Trial starts for Phoenix man charged with seditious conspiracy for Jan. 6 attack

Dec 12, 2022, 9:30 AM | Updated: 3:36 pm
Members of the Oath Keepers on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.  ...
Members of the Oath Keepers on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

PHOENIX – The trial started Monday for a Phoenix man and three others charged with seditious conspiracy and other felonies related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Edward Vallejo is accused of participating in an effort by the Oath Keepers to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, and Kelly Meggs, leader of the right-wing militia group’s Florida chapter, were convicted of seditious conspiracy last month in a related case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Edwards repeatedly mentioned Rhodes during opening statements Monday, saying he issued a “call to action” before his followers carried out a violent plot to stop transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Biden.

“This was an invitation to sedition,” the prosecutor said.

Joseph Hackett and David Moerschel of Florida and Roberto Minuta of Texas are facing jurors along with Vallejo.

The defendants’ lawyers often echoed arguments that Oath Keepers’ attorneys made at the first trial. In particular, they said group members never had a plan to attack the Capitol or stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote.

Prosecutors say Oath Keepers members stashed guns at a hotel in Virginia for a “quick reaction force” that could shuttle weapons into Washington, D.C., on Rhodes’ order. On Jan. 6, two groups of Oath Keepers stormed the Capitol after thousands of other rioters breached the building. The guns stashed at the hotel were never deployed.

Vallejo, a U.S. Army veteran and Rhodes ally, allegedly drove from Arizona to prepare with the quick reaction force at the hotel. Jurors heard an audio recording Monday of Vallejo talking about a “declaration of a guerilla war” on the morning of Jan. 6.

Vallejo was arrested on Jan. 13, 2022, the day after a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging the Phoenix man and 10 others. A superseding indictment with nine defendants, including the four men whose trial was starting Monday, was handed down on July 22.

Three other Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with investigators in the hopes of getting a lighter sentence. But they were never called by prosecutors to the witness stand in Rhodes’ case. It’s unclear why prosecutors didn’t have them testify and whether they might take the stand in the latest trial.

Seditious conspiracy can be difficult to prove, especially when the alleged plot is unsuccessful. Rhodes and Meggs were the first people in decades found guilty at trial of the charge, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

While guilty verdicts for Rhodes and Meggs were a major victory for the Justice Department, three of their co-defendants were acquitted of seditious conspiracy. The major question in the next trial is whether prosecutors will be able to convince jurors to convict lower-level defendants of the Civil War-era offense.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Trial starts for Phoenix man charged with seditious conspiracy for Jan. 6 attack