Four more members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right extremist group, have been convicted of seditious conspiracy, and the new guilty verdicts could be a bad sign for former President Donald Trump.
On Monday, a 12-member jury found David Moerschel, Joseph Hackett, Roberto Minuta and Edward Vallejo guilty on three conspiracy charges, including seditious conspiracy, as well as obstructing Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election for their involvement in the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
It marks the second successful sedition trial for the Department of Justice (DOJ). In November, two other members of the Oath Keepers, including founder Stewart Rhodes, were found guilty by a jury in a separate trial.
Although three members in the November trial were not found guilty, the growing number of convictions and the rarity of seditious conspiracy prosecutions suggests that the DOJ could be building a strong case against Trump.
Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Newsweek that Monday’s convictions are a “significant win” for the DOJ because they confirm the overarching argument made by federal prosecutors: The attack on the Capitol was an organized plot to overthrow the U.S. government, not a protest gone wrong.
Rahmani said the convictions could help Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is overseeing the department’s probes into Trump, decide to charge the former president for his role in the Capitol riot, knowing that there’s a good chance the odds are in the DOJ’s favor.
“Seditious conspiracy is rarely charged and these bellwether cases give prosecutors confidence that jurors will return guilty verdicts with similar facts,” Rahmani said.
The Civil War-era law, which makes it a crime to conspire to overthrow or destroy the government and carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, is rarely prosecuted.
Former federal prosecutor and elected state attorney Michael McAuliffe told Newsweek that Monday’s verdict is particularly important because all four defendants were convicted, whereas November’s jury found only two out of five guilty. Moreover, this week’s trial involved lower-level members, not Oath Keeper leadership.
“The jury’s verdict in the second trial came after extensive deliberations, but the result was a damning conclusion of a well-developed plan to prevent the peaceful transfer of presidential power in America,” McAuliffe said.
Combined with the evidence from the first trial, prosecutors have created “a compelling narrative that the plot to keep Trump in power was violent, planned and not the secret fantasies of a few.”
Monday’s verdict might not only encourage Smith to take his shot to prosecute Trump, new convictions might also mean new testimony against the former president and a stronger case for Smith.
Rahmani said now that members of the Oath Keepers are facing years in federal prison, it’s possible that the defendants, post-conviction, will be willing to cooperate with the DOJ’s investigation into Trump.
Federal prosecutors have brought criminal charges against more than 950 people in the wake of the riot, including members of another far-right group, the Proud Boys, who are accused of crimes like seditious conspiracy.
McAuliffe said Monday’s verdict confirms that the DOJ’s approach of methodically investigating, charging, trying and pleading out the hundreds of defendants involved in the January 6 riot is working.
“The DOJ’s seditious conspiracy prosecutions appear to be effective both as a public statement of who is responsible for the unsuccessful January 6th insurrection and as an exercise that the rule of law is paramount,” he said.
Newsweek reached out to Trump for comment.