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Closing arguments made in the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After seven weeks of testimony, the seditious conspiracy trial for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four other defendants is in the hands of the jury. They're charged with plotting to use force to try to block the transfer of power to President Joe Biden in connection with the January 6 attack on the Capitol. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is covering the trial. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Well, after almost two months, what did the defendants say in their closing to the jury?

LUCAS: Well, closing arguments actually began on Friday and finally wrapped up this afternoon. And attorneys for each of the five defendants did have a chance to make their final argument to the jury. And the first one to go was Rhodes' attorney, James Bright. And he began by acknowledging right off the bat that Rhodes and the other defendants said a lot of incendiary and offensive things in text messages and audio recordings, which are a key part of the government's case. But Bright said, look, venting about the election does not amount to a meeting of the minds. Spewing hatred and anger doesn't amount to a conspiracy. And he also told the jury that there have been around 50 witnesses in this trial that they've heard from. And not a single one testified that there was a plan to storm the Capitol or block the certification of the election. And so he said if there's no plan to storm the Capitol, no plan to block Congress on January 6, where's the conspiracy?

SHAPIRO: And what about the other defendants?

LUCAS: Their attorneys also zeroed in on that same idea, the testimony that there was no concrete plan to storm the Capitol. Some of the attorneys accused prosecutors of manipulating evidence to try to fit the government's sedition narrative. Now, all of the defendants are charged with seditious conspiracy, as well as a couple of other conspiracy counts. They also face, though, a variety of other charges, including destruction of evidence, civil disorder. And so the attorneys spent some time trying to poke holes in the government's case on those counts relevant to the specific defendants.

SHAPIRO: OK. That was the defense. Let's talk about the prosecution. What did the government say in its closing to the jury?

LUCAS: So the government goes first and last in closing arguments since prosecutors bear the burden of proof. And Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy started for the government, and she took the jury back through the huge amount of evidence that they've seen - the inflammatory text messages and audio recordings and witness testimony. And she reminded the jury about an armed quick reaction force that the Oath Keepers had on standby on January 6 at a Virginia hotel to rush weapons into D.C. if necessary. She reminded jurors how Oath Keepers, including some of the defendants in this case, forced their way into the Capitol on January 6. And she showed some of the incendiary statements from Rhodes and the others discussing violence and bloodshed and fighting to keep Trump in office.

And then today, prosecutor Jeff Nestler came back to that when he closed things out. He told the jury the evidence of the defendant's intent is overwhelming. It's plain as day, he said, in all of the messages that the jury has seen. He said the defendants said out loud what they wanted to accomplish. They agreed to it, and then they came to D.C. and followed up with action. And he concluded his remarks by asking the jury to uphold the Constitution that he said the defendants tried to subvert. And he said that - he asked the jurors basically to find them all guilty.

SHAPIRO: Do you think we're going to get a verdict before Thanksgiving?

LUCAS: Very unlikely, very unlikely. This is a complex case. There's a lot of evidence, multiple defendants, multiple counts. And the jury is only going to begin deliberating tomorrow, tomorrow morning through tomorrow. And then they're going to break for Thanksgiving until next week. But the important thing, as the judge told the jury at the end of the day today, is the case is now finally yours after all of these weeks.

SHAPIRO: And this is just one small piece of the sprawling January 6 investigation, right?

LUCAS: Absolutely. There are actually a couple of more seditious conspiracy trials that are on tap for it later this year that, you know, we will all be keeping an eye on as well.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thanks a lot.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.