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Brian Ulrich, 44, of Georgia pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy on Friday
A member of the Oath Keepers militia has pleaded guilty to engaging in seditious conspiracy during the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and will be expected to testify against the group’s leader Stewart Rhodes.
Brian Ulrich, 44, of Georgia pleaded guilty on Friday during a hearing in federal court in Washington DC. He sobbed as the judge warned he could face up to 20 years in prison, though sentencing guidelines call for much less time.
Ulrich was one of 11 Oath Keepers members charged with seditious conspiracy in an indictment unsealed in January, which also names Rhodes, the founder of the far-right militia group.
Rhodes has pleaded not guilty and is expected to face trial later this year — but in pleading guilty, Ulrich agreed to testify against Rhodes, which could bolster the government’s case.
Authorities say Ulrich participated in encrypted chats with other Oath Keepers in the days before the riot, rode toward the Capitol with others in golf carts on that day and marched on the grounds in a military ‘stack’ formation.
Oath Keepers are seen moving at the Capitol in a military ‘stack’ formation on January 6, 2021
Ulrich will be expected to testify against the Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes (above) who has pleaded not guilty and could face trial later this year
They also say he taunted police officers who were guarding the building and entered the Capitol as hundreds of former President Donald Trump’s supporters sought to block the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
Asked by the judge whether he was pleading guilty because he was in fact guilty of the charges, Ulrich answered, ‘Yes, your honor.’
Ulrich is the second Oath Keepers member to plead guilty to seditious conspiracy and obstruction charges.
Joshua James, 34, of Alabama pleaded guilty in March and is also expected to cooperate with prosecutors against other alleged conspirators.
Out of hundreds of prosecutions, the case against the 11 Oath Keepers is the only one alleging participants in Capitol riot engaged in seditious conspiracy, which is defined as attempting ‘to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States.’
The seditious conspiracy prosecution is the boldest publicly known attempt so far by the government to prosecute those who attacked the U.S. Capitol.
Joshua James, 34, a US Army veteran, pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy for his actions as he accepted a plea deal to work with prosecutors to build a case against his fellow co-conspirators at the January 6 riot
James (circled) attended the riot and went on to ride a golf cart with a fellow Oath Keeper member as they made their way inside the capitol building
Under U.S. sentencing guidelines, Ulrich faces a likely sentence of around six years in prison, with credit for time already served.
However, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who will sentence Ulrich, is not bound by that guideline range, and could deliver a sentence of up to the statutory maximum of 20 years.
In court on Friday, Ulrich wiped away tears as he confirmed that he had not been promised a specific sentence in exchange for pleading guilty.
A sentencing hearing has not yet been set, and Ulrich will be in federal custody until that hearing.
As part of the plea agreement, Ulrich has agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Justice Department’s ongoing investigation.
The Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy are accused of working together to use force to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
Authorities say the militia members discussed their plans in encrypted chats, traveled to the nation´s capital from across the country, organized into teams, used military tactics, stashed weapons in case they felt they were needed and communicated with each other during the January 6 riot.
Several accused Oath Keeper rioters are seen in this picture released by the Department of Justice taken on January 6, 2020
Prosecutors say the group set up a ‘quick reaction force,’ or QRF, that kept guns at a hotel in nearby Arlington, Virginia, and that they were prepared to bring the weapons into Washington if Rhodes or associates believed the need arose.
Days before the attack, one defendant suggested getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River. In the end, the QRF teams didn’t bring guns into Washington.
More than 780 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the January 6 riot. Over 250 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. About 160 of them have been sentenced.
The nine Oath Keepers still facing seditious conspiracy charges are: Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 56, of Little Elm, Texas; Thomas Caldwell, 67, of Berryville, Virginia; Joseph Hackett, 51, of Sarasota, Florida; Kenneth Harrelson, 41, of Titusville, Florida; Kelly Meggs, 52, of Dunnellon, Florida; Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda, Florida; and Jessica Watkins, 39, of Woodstock, Ohio.
