Litman: A jury delivers the truth about Jan. 6. It was seditious conspiracy

The conviction of Oath Keepers leaders Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs on seditious conspiracy charges is a historic legal victory for the Justice Department, but it is much more than that.

Tuesday’s rulings in federal court in Washington will go a long way in defining once and for all the January 6, 2021 melee in the Capitol as a heinous, well-directed crime orchestrated by enemies of democracy.

The Justice Department deserves a winning lap for their efforts. Seditious conspiracy is a notoriously difficult charge to prove – the last successful indictment was in 1995 – and has a checkered history in the department.

In fact, it was only after controversial internal debates that the department gave the green light to the charges in the January 6 cases as justified and winnable.

Despite this, only Rhodes and Meggs were convicted of sedition. All five defendants were found guilty of obstruction of government proceedings, but none were convicted on all of the various government charges.

For some observers, the mix of rulings is dampening the government’s victory. That’s the wrong way to look at it.

Prosecutors always focused first on convicting Rhodes, and to a lesser extent Meggs, of seditious conspiracy.

On all the other counts and for the other defendants, the jury’s careful evaluation of the various charges—some accepted, some rejected—only reinforces the credibility of their decisions. The lack of a clean result shows that the jury reached an independent verdict; they didn’t just swallow the government’s case whole. And all of the defendants were convicted on serious charges that carry the potential for significant prison terms.

Tuesday’s decisions will have immediate practical legal implications. First, perhaps those who remain to be brought to justice for their involvement in the January 6 riots, including the Proud Boys and other Oath Keepers, should consider pleading guilty and offering to cooperate with the government investigation.

The verdicts also cast a shadow over everyone who aligned with the conspirators in the days following the 2020 election. Perhaps the most obvious example: Roger Stone, whose encrypted messages with Rhodes were an important part of the evidence in court. (Rhodes sent Stone a message right after Joe Biden’s win: “What’s the plan? We need to roll ASAP.”)

Overall, the convictions represent a major step forward in the Justice Department’s quest for accountability for all involved in efforts to prevent a peaceful transfer of power. Now more than ever, the department is anxious to treat the insurgency for the existential threat it was.

That means a consistent approach to the role of political officials in the scandal, and in particular to the investigation now in the hands of Special Counsel Jack Smith, which primarily concerns Donald Trump and his circle.

The practical and legal ramifications of the landmark finding are only a fraction of the significance of the convictions.

Some of the country’s most prominent political leaders continue to embrace a ridiculous narrative that downplays the events of January 6th. In their twisted portrayal, the riot was a legitimate political protest that got a little out of hand or even, as Trump himself put it, represented brave acts by patriots unfairly treated by the Justice Department.

The same denial of reality underlies the announced determination of the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives to probe the Jan. 6 committee as if that body were engaged in an illegitimate inquiry into political trivia.

Tuesday’s verdicts offer a crucial refutation of these absurd accounts, and one far more effective than the protests of political opponents, law professors or columnists, however well-founded.

A jury trial represents the ideal of our system of definitive finding of fact, a constitutional process designed to get as close as possible to the truth of a matter at issue. And the jury in that trial evidently took their duty seriously and exercised their powers with meticulous attention to detail.

That doesn’t mean the entire country will agree to label January 6th a criminal conspiracy, but the holdouts are suddenly swimming against a stronger current.

The effect of these guilty verdicts, in a thorough and careful trial, will be to marginalize the January 6th apologists. They can’t help but look more and more like wingnuts or monsters now, and rant against a critical mass Society has accepted and denied a jury’s account that agrees with what the whole country has seen in real time.

This also applies to history. The Oath Keepers convictions (and the other sedition prosecutions) will be among the rare trials—perhaps one or two per generation—to appear in high school history books. And what future students will learn is that the trials were of great importance because they confirmed the truth about January 6, 2021.

@HarryLitman

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-11-30/oath-keepers-seditious-conspiracy-guilty-verdict Litman: A jury delivers the truth about Jan. 6. It was seditious conspiracy

Alley Einstein

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