As prosecutors and defense attorneys for Oath Keepers members worked through a jury pool of more than 100 Washington, DC, residents, the majority of the potential jurors questioned said they would be able to put aside their own opinions about the right-wing group and the US Capitol attack to judge the case fairly and impartially.
Jury selection got underway in DC District Court Tuesday in the historic trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and four of his top lieutenants, with one-third of the jurors necessary to begin the proceedings qualified by the day’s end. The selection process in the trial – the largest January 6, 2021, case to date – is expected to continue over the coming days, with opening statements likely to begin next week.
The proceeding marks the first of three seditious conspiracy trials scheduled to take place this year. All five defendants in the trial – Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell – have pleaded not guilty to the indictment and face a maximum sentence of 20 years in a federal prison.
Defense attorneys have repeatedly expressed concern in the lead up to trial that it was not possible to seat an impartial jury in Washington because the city tends to vote for Democrats in high numbers. And throughout the hours of questioning on Tuesday it became clear that for many DC residents, the emotions of January 6 are still raw – another point of concern for the defense.
“It’s not so much that group, it’s the proximity” to home, one potential juror said, when asked about his opinion of Oath Keepers.
“I live in Washington, DC. This is my home. They were invading my home,” another said. “And I see pictures of them dressed up in military gear – this is where I live, where my small children live.”
A third noted that seeing “people from out-of-town marching on the streets with military weapons … it was very disconcerting.”
“I just started crying,” the prospective juror said. “I went home, and I cried.”
Attorneys for the Oath Keepers on Tuesday objected to several potential jurors after they were questioned, citing political ideology or preconceived notions of the organization. General knowledge, however, was not enough to be removed from the list, and only a handful of people were sent home after telling Judge Amit Mehta it would be impossible for them to be impartial in a trial against the members of the group.
A number of the potential jurors said they had some general knowledge of the right-wing group but were short on details.
Potential jurors described the Oath Keepers as a “loosely formed organization” with “militant tendencies” that are politically aligned with the “extreme right.”
“I feel like I’ve heard of the group,” one person told the court Tuesday during jury selection. “I know that they are right wing and maybe anti-government.”
“I vaguely know they were a group that was here on January 6,” another potential juror said.
Asked to describe the Oath Keepers, another said: “Guns and aggression.”
During the trial, prosecutors are expected to lay out an extensive retelling of January 6 and the months leading up to the riot, relying on more than 40 witnesses, prosecutors said in court, including FBI agents, Capitol Police officers, journalists and confidential human sources.
Taken together, prosecutors believe the evidence will lay out a sophisticated plan by the Oath Keepers that began to take shape just days after the 2020 election.