CHARGED WITH SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY: Arizona Oath Keeper chapter Ed Vallejo, left, and Florida chapter head Kelly Meggs, right
CHARGED WITH SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY: Robert Minuta, left and David Moerschel, right. Minuta allegedly said, ‘Patriots are storming the Capitol… so we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now… it’s going down guys; it’s literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building…’
CHARGED WITH SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY: Thomas Caldwell, left, and Joseph Hackett, right. Hackett is a chiropractor from Sarasota, Florida
CHARGED WITH SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY: Jessica Marie Watkins, left, and Kenneth Harrelson, right. Watkins, a bartender from Ohio, claims the US Secret Service was aware of her assisting in security near the White House
Prosecutors previously unveiled Rhodes’ messages on the Signal app, in which he called January 6 ‘the final nail in the coffin of our republic’ and allegedly instructed members of the far-right group to take part in the insurrection.
‘Be prepared for a major letdown on the 6th to the 8th, and be ready to do it ourselves,’ one message read.
Another said: ‘He must know that if he doesn’t act, we will. He has to understand that we will have no choice.’
Rhodes has been detained in federal custody since his arrest in Texas, since January 2022.
On January 26, a federal magistrate judge in Plano, Texas, ordered him jailed pending trial after his estranged wife, Tasha Adams, shared a pic of the secret tunnels he tug at their rental home.
‘Folks if you ever feel tempted to rent a backhoe and dig escape tunnels in the backyard of your rental house, keep in mind it may back to haunt you if you later attempt to overthrow the US government,’ Adams, has been trying to divorce him for four years now, tweeted during his Texas hearing.
Rhodes was denied bail in January when his estranged wife shared pictures of him inside secret holes and tunnels he made at their rental home
Rhodes is pictured testing the holes, which went up to about shoulder length and concealed his body in the ground. Wearing a green shirt, Rhodes would be camouflaged in the ground, out of sight from people passing by
The photos showed Rhodes snuggly fitting inside one of the tunnels in an entrance that was just big enough to fit his body.
Rhodes’ lawyers asked Mehta to overturn that decision, but the judge rejected that request.
Rhodes’ lawyers described his Quick Reaction Force as a defensive force, ‘called if and only if required to defend members or those with whom they have been charged with protecting,’ they wrote in a filing last month.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy said the QRF was never called upon because group members had breached the Capitol without it.
Rakoczy referred to Rhodes as the ‘architect’ of the plot. One of Rhodes’ lawyers, James Bright, said no such plot existed.
‘There was no conspiracy to overthrow the government,’ Bright told the judge. ‘There certainly was an enormous amount of bombastic language that was involved.’
Rhodes spent over $15,000 on firearms and related equipment in the week before the Capitol riot and bought more than $17,000 in additional firearms-related equipment between Jan. 6 and Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, according to prosecutors. Mehta said the quantity and timing of those gun purchases isn’t consistent with somebody buying them for self-defense.
Authorities say Rhodes held a GoToMeeting call days after the election, telling his followers to go to Washington and let Trump know ‘that the people are behind him.’
‘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 in a bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody – you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or fight,’ Rhodes said, according to court documents.
Stewart Rhodes, 56, (above) the leader of the anti-government group, was arrested in January. James agreed to testify that Rhodes was the mastermind of a plot to use ‘any means necessary’ to stop the transfer of power between Donald Trump and Joe Biden
Rhodes’ attorneys said he doesn’t pose a threat to the public or a flight risk. He voluntarily met with FBI agents multiple times after January 6 and gave them his phone, they noted.
Rhodes’ lawyers say Oath Keepers believed that then-President Donald Trump would be invoking the Insurrection Act on January 6, ‘necessitating a need for militias and other groups to defend that declaration.’
‘When that did not happen, Rhodes and others took no action. They left the Capitol grounds and went to dinner,’ the defense attorneys wrote.
Oath Keepers also provided security for longtime Trump backer Roger Stone and others in Washington that day, according to Rhodes’ lawyers.
The House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection sought testimony from Rhodes when he appeared remotely before the panel from jail earlier this month.
Rhodes is a Yale Law School graduate and military veteran. He was living in Granbury, Texas, after the Capitol riot and has been held at a county jail in Bonham, Texas, since his arrest.
‘Rhodes used his legal and military training to lead an attack on our core democratic traditions, and purposefully recruited others with similar military and law enforcement experience to join the fight,’ prosecutors wrote.
