The federal judge overseeing the Oath Keepers conspiracy case in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection ordered their trial delayed this week, primarily because of the overwhelming amount of evidence still being produced in their cases. Though the delay was expected, its reasons are stark reminders that Jan. 6 will be one of the most complex prosecutions in history and that the investigation remains very active as more evidence piles up. There are likely some very big shoes still to drop.
U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta announced the postponement on Thursday, meaning the trial of the 18 members of the extremist “Patriot” group will not begin in January as scheduled, and is likely to be pushed out to sometime in spring or summer 2022. Three factors forced the delay: The large amount of fresh evidence still being filed, the ongoing investigation and the evidence it is still uncovering, and the difficulty defendants have had obtaining access to the electronic versions of the evidence while confined in the D.C. Central Detention Facility.
“I can’t order the government to stop collecting relevant evidence,” Mehta said, noting that defendants have the right to a speedy trial as well.
“What I really want to know is … when is this information going to become available?” Mehta said. “And I mean all of it. Not just a small piece of it. I mean all of it. And that’s something … every judge on this court wants to know, and every defendant wants to know.”
The size of the case has been building over time. The original group of Oath Keepers were arrested in January, but the case deepened in March when they were charged with conspiracy with several others; their numbers kept mounting, and by the time prosecutors unveiled a fifth superseding indictment in August—and after a couple of them entered guilty pleas as part of a cooperation agreement, which in turn has opened new pathways in the investigation—the total number of group members facing conspiracy charges reached 18.
However, the case is far from settled. Evidence continues to pile up as investigators sift through the unbelievable mountain of video and social media data pertaining to the insurrectionists and their preparations for Jan. 6. Moreover, prosecutors have been circling Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes for months now, with multiple indications that he will eventually face conspiracy charges himself.
Court documents in the conspiracy case refer to Rhodes as “Person 1” in the unfolding assault on the Capitol. One such document, filed in March in the case of Oath Keeper Thomas Caldwell—who coordinated with militia members Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl, according to prosecutors, to create a “stack” formation that played a key role in breaking down police barricades—alleges that Rhodes exchanged texts with them before, during, and after the insurrection.
Rhodes used the encrypted platform Signal to chat with Watkins, 38, an Ohio Oath Keepers militia leader, and Kelly Meggs, 52, a militia leader from Florida charged in the insurrection in February, prosecutors said. The filing says he directed them to rally during the siege to the Capitol’s southeast steps, following which members forcibly entered the east side of the building.
Rhodes has heatedly denied any wrongdoing. “Just so we’re clear on this: We had no plan to enter the Capitol, zero plan to do that, zero instructions to do that, and we also had zero knowledge that anyone had done that until after they had done that—afterwards,” Rhodes told The Washington Post.
He instead blamed his members: “They went totally off mission. They didn’t coordinate with us at all while they were there. They did their own damned thing.”
In a late-March speech at a Texas anti-immigrant event, Rhodes quipped, “I may go to jail soon,” according to The Daily Beast’s Kelly Weill. “Not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes. There are some Oath Keepers right now along with Proud Boys and other patriots who are in D.C. who are sitting in jail denied bail despite the supposed right to a jury trial before you’re found guilty and presumption of innocence, were denied bail because the powers that be don’t like their political views.”
He also claimed innocence for his members. “If we actually intended to take over the Capitol, we’d have taken it, and we’d have brought guns,” Rhodes said. “That’s not why we were there that day. We were there to protect Trump supporters from Antifa.”
But evidence is still rolling in. At Thursday’s hearing, the attorney for Ohio militiaman Donovan Crowl, Carmen D. Hernandez, told Judge Mehta that just the week before that prosecutors had submitted an additional 14 chats taken from the encrypted messaging app Signal, “which the government claims includes evidence of planning and vital information to this case.”
Federal prosecutors have referred to 29 people under investigation, she told Mehta, noting that she knew the identities of eight of them.“
And some of the parties being investigated are key people. Person 1 is the head of the Oath Keepers,” the attorney said, referring to Rhodes.
Published with permission from Daily Kos.