FBI arrests Oath Keepers leader on Jan. 6 charges

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FILE – In this Sunday, June 25, 2017 file photo, Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers speaks during a rally outside the White House in Washington. Rhodes has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Justice Department announced the charges against Rhodes on Thursday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

(The Hill) – Federal prosecutors have charged the founder of the Oath Keepers and 10 other members of the far-right militia group with seditious conspiracy for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Stewart Rhodes, 56, was arrested Thursday in Little Elm, Texas, and also faces charges for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol.

The Oath Keepers leader and founder has said he was present at the riot but never entered the Capitol. But members of the group were seen donning paramilitary gear and using a military formation to pass through crowds and enter the Capitol.

FILE – Stewart Rhodes, founder and president of the pro gun rights organization Oath Keepers speaks during a gun rights rally at the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, Conn., Saturday April 20, 2013. Rhodes has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Justice Department announced the charges against Rhodes on Thursday. (AP Photo/Journal Inquirer, Jared Ramsdell, File) MANDATORY CREDIT

“The seditious conspiracy indictment alleges that, following the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential 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,” Justice Department wrote in a release.

“Beginning in late December 2020, via encrypted and private communications applications, Rhodes and various co-conspirators coordinated and planned to travel to Washington, D.C., on or around Jan. 6, 2021, the date of the certification of the electoral college vote, the indictment alleges. Rhodes and several co-conspirators made plans to bring weapons to the area to support the operation. The co-conspirators then traveled across the country to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area in early January 2021.”

The indictment released on Thursday contains the first seditious conspiracy charges that have been brought in connection with the riot. The charge carries a maximum possible sentence 20 years in prison for anyone found guilty of conspiring to use force “to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.”

In the indictment released Thursday, prosecutors say that Rhodes coordinated with members of the right-wing militia group to travel to D.C. for the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. In the weeks following the 2020 election, Rhodes allegedly vowed in private conversations to use force if President Biden were sworn into office.

“We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit,” he wrote in an encrypted message to other Oath Keepers in November 2020.

Prosecutors said Rhodes also held a meeting with other Oath Keepers leaders in which he “outlined a plan to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power, including preparations for the use of force, and urged those listening to participate.”

In another message to his co-defendants on Dec. 31, 2020, Rhodes allegedly wrote, “There is no standard political or legal way out of this.” 

Over the next two days, according to the indictment, Rhodes spent $5,000 on firearms and gun equipment. The week before, he bought two “night vision devices” and a weapon sight for $7,000.

Prosecutors say that Rhodes helped organize the Oath Keepers who traveled to D.C. into separate military-style formations; two “stacks” marched on and breached the Capitol and an armed “quick reaction force” waited in the wings outside the city.

In the days after Jan. 6, according to the indictment, Rhodes spent about $17,500 on firearms components, ammunition and other equipment.

Rhodes was on the phone with his lawyer when the arrest was made, his attorney Jon Moseley told The Hill by email, discussing his upcoming appearance before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The FBI then called Rhodes, who patched in his attorney who helped discuss his surrender 10 minutes later.

The charges follow a speech from Attorney General Merrick Garland, who the day before the anniversary of the attack defended the department’s prosecutorial efforts amid complaints they were moving too slowly to target leaders who may have prompted the attack on the Capitol.

Garland promised a willingness to pursue those involved “at any level… whether they were present that day, or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”

“We build investigations by laying a foundation. We resolve more straightforward cases first because they provide the evidentiary foundation for more complex cases. Investigating the more overt crimes, generates linkages to less overt ones. Overt actors and the evidence they provide can lead us to others who may also have been involved and that evidence can serve as a foundation for further investigative leads and techniques,” he said.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol subpoenaed Rhodes and the Oath Keepers organization in late November

The document claims that Rhodes was in contact with the 18 Oath Keepers who stormed the building “before, during, and shortly after the attack on the Capitol.” All but one of Rhodes’ co-defendants named in the indictment had already been facing conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding charges.

It also points to repeated comments suggesting Oath Keepers “should, or were prepared to, engage in violence to ensure their preferred election outcome,” including calling on his members to serve as “poll watchers” on Election Day and “stock up on ammo” in preparation for a “full on war in the streets.”

Also charged for the first time Thursday was Edward Vallejo, a 63-year-old Arizona resident who prosecutors say stayed at a hotel in Ballston, Va. with the quick reaction force during the Capitol breach, awaiting an order to bring weapons into D.C.

DOJ noted that between prior indictments of the group’s members, the Justice Department has now charged all 19 people referenced by the committee.

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