WASHINGTON – Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right militia group Oath Keepers, and 10 other members or associates have been charged with rebellious conspiracy in the violent attack on the U.S. capital, authorities said Thursday.
Despite hundreds of accusations already raised this year since pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020, these were the first rebellious conspiracy allegations raised in in connection with the attack on 6 January. 2021
It marked a serious escalation in the largest investigation in the history of the Ministry of Justice – more than 700 people have been arrested and charged with federal crimes – and highlighted the work that has gone into bringing together the most complicated cases. Prosecutors in part deny the growing chorus of Republican lawmakers who have publicly challenged the seriousness of the uprising, arguing that since no one had yet been charged with rioting or treason, it could not have been so violent.
The indictment alleges that for weeks, the Oath Keepers have been discussing attempts to overthrow the election results and prepare for a siege by buying weapons and drawing up battle plans. They repeatedly wrote in chats about the prospect of violence and the need, as Rhodes allegedly wrote in a text, “to scare the s-out of” Congress. And on January 6, the indictment claims, they entered the Capitol building with the large crowd of rioters storming past police barriers and smashing windows, wounding dozens of officers and sending lawmakers running.
Authorities have said the Oath Keepers and their staff worked as if they were going to war, discussing weapons and training. Days before the attack, a defendant in a text message suggested getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River to their “waiting arms,” prosecutors say.
On January 6, several members, wearing camouflaged combat suits, were seen on camera shrugging their way through the crowd and into the Capitol in a military-style stack formation, authorities say.
The indictment against Rhodes claims that the Oath Keepers formed two teams, or “stacks,” that went into the Capitol. The first stack split up inside the building to go after the House and Senate separately. The second stabbed confronted officers inside the Capitol Rotunda, the indictment said. Outside Washington, the indictment alleges that the Oath Keepers had stationed two “rapid reaction forces” that had weapons “in support of their plan to stop the lawful transfer of power.”
Rhodes, 56, of Granbury, Texas, is the highest-ranking member of an extremist group arrested in the deadly siege. He and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, were arrested Thursday. The other nine were already facing criminal charges in connection with the attack.
Rebellion charges are hard to win and are rarely used, but defendants risk steep 20-year prison sentences if convicted, compared to five for the other charges of conspiracy. The last time U.S. prosecutors filed such a rebellious conspiracy case was in 2010 in an alleged Michigan conspiracy by members of the Hutaree militia to incite a revolt against the government. But a judge ordered acquittal of a rebel conspiracy in a 2012 trial, saying the prosecutors relied too much on hateful accusations protected by the First Amendment and did not, as required, prove that the accused ever had detailed plans for an uprising. .
Among the last successful convictions for rebellious conspiracy stemmed from another, now largely forgotten storming of the Capitol in 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the floor of the house and wounded five representatives.
Most of the hundreds of people charged with violence face lower-level crime. More than 150 people have been charged with assaulting police officers on the Capitol. Over 50 have been charged with conspiracy, mainly individuals affiliated with the right-wing extremist Proud Boys and anti-government Oath Keepers. No charges have been filed against the proud boys.
Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building on January 6, but is accused of having helped set the violence in motion. Jonathan Moseley, a lawyer who said he represented Rhodes, said Rhodes was to testify before Parliament’s committee investigating the January 6 uprising, but it was canceled.
“He has been the subject of a lot of suspicion as to why he was not indicted,” so far in the January 6 riot, Moseley said. “I do not know if this is a response to those discussions, but we think it is unfortunate. It is an unusual situation.”
Another lawyer representing the group, Kellye SoRelle, said she issued a statement later, saying Mosley did not represent Rhodes.
Rhodes has said in interviews with right-wing hosts that there was no plan to storm the Capitol and that the members who did so became junk. But he continues to push on the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, while posts on the Oath Keeper website have portrayed the group as a victim of political persecution.
Other defendants in the conspiracy have claimed in court that the only plan was to provide security at the demonstration before the riots or to protect themselves from possible attacks by left-wing antifa activists.
Rhodes, a former U.S. Army paratrooper and graduate of the Yale Law School, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009. The right-wing extremist group recruits current and former military, police and first aiders. Several of those arrested are veterans.
Rhodes has appeared in court documents in the conspiracy case for several months as “Person One.”
Authorities say he made a GoToMeeting call days after the election and told his followers to go to Washington and let President Donald Trump know “that the people are behind him.” Rhodes told members that they should be prepared to fight the antifa and that some Oath Keepers should “stay on the outside” and be “prepared to go in armed” if necessary.
“We will defend the president, the duly elected president, and we urge him to do what needs to be done to save our country. Because if you do not do it guys, you will be in a bloody, bloody civil war and a bloody – “You can call it a rebellion, or you can call it a war or a struggle,” Rhodes said, according to court documents.
Authorities have said Rhodes was part of an encrypted signal chat with Oath Keepers from several states until Jan. 6 called “DC OP: Jan 6 21,” and it showed the group “activated a plan to use force” on day.
On the afternoon of the 6th, authorities say Rhodes told the group over Signal: “All I see Trump do is complain. I do not see that he intends to do anything. So the Patriots take it into their own hands. They have had enough. “
Around 2.30pm, Rhodes had a 97-second phone call with Kelly Meggs, the reputed head of the group’s branch in Florida, which was part of the military style, authorities say. About 10 minutes later, Rhodes sent a picture to the group showing the southeast side of the Capitol with the caption, “South side of the US Capitol. Patriots knocking on doors.” Around the same time, those in the stack formation entered the Capitol by force, prosecutors say.
Rhodes was arrested in Little Elm, a suburb about 55 miles north of Dallas. He was booked into the Collin County Detention Center, where a sheriff’s deputy said local prison officers could not make Rhodes available to speak to a reporter because he was arrested by federal agents.
He was expected in court Friday in Texas.
More than 70 defendants remain detained on charges of rioting. At least 183 defendants have pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct per. January 11th. At least 78 of them have been convicted, including 35 people who received jail time or jail time or time already served.
Associated Press writers Jacques Billeaud of Phoenix, Jake Bleiberg of Dallas, Lindsay Whitehurst of Salt Lake City, and Nomaan Merchant, Eric Tucker, Michael Kunzelman of Washington contributed to this report.