On Tuesday, Stewart Rhodes appeared in a federal courthouse across from the U.S. Capitol for the start of jury selection in his trial on charges of seditious conspiracy. Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers militant group, wore a blue suit, glasses, and a patch over his left eye, which he lost in a handgun accident in the nineteen-nineties. He and four co-defendants looked on as their attorneys attempted to reject one potential juror after another who expressed left-leaning political views and skepticism of the Oath Keepers. Several said they had been deeply shaken by the storming of the Capitol.
In the trial, Rhodes’s lawyers will attempt to sway the jury using an argument rooted in Rhodes’s version of right-wing militancy. The Oath Keepers, they will argue, were not at the Capitol to fight with law enforcement on January 6, 2021. They were acting more as an extension of law enforcement, awaiting orders from Donald Trump, whom Rhodes had urged to invoke the Insurrection Act, to prevent Joe Biden from taking power. He implored Trump to call up members of the Oath Keepers and other armed Americans to serve as part of a Presidentially sanctioned militia. “When [Rhodes] believed that the President would issue an order invoking the Insurrection Act, he was prepared to follow it,” his lawyers wrote, in a pretrial motion. “The Government would like this Court to believe that is sedition, when in fact, it is the opposite. It is loyalty to an oath taken in defense of the Country.”
Prosecutors accuse Rhodes of trying to use the Insurrection Act’s vague wording to cover his actions with a veneer of legality. The statute, which combines a series of laws passed between 1792 and 1874, is surprisingly broad. It authorizes the President to call in “the militia