Four members of the right-wing extremist organization the Oath Keepers were convicted of seditious conspiracy for their role in the January 6, 2021 insurrection in Washington DC’s federal court on Monday.
Jurors believed federal prosecutors, who described Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel and Edward Vallejo as armed and dangerous traitors. The jurors didn’t buy the defendants’ attorneys who portrayed them as hapless and stumbling amid the chaos.
“They claimed to wrap themselves in the Constitution, but they trampled it,” prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler had said in closing arguments. “They ignored the will of the people,” he said, but “had the audacity to claim to be oath-keepers.”
Seditious conspiracy is defined as attempting to “overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States.” It has been rarely prosecuted until this past year.
On November 29, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and the the head of the Florida chapter of the extremist organization Kelly Meggs were both found guilty of seditious conspiracy for their roles in the January 6 insurrection. Upon sentencing, they could each face up to 20 years in federal prison.
In October Jeremy Bertino, the former leader of another extremist group, the Proud Boys, pled guilty to seditious conspiracy for his connections to the January 6 insurrection, and on January 12 of this year the seditious conspiracy trial of current Proud Boys chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and four other leaders began related to the roles they played in the January 6 insurrection.
Altogether, a total of just 14 of the nearly 1,000 people criminally charged so far for their actions related to January 6 have been charged with seditious conspiracy.
Hackett and Moerschel traveled to DC from Florida with Meggs and followed him into the Capitol at 2:38pm on January 6. Minuta was in a separate Oath Keeper group providing security for then-President Trump associate Roger Stone that morning. Stone refused to leave his hotel because the Oath Keepers could not guarantee him access to the stage where Trump spoke, according to the testimony.
When the riot started, Minuta and the others left Stone and rode hotel golf carts over to the Capitol. They entered the Capitol around 3:15pm and were pushed out a few minutes later, but not before Minuta shouted at officers, “This is our Capitol!”
Vallejo came with friends from Arizona. Surveillance video of January 6 shows that, after trying to recall where he’d parked his truck, he went back to the Ballston Comfort Inn where the Oath Keepers had stashed their guns. During the riot he repeatedly texted offers to come in as a “Quick Reaction Force.” The next morning he returned to the Capitol to “probe the defense line,” but he got no response either time.
In addition to the seditious conspiracy charges, the four were also found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, as well as conspiracy to prevent a member of Congress from discharging their official duties.
Hackett was further found guilty of tampering with documents or proceedings. And Hackett and Moerschel were both found not guilty of destruction of government property.
Minuta and Moerschel were found not guilty of tampering with documents or proceedings.
Four people died during the violence that ensued on January 6, and five police officers died afterwards. Another 140 or so officers were injured, and the Capitol sustained millions of dollars in damage.