A jury on Monday convicted four members of the extremist group Oath Keepers of seditious conspiracy.
The jury began deliberations Thursday morning after a five-week trial.
Prosecutors said the four defendants — Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel and Edward Vallejo — used a “perverted version of American history” to justify their actions on January 6, 2021.
“Attacking the Capitol was a means to an end,” Assistant US Attorney Louis Manzo told the jury during closing arguments Wednesday. He said the group seized on the riot and used the opportunity to fulfill its goal of preventing Congress from counting electoral votes and confirming Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
“January 6 was just a battle. The whole conspiracy was to stop the transfer of power,” Manzo said.
Prosecutors said Vallejo was organized at a Virginia hotel with a reserve of rifles, which they called a “Rapid Reaction Force,” while Hackett, Moerschel and Minuta led groups to breach the Capitol building.
The trial, which began on December 12, included testimony from Brian Ulrich, a member of the Georgia chapter of Oath Keepers who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and obstruction of official proceeding. Ulrich testified that he participated in the storming of the Capitol because he wanted to stop the Electoral College vote count.
“There is no other reason to go into that building at that time,” Ulrich said.
Manzo also pointed out to the jury snippets of a selfie-style video of Minuta, filmed in what appears to be his car. In the video, an angry Minute yells about the fake ballots, complains that Congress hasn’t done enough about the problem, and says that children would become “slaves” if people don’t act.
“Millions will die,” Minuta said in another clip from the same video. “So what. So what…. I’m not scared and I’m ready to go.”
The four defendants were charged as part of the same seditious conspiracy case involving Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, which went on trial in October. The case was split into two trials due to the number of defendants.
Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, the leader of the group’s Florida chapter, were convicted of seditious conspiracy in November. Three additional defendants from the first trial, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, and Thomas Caldwell, were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other felonies, including obstruction of a federal proceeding. All five are awaiting sentencing.
The maximum sentence for seditious conspiracy, a rarely used Civil War-era statute, is 20 years in federal prison.
Lawyers for the defendants in the second trial said their clients had been overcharged and did not conspire to overthrow the government.
Defense attorney Angela Halim argued that Hackett, who said he had no military or law enforcement experience, was included in a “narrative” crafted by prosecutors about the Oath Keepers.
“There was no plan to attack the Capitol, there was no plan to disrupt the Electoral College proceedings,” he said of Hackett, who was seen on CCTV footage inside the Capitol on January 6.
Scott Weinberg, Moerschel’s attorney, took a similar tack. “This is not a highly organized group,” he said.
“These guys had Twitter fingers, not trigger fingers,” Weinberg said, referring to hip hop artist Drake’s lyrics.
Vallejo, an Arizona resident, veteran and former Oath Keeper, arrived in Washington on January 6 with “nothing but a servant’s heart,” his lawyer told the jury.
“Ed brought 30 days worth of food with him, not just for himself but for a group, and he thought he would go to a camp where he would set up a kitchen and cook for the protesters,” defense attorney Matthew Peed said in opening remarks. . “And it would be a kind of festival.”
He also emphasized that Vallejo had not met his co-defendants until the day of jury selection at the trial.
“There was literally zero coordination between these people,” Peed said.