More than halfway through the process, which is being overseen by U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta, a clear pattern has emerged: would-be jurors with strong feelings about the horrors of that dark day promising to set aside any preconceived notions in order to judge Rhodes and his associates on the basis of the facts and the law.
As of Wednesday night, more than 30 potential jurors had passed the initial interview, approaching Mehta’s goal of 45. Once they reach that plateau, defense attorneys and prosecutors will exercise options to remove a handful of qualified jurors until the parties and the judge agree on a final group of 16 – 12 jurors and four alternates – to hear the historic case.
Mehta has repeatedly dismissed challenges from several of the prospective jurors by defense attorneys who feared some of the candidates’ knee-jerk responses to Jan. 6, or the Guardians of the Oath opinion they had formed from the cover. media, are impossible to overcome. Instead, the judge said, those jurors had sworn to be open-minded and willing to hear evidence that might run counter to the news they had consumed.
Ultimately, the pool resembled, to a large degree, the clubby professional set of Washington DC.
- A woman whose fiancé works for the Daily Caller but said she and her partner never discuss work. It “seems weird,” she conceded.
- A woman who is a social acquaintance of Dunn, the Capitol Police officer and a likely witness in the case. She explained that they are friends on Facebook and have attended events in DC and admitted that he would recognize her if he saw her in the courtroom.
- A defense lobbyist with many friends on Capitol Hill who described the events of January 6 as “horrifyingly bad.”
- A defense contractor whose wife works for the Department of Justice.
- A State Department employee whose father served as a Michigan prosecutor for 30 years but said he refuses to read or follow the policy.
Fewer were the candidates for the jury who said they had known little about January 6, like the mother of a one-year-old child who said she watched more “Cocomelon” than the news. But several others said that while they were familiar with the attack, they had only limited or passing knowledge of the Oathkeepers themselves.
Defense attorneys for Rhodes, along with the other Oath Keepers on trial, have repeatedly pressed prospective jurors about their views on Trump supporters, their knowledge of the Oath Keepers and their ability to try someone fairly. who may have different political beliefs.
In each case, these prospective jurors have sworn to be fair, regardless of political disagreements. That was enough for Mehta, who repeatedly underscored those promises by dismissing defense attorneys’ efforts to disqualify several of the jury candidates.
Rhodes and his associates are accused of conspiring to disrupt the peaceful transfer of presidential power by force. Prosecutors say they amassed a cache of weapons in Arlington, Va., and were prepared to deploy them to Washington if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act to try to void the 2020 election. More than a dozen members of the group — some of whom will go on trial later this year — stormed into the Capitol about 20 minutes after rioters first entered the building.
The Oath Keepers point out that they left their guns outside of Washington. They also point out that they were in DC primarily to provide security for high-level attendees of Trump’s rally at the Ellipse earlier in the day and had no broader plan to storm the Capitol.
The wide coverage of their actions and that day created obstacles to assembling an unbiased jury. Mehta and the attorneys probed each jury candidate’s news media diet to understand how their views on Jan. 6 were shaped. They also asked each potential juror how much they watched the Jan. 6 select committee public hearings in June and July, and whether they remembered mentioning the oath keepers during those hearings.
Two candidates who passed the initial screening expressed little or no knowledge of the Oath Keepers, including the State Department employee who said he avoided news and politics because, as he said , “I really don’t like it”.
When he agreed to hit a specific juror, Mehta cited another classic DC feature: that juror’s Twitter feed had strayed so far from the line of perceived bias that it could erode public confidence in the court case. The juror, a lawyer who specializes in settling international disputes, had liked tweets calling Republicans “nihilists” and comparing Trump supporters to fascists.
“We choose what we retweet,” Rhodes defense attorney Phillip Linder said.
Even then, Mehta looked torn. He described his decision to hit the juror as a close call, saying he was doing it out of caution.
“He’s going to have to stand up to public scrutiny,” Mehta said of the lawsuit.
Still, Mehta made it clear that his bar for disqualifying jurors in this first round remains high. He has repeatedly stressed that it is rational for potential jurors to have formed opinions about Jan. 6 and consumed media coverage of the event. All that mattered, he said, was that these would-be jurors cogently promised to set aside their opinions to try the case – and showed no ’emotional’ responses to questions about the attack. .
Perhaps the clearest rift between Mehta and defense attorneys emerged in the case of a civilian Pentagon employee who called the Oath Keepers “anti-democracy.” The man said he had a close friend who worked in the House – before January 6 – who shared personal stories with him from those who lived through the day. He expressed strong opinions about gun ownership and said he would have a hard time separating those opinions if he learned that the oath keepers carried guns. But he added that he would view the matter differently if the evidence showed they had left guns outside of Washington DC.
The man said he held Trump responsible for the events of January 6, with significant contributions from the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, but he pointed out that he had friends who are or have been Trump supporters.
Mehta placed particular emphasis on the man’s pledge to be an impartial juror as well as his description of his previous jury service in a murder case. The man said he ultimately voted to acquit the defendant in the case, believing the government had failed to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.