The founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy for allegedly organizing the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
Stewart Rhodes, 56, the leader of the anti-government group, was taken into custody by federal officials in Little Elm, Texas, on Thursday, after a grand jury returned indictments against him and a core group of 10 Oath Keeper members, accusing them of planning and carrying out the insurrection to stop the certification of President Joe Biden‘s election victory.
The seditious conspiracy charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper, 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.
Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group, was arrested on Thursday on federal charges of seditious conspiracy related to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol
More than a dozen members and associates of the Oath Keepers have been indicted, making it the largest conspiracy case that has been brought so far over the riots
Rhodes is charged along with 18 other members and associates of the Oath Keepers, who authorities say came to Washington intent on stopping lawmakers from declaring Biden a winner.
Rhodes and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, were arrested on Thursday. The others who were charged were already facing criminal charges related to the attack.
Jonathan Moseley, an attorney representing Rhodes, described his client’s indictment and arrest as ‘an unusual situation.’
Moseley said Rhodes was supposed to testify before the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection in a deposition but it got called off. He was talking to Rhodes on the phone about the committee when Rhodes was contacted by the FBI.
Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building on January 6 but is accused of helping put into motion the violence that disrupted the certification of the vote.
The Oath Keepers case is the largest conspiracy case federal authorities have brought so far over January 6, when thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed past police barriers and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and sending lawmakers running.
The indictment alleges that, after the election, Rhodes conspired with his co-defendants and others ‘to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power by Jan. 20, 2021.’
Beginning in December 2020, Rhodes and his fellow militiamen allegedly used encrypted and private communications apps to coordinate and plan to travel to Washington DC on January 6, the date of the certification of the electoral college vote.
Federal authorities claimed that Rhodes and several others planned to bring weapons and ammunition with them.
A federal indictment that was unsealed on Thursday alleges that Oath Keepers and their affiliates breached the US Capitol after planning to travel to Washington DC with weapons and tactical gear to ‘delay the certification of the electoral college vote’
Donovan Ray Crowl, who has since been indicted by federal authorities for his role in the siege on the US Capitol, marches down the east front steps of the Capitol with members of the Oath Keepers militia
According to the indictment, the defendants carried out the conspiracy by organizing into teams, recruiting additional members, hosting training sessions to teach paramilitary combat tactics, bringing tactical gear and weapons, including knives and batons, to the Capitol grounds.
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.
The suspects’ efforts culminated with them ‘breaching and attempting to take control of the Capitol grounds and building on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to prevent, hinder and delay the certification of the electoral college vote,’ according to the Us Department of Justice.
The indictment alleges that after the failed insurrection, the Oath Keepers and their affiliates continued the thwarted plot by using social media, text messaging and encrypted apps to communicate with co-conspirators.
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 went rogue. But he has continued to push the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, while posts on the Oath Keepers website have depicted the group as a victim of political persecution.
On January 6, a large crowd began to gather outside the Capitol perimeter as the Joint Session of Congress got under way at 1pm following a fiery speech by then-President Donald Trump.
Crowd members eventually forced their way through, up and over US Capitol Police barricades and advanced to the building’s exterior façade, according to the Justice Department.
Shortly after 2pm, rioters forced their way inside the Capitol by breaking windows, ramming open doors, and assaulting Capitol police and other law enforcement officers.
At about this time, according to the indictment, Rhodes entered the restricted area of the Capitol grounds and directed his followers to meet him at the Capitol.
Some 30 minutes later, as detailed in the indictment, a group of Oath Keepers – many wearing paramilitary clothing and patches with the militia’s name, logo, and insignia – were photographed marching in a ‘stack’ formation up the east steps of the Capitol, joining a mob, and making their way inside.
Later, another detachment of Oath Keepers formed a second ‘stack’ and breached the Capitol grounds, marching from the west side to the east side of the Capitol building and up the east stairs and into the building, documents alleged.
Federal officials argue that Rhodes and his cohorts came to Washington DC intent on stopping lawmakers from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory
While some Oath Keepers stormed the building, others remained stationed just outside of the city in quick reaction force, which, according to the indictment, ‘were prepared to rapidly transport firearms and other weapons into Washington, D.C., in support of operations aimed at using force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.’
Oath Keeper defendants have argued in court that the only plan was to provide security at the rally before the riot or protect themselves against possible attacks from far-left antifa activists.
Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate, started the Oath Keepers in 2009, and the group has grown into one of the nation’s largest anti-government militias, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In 2014, Oath Keeper members joined an armed standoff between federal officials and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over grazing rights on government land.
Later that year and in 2015, members patrolled the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, amid protests over the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. They wore camouflage body armor and openly carried rifles.