Six people affiliated with the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia, were convicted Monday of various charges related to the January 6, 2021, US Capitol insurrection.
Four of the defendants were found guilty on all of the charges they faced, including conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent a member of congress from doing their duty, destruction of government property and civil disorder.
The high-level convictions for four defendants is another significant win for the Justice Department, which has worked for years to bring consequences against people who they say plotted for violence at the Capitol that day – the largest criminal investigation in the department’s history – and comes as some conservatives continue to promote the false narrative the riots were peaceful.
Sandra Parker, Laura Steele, Connie Meggs and William Isaacs were accused of entering the Capitol during the riot and attempting to make their way to the Senate chamber before being deterred by pepper spray and police officers in the building.
Two defendants were convicted of a lesser charge of entering and remaining on restricted grounds but acquitted of the most serious charges alleging the group conspired to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
The jury remains deadlocked on two counts for those two defendants and will continue to deliberate.
Prosecutors said those two defendants – Michael Greene, a military veteran accused of being the Oath Keepers “operation leader” on January 6, and Bennie Parker, the husband of Sandra, did not go into the Capitol itself but were still part of the conspiracy.
Several other members and affiliates of the Oath Keepers have been convicted by juries in Washington, DC, of seditious conspiracy, including the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes.
Though the six defendants in this case are accused of working with other Oath Keepers that were convicted of seditious conspiracy, no one in this case faced that charge. Instead, the Parkers, Greene, Steele, Meggs and Isaacs were charged with conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, which is less politically fraught but carries the same maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
“God knows what I did,” Meggs said as she walked out of the courtroom following her conviction.
Stephen Brennwald, Bennie Parker’s attorney, told reporters Bennie “would rather have been convicted himself” than his wife, Sandra.
“He didn’t go inside the building, that’s the only difference,” Brennwald said of Bennie.
District Judge Amit Mehta denied the government’s motion to detain the six individuals pending their sentencing, noting that they have each obeyed conditions of release in the case.
Mistrial request rejected
The trial had briefly descended into chaos Monday after revelations that the jury had access in their ongoing deliberations to two video clips that the judge had prohibited during the trial.
Defense lawyers moved for a mistrial after they discovered that the two video clips, which were part of a montage put together by federal prosecutors to show the overall violence that happened on January 6, 2021, were given to jurors to review.
Neither of the videos show actions taken by any of the defendants while at the US Capitol – one seven-second clip shows rioters breaching the west side of the building, while the other video shows law enforcement officers being accosted by rioters while trying to close a gate in the Capitol Visitor Center.
“I just can’t believe the only remedy at this point is a mistrial,” Mehta said Monday morning in a Washington, DC, courtroom, rejecting the request for a mistrial. “Maybe I’m wrong.”
Defense lawyer Juli Haller first flagged the mistake on Wednesday, prosecutors said, but the situation wasn’t brought to the judge’s attention until Friday. Haller, who has clashed with Mehta before, said that jurors had access to the footage for several days and have already come to a verdict on some counts.
“This is how trials work, for those of you who haven’t done it before,” Mehta responded. Defense attorneys were able to review the exhibits jurors were given, he said, and most had signed a filing that said they “jointly agreed on the exhibits” with prosecutors.
“None of the defense lawyers did what I instructed,” Mehta said.
“Everybody had at least a weekend to ask for what had been sent back and review it,” Mehta added. “Defense counsel did not do it. That’s fine.”
In one particularly tense moment, Haller interrupted Mehta to say that she had not signed that agreement with prosecutors.
“Am I asking?” Mehta shot back, ordering her to sit down and not to interrupt again. Mehta also instructed at least two other defense lawyers, William Shipley and Eugene Rossi, to sit down during the tense exchange.
After the argument concluded, jurors were summoned into the courtroom and told to disregard the two video clips.
“I’m not going to ask you if you have reviewed them,” Mehta said to the jury. “If you haven’t reviewed them, I’m going to ask you to ignore them. If you have, please disregard.”
Mehta also instructed the jury to “reconsider the verdicts” they had already reached “in light of the absence of these videos.”
One juror raised his hand and asked Mehta whether the jury panel would be allowed to review the two clips and see whether they were taken into consideration during their deliberations over the past week. When the judge said no, the juror turned to another juror and the two threw their hands up. A third juror took a deep breath and put her hands behind her head.
The jury resumed deliberating Monday morning with a new copy of the evidence, which excludes the two videos.
Prosecutors rest in Proud Boys seditious conspiracy case after nine weeks of courtroom drama
In the same DC courthouse Monday, federal prosecutors rested their case in the trial against five members of the Proud Boys charged with seditious conspiracy for their alleged role in the January 6 Capitol riot.
Prosecutors presented evidence to the jury they say shows four leaders of the far-right four – Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl – encouraging other members of the organization to act violently at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Prosecutors allege that Tarrio, who was the chairman of the organization, plotted with his close deputies Nordean, Biggs and Rehl in the lead-up to the riot and recruited others to help stop Joe Biden from becoming president. They say that Nordean, Biggs and Rehl, who were at the Capitol that day, stood back and allowed other members to take action and then followed close behind once a path was cleared.
The fifth defendant, Dominic Pezzola, was one of those who acted violently at their behest according to prosecutors. Tarrio was not at the Capitol that day.
All five defendants have pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys have begun to call defense witnesses.
Though jury selection started in late December, the trial began in earnest with opening statements in January. The nine-week presentation of evidence by prosecutors was marred with courtroom drama, hijinks and threats from the judge to hold defense lawyers in contempt.
This story has been updated with additional developments.