Trial for Sarasota man accused of helping plan Capitol attack starts Dec. 5

Joseph Hackett faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of seditious conspiracy.
Joseph Hackett faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of seditious conspiracy.(Pinellas County Sheriff's Office)
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 11:41 AM EST
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Jury selection begins Dec. 5 in the trial of a Sarasota man charged with seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Joseph Hackett, along with co-defendants Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, and Edward Vallejo, are also charged with conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging any duties.

In addition, Hackett, a chiropractor living in Sarasota, is charged with destruction of government property and tampering with documents or proceedings.

The trial in Washington, D.C., begins less than a week after Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Miggs, who led the right-wing group’s Florida chapter, were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in a separate trial.

Out of the nearly 1,000 people charged so far in connection with the Capitol attack, only nine have been charged with seditious conspiracy.

After his arrest in May 2021, Hackett was released on his own recognizance but was placed under 24-hour lockdown at his home in what is known as a “High Intensity Supervision Program.” The judge set a number of restrictions; He must wear an ankle tracking bracelet; he was ordered to surrender his passport to court authorities in Tampa; and ordered to surrender any weapons in his home to law enforcement or a third party. He cannot have contact with other members of the Oath Keepers.

Hackett will be allowed to travel to Washington Dec. 2 in order to attend his trial. While the trial is underway, Hackett “is further permitted to stay in Chesapeake, Virginia when court is not in session,” U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta wrote in an order last month.

The indictment

The indictment claims Hackett was involved in the planning and execution of a plot to disrupt the certification of President Joe Biden’s election.

On Jan. 6, 2021, after a speech by then-President Donald Trump at the White House, a mob marched to the Capitol and broke through police barricades and overwhelmed officers, violently shoving their way into the building to chants of “Hang Mike Pence” and “Stop the Steal.” The ensuing melee sent terrified lawmakers running for their lives.

Five people died during or after the attack, including four protesters and one police officer, and approximately 140 officers suffered injuries, according to the Department of Justice.

The indictment reveals details of a Nov. 9, 2020, virtual meeting of members of Oath Keepers, a far-right antigovernment extremist group. The indictment alleges Hackett was on the call when another participant, identified only as Person One, told attendees, “We’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country.

“So our posture’s gonna be that we’re posted outside of DC, um, awaiting the President’s orders ... We hope he will give us the orders. We want him to declare an insurrection, and to call us up as the militia.”

On Dec. 19, 2020, Hackett allegedly sent an email to Englewood resident Graydon Young which read, “I believe we only need to do this when important info is at hand like locations, identities, Ops planning.”

The email had a photo attached; the photo showed cursive handwriting on a lined notepad that stated: “Secure Comms Test. Good talk tonight guys! Rally Point in Northern Port Charlotte at Grays if transportation is possible. All proton mails. May consider an RP8 that won’t burn anyone. Comms – work in progress. Messages in cursive to eliminate digital reads. Plans for recruitment and meetings.”

Young pleaded guilty in June 2021 to conspiring to obstruct Congress and testified against his former allies in Rhodes’ trial.

The indictment also says Hackett paid for a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Washington, D.C., from Jan. 5-7, 2021. It alleges Hackett, Young and several others “prepared themselves for battle before heading to the Capitol by equipping themselves with communication devices and donning reinforced vests, helmets, and goggles.”

The indictment lays out the following timeline:

  • Between Jan. 1-5, co-conspirators transported firearms, ammunition and related items to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and on Jan. 5. and distributed firearms and ammunition to members of the ‘QRF (Quick Reaction Force).’”
  • At 2:21 p.m., the group unlawfully entered the restricted Capitol grounds.
  • At 2:35 p.m., they joined together with others “known and unknown to form a column or stack of individuals wearing Oath Keepers clothing, patches, insignia, and battle gear (the “Stack”). Together, the Stack maneuvered in an organized fashion up the steps on the east side of the Capitol—each member keeping at least one hand on the shoulder of the other in front of them,” the indictment charges.
  • At 2:45, Hackett and three other members of Stack One walked south out of the Rotunda and toward the House of Representatives in search of Speaker Nanci Pelosi. They did not find her.
  • Hackett allegedly left the Capitol at 2:54 p.m. At 3:30 p.m., Hackett and others gathered with Rhodes.

