Oath guard leader and 10 others charged with ‘seditious conspiracy’

The latest accusations — on a charge never before presented in the U.S. Capitol attack trials — remove any sense that prosecutors believed the riots emanated from just a group of impassioned protesters, with new details about the alleged planning and logistics of the Capitol breach.

The Justice Department has so far been careful not to promote the idea of ​​sedition, instead accusing defendants affiliated with right-wing groups of plotting to block congressional proceedings on January 6. But it is rarely used, is politically loaded, and has been difficult for the Department of Justice to use successfully against defendants in the past.

Attorney General Merrick Garland had dismissed previous efforts to bring a seditious conspiracy charge. But in the months that followed, people briefed on the matter said that FBI investigators and federal prosecutors in Washington spent a great deal of time building the case, at least in part with the help of collaborators and making use of internal communications between department guards.

The new indictment highlights the planning that department guards are accused of accomplishing before the Capitol attack, in which they allegedly recruited members, stockpiled, and organized to disrupt Congress’ approval of the 2020 election. Prosecutors say they continued planning to “oppose the legal transfer of presidential power by force” after the riots failed. on the Capitol in obstructing the Electoral College vote, according to a statement from the Department of Justice Thursday.

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Reservation photo of Oath Keepers captain Stewart Rhodes.  From Collin County, Texas.

One of the department’s guards claimed he traveled to Washington, D.C. for an expedition before Jan. 6, according to the indictment. The new court filings also detail accusations that the defendants stashed weapons in a Virginia hotel and were willing to “quickly move firearms and other weapons to Washington, D.C.” to support efforts to stop the presidential testimony vote.

Rhodes was arrested Thursday in Little Elm, Texas.

Opposing the legal transfer of power “by force”

The new indictment, approved by a grand jury on Wednesday and announced Thursday, alleges that Rhodes and his co-conspirators participated in a plot “to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force, by preventing, impeding, or delaying the enforcement by force of laws governing the transfer of power.” “.

Recent court filings reveal that department guard Thomas Caldwell, who was arrested in January, claimed to have made a reconnaissance trip to Washington, D.C. prior to January 6. The indictment also reveals previously unknown communications allegedly sent by Rhodes that prosecutors said encouraged the use of force. To oppose the legal transfer of power.

“We’re not going through this without a civil war,” Rhodes said in a message from Signal on November 5, 2020. “It’s too late for that. Prepare your mind, body and soul.” In December, Rhodes wrote – according to the indictment – of the Electoral College’s testimony that “there is no standard political or legal way out of this.”

Prosecutors previously said that Rhodes used Signal during the attack to communicate with other members of the department’s guards who were in the Capitol.

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“All I see Trump doing is complaining,” Rhodes allegedly wrote. “I don’t see any intention of him doing anything.” He allegedly said on Signal at 1:38 p.m. that day, shortly after the siege began: “So the Patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’re tired.”

Additionally, the indictment stated that department guards from three different states, including the newly charged Edward Vallejo, stashed weapons in a Virginia hotel as part of a rapid reaction force.

“[Quick reaction force] “Teams were prepared to rapidly transfer firearms and other weapons to Washington, DC, in support of operations designed to use force to halt the legal transfer of presidential authority,” the indictment said.

On his way to D.C. on January 3, Rhodes allegedly purchased an AR platform rifle and other firearms equipment, including sights, fixtures, triggers, levers and other Texas firearm accessories. The next day, he allegedly purchased more firearms equipment in Mississippi including sights, mounts, optics and magazine, according to filings.

Accusations of planning before and after the Capitol attack

The indictment against Rhodes proceeds through public and private statements made by the Oath Keeper leader, which began just days after the election, which prosecutors say sheds light on a conspiracy opposing a forcible transfer of presidential power.

Those alleged discussions include the November readings that Caldwell called to provide Rhodes with his November 9 voyage to the capital for an upcoming “mission” recovery. Prosecutors claimed that communications about the “bloody” “fight” and “revolution” were accompanied by logistical planning, in which the defendants discussed obtaining weapons and bringing them to the Washington area. Prosecutors allege that Rhodes spent thousands on firearms equipment on the way to the capital.

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On January 6, prosecutors alleged that the Oath Keepers were stationed around the metropolitan area — some near the Capitol, others providing security and a third group waiting across the river at a Virginia hotel with a cache of weapons. At the Capitol, some members of a military “stack” formation moved to the Capitol where they fought with police, and a small group searched unsuccessfully for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to court documents.

Prosecutors say the plot did not end with the Capitol riots, claiming that Rhodes and other conspirators met in Virginia to “celebrate” the attack and “discuss next steps.” In conversation with other members of the Oath Keepers leadership, Rhodes said that “the Patriots entering their Capitol to send a message to traitors is nothing compared to what is coming.”

In the week following the riots, Rhodes allegedly spent more than $17,500 on weapons, equipment, and ammunition. According to the affidavits, one member said Rhodes should stay “under the radar,” while another brought what he called “all available weapons” to Rhodes’ Texas home.

Around inauguration day, January 20, Rhodes allegedly asked his aides to organize local militias to oppose the Biden administration. Another member allegedly said, “After this…if nothing happens…its war…Civil War 2.0.”

change in approach

The charges represent a fundamental change in the Justice Department’s January 6 investigation.

Previously, some Biden administration officials believed using the sedition charge could politicize the Justice Department’s prosecution of the Capitol attackers, the department backed down after the former attorney general on the investigation, Michael Sherwin, said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he Thought a seditious plot could be fraught.
Garland said in a speech last week commemorating the Capitol attack that the department “is committed to holding all perpetrators of January 6, at any level, accountable under the law — whether they were present on that day or were criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”

Rhodes was also the subject of a January 6 inquiry by the House of Representatives, which issued subpoenas in November for him and his organization to obtain testimony and documents relating to the events of that day.

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper Thursday night, Democratic Rep. Jimmy Raskin of Maryland, who serves on the Jan. 6 committee, said he hoped the newly filed charges would “close those charges of our colleagues who keep saying, ‘Well, if the It is a conspiracy so how is there no conspiracy charges? If it was sedition, how were there no accusations of incitement? ”

He continued, “So, here we are. We have those who, no doubt, have a lot to do in the near future.”

CNN reported in July that Rhodes gave a voluntary interview with the FBI and that investigators confiscated his cell phone. He denied all wrongdoing.

According to previous court filings filed by the Department of Justice in other cases, Rhodes said in an online meeting in November 2020, “We will defend the president, the duly elected president, and call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country. Because if you guys aren’t, I will You are in a bloody, bloody, bloody civil war – you can call it a rebellion, or you can call it a war or a fight.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Marshall Cohen and Evan Perez contributed to this report.

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