Washington — Leaders of the far-right militia group Oath Keepers worked to “destroy the foundation of American democracy” when they planned and carried out a coordinated attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the Justice Department argued in federal court Monday on the first day of their trial .

“They banded together to do whatever was necessary, right down to the use of force,” prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler told jurors at the trial of five members or affiliates of the group who are charged with seditious conspiracy and other crimes stemming from their alleged involvement in the Capitol. . violation

Leader of the Oath Keepers Stuart Rhodes and co-defendants Kelly Maggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell were part of a group whose goal was to “stop by any means necessary the lawful transfer of power, including taking up arms against the United States government,” Nestler said during the government’s opening statement.

The defendants are accused of planning the attack on the Capitol as early as November 2020, later stockpiling weapons and violence with other conspirators – both indicted and unindicted – and coordinating their movements on the day of the attack.

Nestler gave jurors a brief summary of the government’s case, including the structure of the Oath Keeper operation led by Rhodes. The prosecutor explained that Maggs and Harrelson coordinated the group’s Florida contingent, while Watkins led operations in Ohio, and Caldwell – not being a bona fide member of the group – allegedly activated their Quick Response Force (QRF). who stored weapons in the Virginia Hotel.

Caldwell is accused of planning to use the boat to transport the weapons to Washington, DC. That call to action was never heard, according to the government, and during his own opening statement, Caldwell’s attorney, David Fisher, denounced the characterization as “pigs.”

“This is the largest bait and switch in the history of the American justice system,” Fisher argued, “The QRF was not in its most remote form” designed to attack the Capitol, but to provide health and safety if necessary.

Prosecutors alleged that Rhodes and his co-conspirators went to the Capitol on January 6, ready to use the “training, knowledge and experience” many of them gained during the war to plot to overthrow the government. Many members of the “Krytvniki” organization are veterans of military service.

Nestler said the group’s calls for “civil war” and refusal to recognize Biden as the “rightful winner” of the 2020 presidential election reached a peak when the Capitol came under attack. He argued that evidence at trial would show they expected Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, a Civil War-era law that called for militias of armed citizens to oppose the work of Congress.

“He should know that if he can’t act, we will,” Rhodes is accused of writing about the former president.

Rhodes’ attorney, Philip Linder, said in his opening statement Monday that Rhodes and his associates were there to provide aid and security to high-ranking participants in the rally in support of the former president, Fisher’s defense attorney and Watkins’ attorney, Jonathan Crisp. repeated.

Text messages released earlier this year show Oath Keepers discussed protecting people, including Trump associate Roger Stone and rally organizer Ali Alexander, in the weeks leading up to January 6.

Taken out of context, their communications before and during the attack sound “sinister as hell,” Crisp acknowledged, but the evidence at trial did not support the government’s claims, he said.

“Stuart Rhodes meant no harm to the Capitol that day. Stewart Rhodes had no violent intent that day,” Linder said for his client, telling jurors that Rhodes will testify in his own defense during the trial, which is expected to last more than a month.

But Nestler told jurors that investigators will prove Watkins, Harrelson and Maggs were part of an “invasion army” that allegedly formed a military-like “mass” to enter the Capitol building and advance on members of Congress, including the speaker of the House of Representatives. . Nancy Pelosi, as Rhodes, coordinated from the outside.

Prosecutors also showed jurors a photograph of a patch they alleged was on Maggs’ clothing at the time of the attack. It said: “I don’t believe in anything. I’m only here for violence.”

Using snippets of video evidence, Nestler took jurors through what the government will argue is evidence that the group coordinated to overthrow the government by force and prevent a peaceful transfer of power, a “basic democratic custom.”

Linder told jurors that the government used the videos and the arsonists in an “attempt to alarm and anger you.”

“While it may look inflammatory, they didn’t do anything illegal,” Linder said of the defendants.

After the attack on the Capitol, Nestler told jurors, Rhodes allegedly met with an unnamed person on Jan. 10, 2021, during which he complained that the group was not armed on Jan. 6 and tried to convey the message to Trump that it was “still not too late” to accept measures. According to the prosecutor, that conversation was secretly recorded.

But Linder argued that his client had a “good faith” belief that Trump was prepared to invoke the Sedition Act and any calls for gratuitous violence were “free speech and bravado.” All in all, throughout the day Monday, attorneys argued that the Oath Keepers felt Trump had “let them down” because they were never called to action on January 6.

Prosecutors have said they will argue at trial that the talk of the Insurrection Act was only to provide jurors with legal cover.

Attorneys for Kenneth Harrelson and Kelly Maggs, both of Florida, chose not to make opening arguments for their clients. Fisher, on Caldwell’s behalf, and Crisp, Watkins’ attorney, told jurors that at the time of their arrests, both their clients spoke freely with investigators during interviews.

“These are not the actions of someone who was trying to overthrow the government,” Crisp said, arguing that although Maggs entered the Capitol, she is innocent of the more serious charges.

On Monday, prosecutors called their first witness, FBI Special Agent Michael Poliano, to present evidence of the alleged planning before the attack on the Capitol, the first aspect of the defendant’s conspiracy.

Polian said he was one of 70 agents who responded to the call and went to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to help members of the Senate, who he said were “shocked” by the day’s chaos. Some, he said, were crying.

He also answered questions about the extraction of information from the mobile phones of some defendants.

On Rhodes’ phone, Polian said he found encrypted messages dating to the period immediately after the 2020 presidential election. According to reports, Rhodes wrote the day after the election that they were forming a QRF in Washington, D.C., and planned to oppose Biden’s election.

Later in November 2020, Rhodes texted the group that they should “mass march to the nation’s capitol,” referring to the Serbian revolution.