What is seditious conspiracy?

Seditious conspiracy occurs when two or more people in the U.S. conspire to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force” the U.S. government, or to levy war against it, or to oppose by force and try to prevent the execution of any law. If convicted, a person can be fined and spend up to 20 years behind bars.

But that Civil War-era charge is rarely ever used, because it’s hard to prove and harder to win a conviction.

Still, prosecutors filed seditious conspiracy charges against Rhodes and 10 suspected associates -- one of just a few in the nation’s history.

The last such case was filed in 2010 against members of a Michigan militia, but two years later they were acquitted by a judge who said their hateful diatribes didn’t prove they ever had detailed plans for a rebellion.

It’s different from a conspiracy charge, alone where two or more people work together to commit a crime. Plenty of people have been charged and convicted of conspiracy, and there are two major conspiracy cases in the Jan. 6 riot.

Seditious conspiracy, though, is legally complex and there’s a historical difficulty in securing convictions. Legal scholars say prosecutors are sometimes reluctant to file the charges.

In the Jan. 6 case, it lends gravity to the accusations of violence and terror that day, and rebuts, in part, claims by some Republicans that the riot wasn’t as serious because no one had yet been charged with sedition.

Along those lines, there’s also treason -- which is to levy war against the U.S. or to give U.S. enemies “aid and comfort.” No one has been charged with treason in the Jan. 6 riot.

Authorities have said the Oath Keepers and their associates worked as if they were going to war, discussing weapons and training. Days before the attack, one defendant suggested in a text message getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River to their “waiting arms,” prosecutors say.

Here are some notable treason and sedition cases from years past:

Hutaree Militia

The last time U.S. prosecutors brought such a case was in 2010 in an alleged Michigan plot by members of the Hutaree militia to incite an uprising against the government. But a judge ordered acquittals on the sedition conspiracy charges at a 2012 trial, saying prosecutors relied too much on hateful diatribes protected by the First Amendment and didn’t, as required, prove the accused ever had detailed plans for a rebellion. Three members of the militia pleaded guilty to weapons charges.

Puerto Rican nationalists

Among the last successful convictions for seditious conspiracy charges were in another, now largely forgotten storming of the Capitol building in 1954. Four pro-independence Puerto Rican activists rushed the building and opened fire on the House floor, wounding several representatives. They and more than a dozen others who assisted in the attack were convicted of seditious conspiracy.

Oscar Lopez Rivera, a former leader of a Puerto Rican independence group that orchestrated a bombing campaign that left dozens of people dead or maimed in the 1970s and 1980s, spent 35 years in prison for seditious conspiracy before President Barack Obama commuted his sentence in 2017.

Sheikh Oman Abdel-Rahman

Seditious conspiracy law was last successfully used in the 1990s in the prosecution of Islamic militants who plotted to bomb New York City landmarks. An Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, and nine followers were convicted in 1995 of seditious conspiracy and other charges in a plot to blow up the United Nations, the FBI’s building, and two tunnels and a bridge linking New York and New Jersey.

Abdel-Rahman, known as the “Blind Sheikh,” argued on appeal that he was never involved in planning actual attacks against the U.S. and his hostile rhetoric was protected free speech. He died in federal prison in 2017.

Tokyo Rose

Among the last convictions for treason was American-born Iva Toguri D’Aquino, known as Tokyo Rose during World War II for her anti-American broadcasts. She was convicted in 1949 of “giving aid and comfort” to Japan. She served more than six years of a 10-year sentence before her release. President Gerald Ford pardoned her after reports U.S. authorities pressured some witnesses to lie. Some former prisoners of war in Japan also came forward to confirm that D’Aquino had smuggled food and medicine to them during their capture.

-- Information from The Associated Press was used in the article.

FILE - Supporters of President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday,...
FILE - Supporters of President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington.(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)