Rhodes is the highest-ranking member of an extremist group to be arrested in the deadly siege and it is the first time the Justice Department has brought a seditious conspiracy charge in connection with the Capitol riots.
The bar for proving sedition is not as high as it is for the related charge of treason. Still, sedition charges have been rare and are difficult to win.
In all, 19 members of associates of the Oath Keepers faces charges of corruptly obstructing an official proceeding by traveling to Washington intent on stopping lawmakers from declaring Biden the election winner.
Authorities say participants discussed their plans in encrypted chats, traveled to the nation´s capital from across the country, organized into teams, used military tactics, stashed weapons in case they felt they were needed and communicated with each other during the riot on January 6, 2021.
Prosecutors say the group set up a ‘quick reaction force,’ or QRF, that kept guns at a hotel in nearby Arlington, Virginia, and were prepared to bring the weapons into Washington if Rhodes or associates believed the need arose.
In January 2022, federal prosecutors released photos of a members wheeling in bins of weapons, ammunitions and supplies to a Comfort Inn just outside of Washington, DC, the day before the January 6 riot.
Edward Vallejo, 63, helped coordinate the far-right militia’s ‘quick reaction forces,’ which were ready to show up to the Capitol fully armed at a moment’s notice if directed to do so by their colleagues on the ground, prosecutors say.
Edward Vallejo, 63, wheels bins with weapons, ammunition, and a month of supplies into a Comfort Inn just miles from the Capitol the day before the January 6 riot
Vallejo is one of 11 people who were arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy last week for their role in the riot.
He and others waited with ‘weapons, ammunition, and essential supplies to last 30 days,’ prosecutors said in order to keep Vallejo detained.
They added that days before the riot, Vallejo texted Florida lead team Kelly Meggs: ‘Requesting coordinates to Allied encampment outside DC boundaries to rendezvous. Please respond ASAP. For the Republic.’
The day before the riot, ‘Meggs and his Florida team dropped off at least three luggage carts’ worth of gun boxes, rifle cases, and suitcases filled with ammunition with their QRF (quick reaction force) team.
Meggs was arrested in January and charged along with his wife, Connie. They are accused of conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property, and other crimes.
Days before the attack, one defendant suggested getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River. In the end, the QRF teams didn´t bring guns into Washington.
At the Capitol, Oath Keepers marched in two teams in stack formation, with team members advancing forward with one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them.
THE 11 DEFENDANTS CHARGED WITH SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY
Stewart Rhodes, 56, from Granbury, Texas, founder of the Oath Keepers far-right group, is accused of planning the militia’s attack on the US Capitol.
Rhodes did not breach the building but was said to be in a restricted area of Capitol grounds, from where he coordinated the actions of the militiamen, who was seen marching in formation, dressed in tactical gear.
Edward Vallejo, 63, from Phoenix, Arizona, is accused of coordinating quick reaction force teams during the January 6 Capitol attack.
Vallejo was described in the indictment as standing at the ready near a hotel in Washington DC with guns and vehicles.
He was quoted as writing in a group chat on the encrypted messaging app Signal: ‘Vallejo back at the hotel and outfitted. Have two trucks available. Let me know how I can assist.’
Thomas Caldwell, 67, of Berryville, Virginia, on January 3 allegedly suggested in a text message getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River to their ‘waiting arms.’
During a search of Caldwell’s home, authorities said they found a ‘Death List’ that included the name of an elected official, and invoices for various weapons, including a gun shaped like a cellphone.
Caldwell has denied being a member of the Oath Keepers, and his lawyer filed documents alleging that he has had a top-security clearance since 1979 and previously worked for the FBI.
Joseph Hackett, 51, of Sarasota, Florida, a chiropractor, is accused of leading the local chapter of the Oath Keepers coordinating training, planning, travel, and action with Rhodes.
According to the indictment, Hackett paid for a hotel room in DC from January 5-7, 2021.
It alleges Hackett and others ‘prepared themselves for battle before heading to the Capitol by equipping themselves with communication devices and donning reinforced vests, helmets, and goggles.’
Kenneth Harrelson, 41, of Titusville, Florida, a US Army veteran, was photographed inside the Capitol Rotunda with members of Oath Keepers.
