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Oath Keepers trial to start Tuesday, two Florida residents on trial

More than a year-and-a-half after the Capitol was attacked, the first major trial starts
Stewart Rhodes Oath Keepers
Posted at 4:24 PM, Sep 26, 2022

More than 20 months since a mob attacked and ransacked the Capitol, the biggest trial to date is set to begin on Tuesday.

Five members of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers are charged with seditious conspiracy.

Prosecutors allege the group planned and coordinated the attack on the Capitol in the weeks leading up to the 6th.

“That’s why we’re seeing these seditious conspiracy charges being brought against these groups,” said Ben Popp, an investigator with the Anti-Defamation League who studies extremist groups.

“Just in general, in the extremist landscape we’re seeing a lot more collaboration amongst these groups than in the past.”

Kelly Meggs.png
Kelly Meggs, the alleged leader of the Florida Chapter of the Oath Keepers, is charged with Seditious Conspiracy.

Two of the men facing trial this week are from Florida.

Kelly Meggs of Marion County is the alleged leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers and Kenneth Harrelson is an Army veteran from Brevard County.

Their three co-defendants include Oath Keepers found Stewart Rhodes, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell.

Two more alleged Florida Oath Keepers, David Moerschel from Punta Gorda and Joseph Hackett of Sarasota County, are facing similar charges and will go to trial at the end of November.

Prosecutors say the group used social media and encrypted messaging apps to communicate and plan the attack.

The FBI says on December 19th, 2020, Meggs sent someone a message on Facebook bragging that he formed an alliance with two other extremist groups.

“This week I organized an alliance between Oath Keepers, Florida 3%ers and Proud Boys. We have decided to work together and shut this (expletive) down,” Meggs wrote, according to case filings.

The FBI says Kelly Meggs sent messages on social media claiming he formed an alliance with two other extremist groups.

Florida leads the nation in arrests related to January 6th.

Of the nearly 900 people charged so far 10% of them, more than 90, are from the Sunshine State.

According to Popp, most of the extremist groups had one thing in common, they believed President Trump’s claims that the election was stolen.

“Just in general, the people that were present on January 6th that was largely motivated by the stolen election conspiracy theory,” Popp said.

The day after Christmas 2020, prosecutors say Meggs wrote in a Facebook message, “Trumps staying in, he’s gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act.”

He later writes, “wait for the 6th when we are all in DC for insurrection.”

“This is something like a perfect storm,” said FGCU Professor Dr. Landon Frim, an expert on conspiracy theories.

“What these conspiracy theories do is set up a row of dominoes. A seditious type action. All you need is an authority figure who has all of the prestige and power of an office behind them, in this case, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, to spark or embolden a crowd to act violently.”

Former President Trump denies that he encouraged the mob to attack the capitol.

Oath Keepers training
The Justice Department says members of the Oath Keepers took part in weapons training for "unconventional warfare." The DOJ blocked out the faces of the other members. Faces shown from left: Kenneth Harrelson, Kelly Meggs, Connie Meggs.

The former national spokesperson for the Oath Keepers testified in front of the House Select Committee investigating January 6th that the Oath Keepers were drawn to Trump.

“They saw a path forward that would have legitimacy. They saw opportunity, I think, in my opinion, to become a paramilitary force,” said Jason Van Tatenhove.

Prosecutors also say the group didn’t hide their intentions.

In November, just weeks after the election was called for President Joe Biden, several members of the Oath Keepers took part in training for “unconventional warfare” according to court filings.

The training company, which was not named, posted a photo of the group on social media.

The Justice Department blocked out the faces of all but three people, Meggs, his wife Connie and Harrelson.

When the group came to D.C. investigators say the Oath Keepers came with an arsenal.

The Justice Department says the Oath Keepers stored weapons and ammo at a hotel in northern Virginia as part of a Quick Reaction Force.

Surveillance images from a hotel in northern Virginia show Meggs, Harrelson, Moerschel and Hackett bringing in guns and ammo for a so-called Quick Reaction Force that would be called upon if needed.

Hours later, the Oath Keepers were front and center as violence descended onto the capitol.