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Two More Oath Keepers Sentenced in Storming of US Capitol

FILE - Members of the Oath Keepers stand outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. Members David Moerschel and Joseph Hackett, both of Florida, were sentenced to prison June 2, 2023, for their roles in the attack on the Capitol.

Two Florida men who stormed the U.S. Capitol with other members of the far-right Oath Keepers group were sentenced to prison Friday for seditious conspiracy and other charges, the latest in a historic string of sentences in the January 6, 2021, attack.

David Moerschel, 45, a neurophysiologist from Punta Gorda, and Joseph Hackett, 52, a chiropractor from Sarasota, were convicted in January alongside other members of the anti-government group for their roles in what prosecutors described as a violent plot to stop the transfer power from former President Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 election.

Both men were among the lower-level members charged with seditious conspiracy. Moerschel was sentenced to three years in prison and Hackett got three and one-half years.

All told, nine people associated with the Oath Keepers have been tried for seditious conspiracy and six were convicted of the rarely used Civil War-era charge in two separate trials, including the group's founder, Stewart Rhodes. He was sentenced last week to 18 years in prison — a record for a January 6 defendant. Three defendants were cleared of the sedition charge but found guilty of other January 6 crimes.

Helped gather guns

Moerschel and Hackett helped amass guns and ammunition to stash in a Virginia hotel for a so-called "quick reaction force" that could be quickly shuttled to Washington, prosecutors said. The weapons were never deployed. Moerschel provided an AR-15 and a Glock semiautomatic handgun and Hackett helped transport weapons, prosecutors said.

On January 6, both men, dressed in paramilitary gear, marched into the Capitol with fellow Oath Keepers in a military-style formation, charging documents stated.

"The security of our country and the safety of democracy should not hinge on the impulses of madmen," Justice Department prosecutor Troy Edwards said.

Moerschel told the judge he was deeply ashamed of forcing his way into the Capitol and joining the riot that seriously injured police officers and sent staffers running in fear.

"When I was on the stairs, your honor, I felt like God said to me, 'Get out here.' And I didn't," he said in court, his voice cracking with emotion. "I disobeyed God, and I broke laws."

Moerschel, who monitored surgical patients under anesthesia before his arrest, was later fired and now works in construction and landscaping. A former missionary, he is married with three children.

Hackett similarly said he remembered feeling horrified as he stepped foot in the Capitol that day: "I truly am sorry for my part in causing so much misery," he said.

FILE - Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes speaks during the Patriots Day Free Speech Rally in Berkeley, Calif., April 15, 2017.
FILE - Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes speaks during the Patriots Day Free Speech Rally in Berkeley, Calif., April 15, 2017.

He originally joined the group after seeing vandalism at a commercial area near his house during the summer of 2020, when protests of police brutality were common, his attorney Angela Halim said. "He did not join this organization because he shared any beliefs of Stewart Rhodes," she said.

Still, he later attended an "unconventional warfare" training session, and in the lead-up to January 6 he repeatedly warned other Oath Keepers about "leaks" and the need to secure their communications, and later changed his online screen names, authorities have said.

"Taken together, his messages show he perceived the election as an existential threat," said prosecutor Alexandra Hughes.

How the chiropractor and father ended up storming the Capitol, though, is "hard to wrap one's head around," said U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta. The group's increasingly heated online conversations and false claims of a stolen election "can suck you in like a vortex and make it very difficult to get out."

No 'vengeful' sentencing

Neither man was a top leader in the group, and both left shortly after January 6. Both sentences were far lower than the 12 years prosecutors sought for Hackett and 10 for Moerschel.

Moerschel was in the Capitol for about 12 minutes and didn't do anything violent or scream at police officers, Mehta noted. He also handed his guns over to the police.

"Sentencing shouldn't be vengeful; it shouldn't be such that it is unduly harsh simply for the sake of being harsh," said the judge, who also imposed a three-year term of supervised release for both men.

Moerschel's attorneys had asked for home confinement, arguing that he joined the Oath Keepers chats shortly before the riot and was not a leader.

"He was just in the back following the crowd," attorney Scott Weinberg told the judge.

Defense attorneys have long said there was never a plan to attack the Capitol and the prosecutors' case was largely built on online messages cherry-picked out of context.

The charges against leaders of the Oath Keepers and another far-right extremist group, the Proud Boys, are among the most serious brought in the Justice Department's sprawling riot investigation. Prosecutors have also won seditious conspiracy convictions in the case against former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and three other group leaders in what prosecutors said was a separate plot to keep Trump in the White House.