By Michael Balsamo, Colleen Long and Alana Durkin Richter | The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy to attack the US Capitol, officials said Thursday.
Ten others were also charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the January 6, 2021 attack, when officials said members of the extremist group had come to Washington with the intention of preventing certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
These are the first charges of seditious conspiracy that the Justice Department has made in connection with an attack led by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Rhodes, 56, of Granbury, Texas, and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, were arrested on Thursday. Others who were charged were already facing criminal charges related to the assault. 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 on January 6, 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 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, an attorney representing Rhodes, said his client was arrested in Texas on Thursday.
“He has been under great suspicion as to why he was not charged,” so far in the January 6 riots, Moseley said. “I don’t know if it’s 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 was talking to Rhodes on the phone about the committee when the FBI contacted Rhodes.
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 in the conspiracy case for weeks as “Person One.”
Officials say Rhodes made a GoToMeeting call days after the election, in which he asked his followers to go to Washington and tell Trump that “the people are behind him.” Rhodes told members that they should be prepared to fight Antifa and that some oath-taking 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 must be done to save our country. Because if you’re not the people, you’re going to have a bloody, bloody civil war and a It’s going to be bloody — you can call it rebellion or you can call it war or fighting,” 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 was called “DC OP: January 6 21” and showed that the group was “likely to use force” that day. Activating the plan”.
On the afternoon of the 6th, officials say, Rhodes told the group at the signal: “I see all that Trump is doing is complaining. I see no intention of him doing anything. So Patriots.” Taking it into their own hands. They have 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, 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 at 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.
The last time US prosecutors brought such a seditious conspiracy case was in 2010 in an alleged Michigan conspiracy by members of the Hutari militia to incite an insurgency against the government. But a judge ordered an acquittal on charges of conspiracy to commit treason in a 2012 trial, saying prosecutors relied heavily on the hateful diatribe protected by the First Amendment and, as required, did not prove that the accused ever had The rebellion had a detailed plan.
One of the last successful sentences for conspiracy to treason stemmed from the largely forgotten storming of the Capitol in 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the floor of the House, wounding five delegates.
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.
Associated Press writers Jacques Billaud, Noman Merchant, Eric Tucker, Michael Kunzelman and Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.