Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, officials said on Thursday.
Ten others were also charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack, after officials said members of the extremist group had come to Washington, D.C. with the intention of preventing authentication of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
These are the first charges of seditious conspiracy that the Justice Department has brought in connection with an attack led by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Rhodes, 56, of Granbury, Texas, and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Ariz., were arrested on Thursday. Others who were charged were already facing criminal charges related to the riots. Rhodes is the highest-ranking member of the extremist group to be arrested in the deadly siege.
The arrests of Rhodes and others are a serious escalation of charges against the thousands of rioters who stormed the Capitol. And the charges partly respond to a growing chorus of Republicans who have publicly questioned the seriousness of the January 6 uprising, arguing that since no one had yet been charged with treason or treason, it was so Couldn’t have been violent.
Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building during the riots, but is accused of helping to trigger violence that obstructed the vote’s authentication. The Oath Keepers case is the largest conspiracy case federal officials have brought up so far on January 6, when thousands of pro-Trump rioters broke down police barriers and smashed windows, wounding dozens of officers and sending lawmakers on the run. .
The indictment against Rhodes alleged that the Oath Keepers formed two teams or “stacks” that entered the Capitol. The first “stack” inside the building split to go after the House and Senate. The second “heap” faced officers inside the Capitol Rotunda, the indictment said. Outside Washington, the indictment alleges, the oath-takers deployed two “quick reaction forces” that had guns “in support of their conspiracy to prevent a legitimate transfer of power.”
Jonathan Moseley, the attorney representing Rhodes, said his client was arrested in Texas on Thursday.
“There is a lot of doubt as to why he had not yet been indicted in the riots,” Moseley said. “I don’t know if this is in response to those discussions, but we think it’s unfortunate. It’s an unusual situation.”
Moseley said in a statement that Rhodes was to testify before the House committee investigating the January 6 uprising, but it was turned down. He said he was talking to Rhodes on the phone about the committee when his client was contacted by the FBI.
Rhodes has said in interviews with right-wing hosts that there were no plans to attack the Capitol and that the members who did so turned out to be crooks. But he continues to push the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, while posts on the Oath Keepers website depict the group as the victim of political persecution.
Officials have said the oath-takers and their allies dressed up in the weeks leading up to January 6 as if they were going to war, discussing weapons and training. Days before the attack, a defendant suggested in a text message to get a boat across the Potomac River to deliver the weapons to their “waiting weapons,” prosecutors say.
Officials say that on January 6, several members, wearing camouflage combat attire, were seen on camera making their way through the crowd and into a military-style shack formation at the Capitol.
Oath Keeper defendants have argued in court that the sole plan was to provide security at the rally before the riot or to protect themselves from possible attacks by far-left Antifa activists.
Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate who founded Oath Keepers in 2009, has appeared in court documents for weeks as “Person One” in the conspiracy case.
Officials say Rhodes made a GoToMeeting call days after the election, asking his followers to go to Washington and tell Trump that “the people are behind him.” Rhodes told the members that they should be prepared to fight Antifa and that some oath-holders should “stay out” and be “ready to go into armed” if necessary.
“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. Because if you don’t, guys, you’re going to be a murderer. There’s going to be a bloody civil war, and a bloody one – you can call it a rebellion or you can call it a war or a fight,” Rhodes said according to court documents.
Officials have said that Rhodes was part of an encrypted Signal chat with OAuth keepers from several states until January 6, which is called “DC OP: 6 January 21” and shows that the group was “likely to use force” that day. Activating the plan”.
On the afternoon of January 6, officials say, Rhodes told the group at Signal: “I see Trump complaining. I don’t see any intention of him doing anything. So the Patriots put it in their hands.” They’re taking it. They’ve had enough.”
Around 2:30 p.m., Rhodes had a 97-second phone call with Kelly Meigs, the group’s iconic leader of the Florida chapter, which was part of a military-style stack, officials say.
About 10 minutes later, Rhodes sent the group a photo showing the southeast side of the Capitol with the caption, “South side of the US Capitol. Patriots pounding on the door.” Prosecutors say that around the same time, stack makers forcibly entered the Capitol.
Swearing-in and members of other extremist groups, such as the Proud Boys, are part of more than 580 people who have been accused of rioting. But many of his leaders, members and aides have become the main targets of a wider Justice Department investigation as officials work to determine to what extent the attacks were pre-planned.
Overall, the bar for proving treason is not as high as it is for a related charge of treason. Still, treason charges are rare and difficult to win.