Judge upholds felony obstruction charge against Oath Keepers in Jan. 6 Capitol riot

A federal judge has upheld a felony obstruction charge that prosecutors have relied on in proceedings against the Oath Keepers in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta upheld Monday night the felony obstruction charge against the 17 defendants tied to the right-wing paramilitary group the Oath Keepers, The Hill reported.

The charge of obstruction of an official proceeding on Jan. 6 is the heaviest charge brought against them and among the most serious the Justice Department has brought in response to the riot, carrying a sentence of up to 20 years upon conviction, according to The Hill.

The Oath Keepers, who were seen in military formation entering the Capitol Rotunda, are among the right-wing extremists alleged to have major roles in the attack, CNN reported.

The nationwide group, which recruits military veterans, is based on a baseless conspiracy theory that the federal government is trying to destroy liberties for U.S. citizens, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and promotes vigilante justice.

Mehta’s ruling allows the trial against the Oath Keepers defendants based on the obstruction of an official proceeding charge to move forward.

The Oath Keepers had argued the charge was unconstitutionally vague and prosecutor’s application of the charge could potentially violate First Amendment protections.

“If the government can carry its burden of proof at trial, a conviction of defendants premise on such activities would not violate the First Amendment,” Mehta wrote in the opinion, according to CNN.

The Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol left five dead, including one homicide from a gunshot by a Capitol police officer, three other people a chief medical examiner ruled died of natural causes and another death ruled as an accident. It also left over 100 officers injured, and delayed electoral vote counting, which showed now President Joe Biden won the election.

Mehta quoted the obstruction of an official proceeding statute’s text in his 49-page opinion, which rejected the defendants’ argument.

“Their alleged conduct was no mere political protest or trespass,” Mehta wrote in the opinion, The Hill reported. “If proven, their conduct crossed the line to criminal conduct: they ‘corruptly,’ conspired to, and did, ‘obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding.’”

Also Tuesday, 81-year-old Gary Wickersham, a Pennsylvania man who was reported to the FBI after his acquaintances received texts from him as he stormed the Capitol, was sentenced to 90 days of home detention and three years of probation for his role in the riots.

Wickersham told federal investigators he took a bus to Washington, D.C., to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse and was in the Capitol for about 22 minutes and was seen on video confronting law enforcement officers during the riots.

He also told authorities it was his right as a taxpayer to enter the Capitol and appeared to show little remorse for his actions in the immediate aftermath.

Prosecutors had sought to sentence Wickersham to prison time but U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said probation was a sufficient deterrent as Wickersham had no prior run-ins with the law and had “accepted responsibility early” by entering a plea deal.

“You shouldn’t have been in there, you admit you shouldn’t, you admit it was wrong, and you left,” Lamberth said. “I appreciate that and you get some credit for that.”

Federal prosecutors have allowed dozens of non-violent rioters to plead guilty to misdemeanor offenses that limit their potential jail time to a maximum of six months, according to CNN.

Out of 50 misdemeanor cases, 19 ended up with incarceration, according to a CNN tally.

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