jobs; keeping food and medicine off the shelves; and stopping small businesses from getting their goods to market.”

She promised to bring the measure up for a vote tomorrow. 

But, in typical Pelosi fashion, she has found a way to demonstrate to union members and to lawmakers like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who are angry at Biden’s determination to avoid a strike, that those standing in the way of paid leave for the unions are not the Democrats. After the vote on the agreement, she will hold a “separate, up-or-down vote to add seven days of paid sick leave for railroaders to the Tentative Agreement.” Such a measure is likely to pass the House and die under a Republican filibuster in the Senate. 

While the jury was handing down its verdict in the case of Stewart Rhodes, who said on tape that he would “hang f*ckin’ Pelosi from the lamppost,” Speaker Pelosi was lighting the Capitol Christmas tree with fourth-grader Catcuce Micco Tiger, who is a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and has ancestry from the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. 

Tiger won the role of youth tree lighter with an essay sharing the Cherokee origin story for evergreen trees. “After creating all plants and animals,” Pelosi explained, “our Creator asked them to fast, pray, and stay awake for seven nights. But at the end, only a few were awake. The trees that stayed awake were rewarded with the ability to keep their leaves yearlong and with special healing powers. It is a story of faith and gratitude—of hope enduring through the dark night.”

“And,” Pelosi added, “it is hope that we celebrate each holiday season—that through the cold and dark winter, spring will someday come.”  

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who defended the Capitol against the Oath Keepers on January 6, heard the jury’s verdict, then watched the tree lighting.

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