It’s a question historians sometimes ask when considering the ways in which certain events have shaped history. What if things had been different? What if Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated? Would we have seen swifter racial progress during Reconstruction instead of more than 100 years of Jim Crow laws? What if Japan had not attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor? Would we still have gone to war against Hitler? And without the involvement of the United States, would Hitler have been victorious? What then? Or, if you prefer to think in terms of holiday movies, what if George Bailey had never been born? Each event in history affects events in the future.
The recent convictions of several members of the Oath Keepers group has me thinking, what if? Two members of the group, Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, were convicted of seditious conspiracy, among other crimes, for their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. According to the superseding indictment, Rhodes and Meggs agreed to use force against the authority of the United States to prevent the lawful transfer of presidential power. That crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Three other Oath Keeper defendants were acquitted of seditious conspiracy, but were convicted of other crimes, including obstructing an official proceeding, which also carries a potential 20-year prison sentence. The verdicts were a resounding victory for the Department of Justice, which has rarely used the seditious conspiracy law against domestic extremism. DOJ should be congratulated not only for its success at trial, but for its courage to bring the charges in the first place.