Government prosecutors and defense attorneys announced on Thursday they had finished presenting evidence in the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial, concluding a seven-week effort to determine whether five suspected militia members far-right had plotted to prevent Joe Biden from assuming the presidency.
Over five weeks, prosecutors showed the Washington, D.C. jury hundreds of text messages, recordings and videos of the five defendants, brought seized assault rifles into the courtroom and briefed the jury on the depths of the militia movement in the wake of the 2020 election. Defense attorneys rebutted that argument, saying their clients said bizarre things, but never acted violently and never had a concrete plan to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. All all five pleaded not guilty.
Oral arguments begin on Friday and the jury, made up of seven men and five women, will likely begin deliberations next week.
After the attorneys finished presenting their evidence, District Judge Amit Mehta asked a juror, a white woman who works in education at a nonprofit, to return to the courtroom. The juror is in the process of moving to Texas and has spent several weeks expressing concern about finding accommodation to complete the trial.
Mehta fired the juror, who was a substitute.
“It’s kind of nice to stop at least one thing going on in my life right now,” the juror said.
Before leaving the room, she asked Mehta if another juror, whom she described as “my mate”, could take her place because it was more comfortable than hers. The judge laughed and said yes.
As she walked out, the five defendants, their lawyers and the prosecutors stood and clapped.
After his dismissal, the jury returned to the courtroom. Mehta told them, “I’m sorry to say that you are one less, but I know one of you is very happy to be in the second row.”
Oath Keeper Defends Capitol Riot’s ‘Cool American Moment’ Description
Earlier Thursday, prosecutors worked to undermine a day of searing and moving testimony from Oathkeeper Jessica Watkins, highlighting how her apologetic behavior on the stand contrasted starkly with her violent rhetoric around the 2020 election and the US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.
Prosecutor Alexandra Hughes said Watkins’ testimony on Wednesday contradicted an interview she gave to the FBI just two months after the riot.
On the stand, for example, Watkins testified that entering the Capitol was an impulsive decision, while in the March 2021 FBI interview she allegedly claimed that she “knew exactly what was going to happen” and that the crowd “had the necessary number of people to force if necessary.”
On Thursday, Watkins grew increasingly frustrated, accusing Hughes of taking her comments out of context. She shouted, “You also tried to do that stunt on me with the FBI interview.”
Hughes questioned why Watkins would call the deadly riot a “cool American moment,” as she did in her testimony on Wednesday. Videos from Jan. 6 show Watkins shouting “push” as she joined a crowd confronting police in a hallway outside the Senate Chamber. Prosecutors say Watkins was pepper sprayed in the melee.
“It was a cool American moment up to that hallway,” Watkins said. “In all the videos you cut a lot of it, I was smiling and having fun.”
Watkins continued: “I was angry [in that moment] because we were defending the country and all of a sudden we were being crushed. I accept responsibility for what happened in this hallway. I know this exposes me to criminal liability. Do you want me to say it a few more times? I accept responsibility for what happened in this hallway. I understand.”
Hughes concluded by noting that Watkins repeatedly claimed she was taken by the moment on Jan. 6, saying the crowds at the gates of the Capitol were “like Black Friday when everyone wants a flat screen.”
“Swept away. Black Friday,” Hughes said. “To be clear, is it your testimony that all of this rhetoric, the rhetoric you shared with your co-conspirators, and the actions you took on January 6th” are unrelated?
“My rhetoric was early November,” Watkins shouted. “You’re gonna see this is just general election stuff. Half of this country still feels like that. Half of this country feels disenfranchised by this election. All the Covid stuff, we don’t we haven’t had free and fair elections. And that’s not rhetoric.”
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