DENVER (KDVR/AP) — The founder of the Oath Keepers, an alt-right extremist group, has been convicted of seditious conspiracy relating to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Stewart Rhodes’ guilty verdict was handed down late Tuesday afternoon.
After a nearly two-month-long trial and three days of deliberation, the conviction is considered a major victory for the U.S. Justice Department as it tried to prove the far-right group was inciting violence to keep defeated President Donald Trump in office.
The Justice Department is seeking accountability after hundreds swarmed the Capitol and ambushed some lawmakers inside. Prosecutors argued that Rhodes planned an armed rebellion to stop the transfer of presidential power. Meanwhile, defense attorneys claimed Oath Keepers went to Washington to offer security services.
Rhodes testified in Washington and said he had no idea about the attack, and it was not planned.
Former Oath Keepers spokesperson responds
Jason Van Tatenhove, a journalist and former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers, lives in Colorado and tells FOX31 he has “washed his hands clean” of the group after their increased radical positions and conspiracy theories.
Van Tatenhove said years ago, he handled media for the group and worked directly with Rhodes.
“I think Stewart Rhodes is largely a ship without a moral anchor. I don’t necessarily think he’s a racist person,” Van Tatenhove said. “I think that he found an audience amongst the hard right that was broader than the one he had when the group was more centrist.”
The Colorado man agreed to testify in Washington and calls the guilty verdict against Rhodes necessary.
“It was a sense of relief, really. At least there was some sense of accountability that’s being held at this point. The message is, there’s going to be legal repercussions if you take these kinds of violent actions,” Van Tatenhove said. “I think it’s a bittersweet moment in that we needed to see some real accountability held, but at the same time we don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Van Tatenhove said he is concerned about the direction of the alt-right communities after a founder is convicted, leaving him to question: What happens next? He added that it’s all about reflecting on how we got to this place and bridging the “rural and urban” divide.
The former spokesperson wrote a book about his experiences, titled “The Perils of Extremism: How I left the Oath Keepers and Why We Should Be Concerned about a Future Civil War,” which is set to be released in February.
First seditious conspiracy conviction in decades
Rhodes’ conviction is the first time in nearly three decades that someone has been found guilty at trial of seditious conspiracy, which is a rarely used Civil War-era charge that’s difficult to prove. The charge means someone is conspiring by force against the U.S. government.
The charge carries up to 20 years in prison. Rhodes was acquitted of two other conspiracy charges on Tuesday.
“We offered compelling evidence and testimony in this case regarding Mr. Rhodes, specifically. It goes without question we’re disappointed, after 25 total counts, there were 11 ‘guilty’ verdicts,” attorney Phillip Linder said.
Rhodes plans to appeal the conviction.