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Closing arguments resume in the Oath Keepers Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy trial

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Closing arguments resume today in the January 6 seditious conspiracy trial against Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four other defendants. They're accused of plotting to use force to prevent Joe Biden from taking office. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been covering the trial. Ryan, closing arguments began on Friday with the government. How did prosecutors try to sum up things for the jury?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy presented for the government, and she spoke for about two hours. And she began her closing arguments with a quote from Rhodes himself, a message that Rhodes had sent just two days after the 2020 election, and in that message, Rhodes said, quote, "we're not getting through this without a civil war. Prepare your mind, body and spirit."

And Rakoczy said, look, jury - here's Rhodes calling for civil war to oppose the results of the election. And then she walked the jury back through what she called a mountain of evidence - so text messages, videos, testimony that they've seen over the past seven weeks that includes evidence of an armed quick reaction force waiting on standby on January 6 at a hotel in Virginia to ferry guns into D.C. if necessary. It includes Oath Keepers, dressed in tactical gear, forcing their way into the Capitol on January 6. And it includes a lot of inflammatory texts and recordings with talk of violence and war and fighting to keep Trump in power. And Rakoczy argued that all of this shows that these five defendants conspired to disrupt, by any means necessary, including force, the peaceful transfer of power.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, what about the defense? What did they say in closing?

LUCAS: Well, in his closing argument, Rhodes' attorney James Bright told jurors that he made a point over the course of this trial of asking every witness that he questioned three questions. Was there a plan to storm the Capitol? Was there a plan to breach the rotunda? And was there a plan to stop the election certification? And he said that there have been about 50 witnesses in the case, and not a single one testified that there was a plan.

Bright acknowledged that Rhodes and his co-defendants did use a lot of hot talk, what Bright called horribly heated rhetoric and bombast. And Bright said he himself doesn't agree with that. But he said venting is not a meeting of the minds. Expressing hatred, expressing anger isn't a meeting of the minds. And with no concrete plan to storm the Capitol or disrupt Congress' certification of the vote, he said there can't be a seditious conspiracy. Rhodes himself did not enter the Capitol on January 6, Bright said. Rhodes didn't fight police. So he asked the jury what, in fact, did Rhodes really do? And then he urged the jury, as he closed up, to find Rhodes not guilty on all counts.

MARTÍNEZ: All counts. So what else are Rhodes and the others charged with?

LUCAS: Well, the key charge here really is seditious conspiracy. The government rarely brings that charge, and it carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. So it is a big deal. But there are other charges, yes. There's - they're also charged with two other conspiracy counts related to disrupting Congress on January 6, as well as obstruction. And then some of them also face other charges, like destruction of evidence, civil disorder, destruction of government property.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. What happens today?

LUCAS: Well, we'll hear closing arguments from attorneys for the three remaining defendants. Then the government will have one more opportunity to talk to the jury since the burden of proof is on its shoulders. And then the evidence and the fate of these five defendants goes to the jury, which after hearing testimony for about seven weeks will finally be able to begin their deliberations.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.