A charge that traces back to efforts to protect the federal government against Southern rebels during the Civil War, seditious conspiracy has been used over the years against a wide array of defendants — among them, far-right militias, radical trade unions and Puerto Rican nationalists. The last successful sedition prosecution was in 1995 when a group of Islamic militants was found guilty of plotting to bomb several New York City landmarks.
The Oath Keepers sedition trial began in Federal District Court in Washington in early October. In his opening statement, Jeffrey S. Nestler, one of the lead prosecutors, told the jury that in the weeks after Mr. Biden won the election, Mr. Rhodes and his subordinates “concocted a plan for an armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy”: the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
Mr. Nestler also closed the government’s case last week, declaring that the Oath Keepers had plotted against Mr. Biden, ignoring both the law and the will of the voters, because they hated the results of the election.
“They claimed to be saving the Republic,” he said, “but they fractured it instead.”
In between those remarks, prosecutors showed the jury hundreds of encrypted text messages swapped by Oath Keepers members, demonstrating that Mr. Rhodes and some of his followers were in thrall to outlandish fears that Chinese agents had infiltrated the United States government and that Mr. Biden — a “puppet” of the Chinese Communist Party — might cede control of the country to the United Nations.
The messages also showed that Mr. Rhodes was obsessed with the leftist movement known as antifa, which he believed was in league with Mr. Biden’s incoming administration. At one point during the trial, Mr. Rhodes, who took the stand in his own defense, told the jury he was convinced that antifa activists would storm the White House, overpower the Secret Service and forcibly drag Mr. Trump from the building if he failed to admit his defeat to Mr. Biden.
Prosecutors sought to demonstrate how Mr. Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper with a law degree from Yale, became increasingly panicked as the election moved toward its final certification at a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. Under his direction, the Oath Keepers — whose members are largely former law enforcement officers and military veterans — took part in two “Stop the Steal” rallies in Washington, providing event security and serving as bodyguards for pro-Trump dignitaries.
Throughout the postelection period, the jury was told, Mr. Rhodes was desperate to get in touch with Mr. Trump and persuade him to take extraordinary measures to maintain power. In December 2020, he posted two open letters to Mr. Trump on his website, begging the president to seize data from voting machines across the country that would purportedly prove the election had been rigged.