He is accused of being among a group of rioters who were hunting for House Speaker Nancy during the insurrection.
One of co-conspirators allegedly texted Harrelson and asked he make ‘Pelosi’s head [roll] down the steps of the Capitol.’
Joshua James, 34, of Arab, Alabama, owns a cleaning company. Photos from before the riot show him ‘providing security’ to speakers at the Stop the Steal rally.
Kelly Meggs, 52, of Dunnellon, Florida, was arrested and charged with his wife Connie.
The Meggses are accused of conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property, and other crimes.
He is also accused of colluding with Proud Boys to storm the Capitol.
At the beginning of this year the Meggses sued the House select committee investigating the insurrection, saying their subpoena for their phone records was unlawful.
Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, Texas, was part of the ‘guard’ for Roger Stone.
In response to a call for individuals to storm the Capitol after it had been breached, Minuta and Joshua James drove to the Capitol with others in a pair of golf carts.
During this time, they swerved ‘around law enforcement vehicles’ with Minuta allegedly asserting: ‘Patriots are storming the Capitol… so we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now… it’s going down guys; it’s literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building…’
David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda, Florida, was seen in FBI images wheeling a long gun case in to a hotel in Arlington, Virginia.
He is seen on footage inside the Capitol next to Graydon Young, a man from Englewood who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the FBI.
Brian Ulrich, 44, of Guyton, Georgia, had been previously charged in the investigation.
He began planning for the riot a week prior and had joined an online group to discuss arrangements.
On the day of the attack, Ulrich allegedly formed a ‘stack’ formation and breached the Capitol grounds with other Oath Keepers and affiliates.
Jessica Watkins, 39, a bartender from Woodstock, Ohio, said that she was in DC to help with security for speakers at the Trump rally that took place right before the Capitol storming.
She is also claiming the United States Secret Service was aware of her assisting in security efforts near the White House that day.
SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY: THE CHARGE USED BY PRESIDENT ADAMS TO TAKE ON ‘TREASONOUS’ JOURNALISTS
The offense of seditious conspiracy is federal crime that involves two or more people in any state or territory conspiring to ‘overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them.’
Those found guilty of seditious conspiracy could face a fine, or a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, or both.
For veterans, the penalty is even more harsh.
Under Title 38 of the U.S. Code, Section 6105, veterans convicted of ‘subversive activities’ forfeit their benefits: health care, disability compensation, education and burial benefits, plus pensions. Their dependents also lose benefits.
The concept of sedition as a crime was imported from Britain.
One of the most famous cases of sedition in the U.S. involved publisher John Peter Zenger, a German journalist who printed The New York Weekly Journal. He was charged with seditious libel in 1733 for criticizing New York’s colonial governor. The jury acquitted him, setting an American tradition of press freedom.
Under President John Adams, the Sedition Act of 1798 made it a crime to publish ‘false, scandalous, or malicious writing’ against the government. Adams and other Federalists hoped the law would stop some of the venom from the Republican press.
His fellow Founding Fathers, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, strongly opposed the Sedition Act, arguing that if criticism of government was not protected, the First Amendment was an empty promise.
The law proved as unpopular as Adams himself. He lost to Jefferson in 1800.
The Sedition Act expired the following March, but it served to renew American defense of freedom of speech.
Sedition is not in the constitution, but is alluded to in the 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War.
Anyone who ‘engaged in insurrection or rebellion’ against the United States, or gave ‘aid or comfort to the enemies thereof,’ and who had previously sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution, is barred from serving in the military or federal office, elected or otherwise.
In 1918, the Sedition Act was renewed by President Woodrow Wilson who worried that criticism of the government during World War One would harm morale.
The last time federal prosecutors filed seditious conspiracy charges was in 2010 against members of the Michigan-based Hutaree Christian militia, who were accused of inciting a revolt against the government.
But a judge dismissed the seditious conspiracy counts at trial, ruling that prosecutors failed to demonstrate that the alleged militia members ever had detailed plans for an anti-government insurrection.
One of the last successful convictions for the crime of seditious conspiracy stemmed from an incident that took place in 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists stormed into the US Capitol and opened fire on the House floor, injuring five Congress members.