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

The latest charges – along with a charge that had not been brought before in the prosecution of the department’s US Capitol attack – take away any sense that prosecutors believe the riot emerged from a group of protesters too zealous, with new details of the alleged planning and logistics preceded the Capitol breach.

So far, the Justice Department has been careful not to push the idea of ​​sedition, instead charging defendants affiliated with right-wing groups with conspiring to obstruct congressional proceedings on Jan. 6. The seditious conspiracy charge carries the same possible consequences as an obstruction charge, but it is rarely used, politically charged, and has been difficult for the Justice Department to use successfully against defendants in the past. .

Attorney General Merrick Garland had balked at earlier efforts to bring the seditious conspiracy charge. But in the months that followed, people briefed on the matter said that FBI investigators and DC federal prosecutors spent a lot of time building the case, at least in part with the help of cooperators and at least in part. benefit of internal communications between oath keepers.

The new indictment sheds light on the planning the oath keepers are accused of doing prior to the attack on the Capitol, as they allegedly recruited members, stockpiled weapons and organized to disrupt congressional certification of the elections of 2020. Prosecutors say they also continued to plot “to forcibly oppose the legal transfer of presidential power” after the Capitol riot failed to block the Electoral College vote, according to a statement from the Department of Justice on Thursday.

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An oath keeper claimed to have traveled to Washington, DC, for a reconnaissance trip before Jan. 6, according to the indictment. The new court filings also detail charges that the defendants hid weapons in a Virginia hotel and were prepared to “promptly transport firearms and other weapons to Washington, D.C.” to support efforts to to stop the presidential certification vote.

Rhodes was arrested Thursday in Little Elm, Texas.

Would have opposed “by force” the legal transfer of power

The new indictment, approved by a grand jury on Wednesday and released to the public on Thursday, alleges that Rhodes and his co-conspirators engaged in a conspiracy to “oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force, by preventing, by forcibly obstructing or delaying the execution”. laws governing the transfer of power”.

The latest court documents have revealed that oath keeper Thomas Caldwell, who was arrested in January, claimed he made a reconnaissance trip to Washington before January 6. oppose the legal transfer of power.

“We don’t get through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body and spirit,” Rhodes allegedly said in a November 5, 2020 Signal message. In December, Rhodes – according to the indictment – wrote of Electoral College certification that “there is no standard policy or legal way out.”

Prosecutors previously said Rhodes used Signal during the attack to communicate with other members of the Oath Keepers who were at the Capitol.

Merrick Garland on the attack on the Capitol:

“All I see Trump doing is complaining. I don’t see any intention on his part to do anything,” Rhodes reportedly wrote. “So the patriots take it in hand. They’ve had enough,” he reportedly said on Signal at 1:38 p.m. that day, shortly after the siege began.

Additionally, the indictment says oath keepers from three different states, including newly indicted Edward Vallejo, stashed weapons in a Virginia hotel as part of a quick reaction force.

“[Quick reaction force] teams were ready to rapidly transport firearms and other weapons to Washington, D.C., in support of operations to use force to prevent the lawful transfer of presidential power,” the indictment reads. .

En route to DC on Jan. 3, Rhodes reportedly purchased an AR platform rifle and other gun gear, including sights, mounts, triggers, slings, and other gun accessories. fire in Texas. The next day, he allegedly purchased more firearms equipment in Mississippi, including sights, mounts, an optical plate and a magazine, according to the filings.

Conspiracy charges before and after the attack on the Capitol

Rhodes’ indictment reviews public and private statements made by Chief Oath Keeper, just days after the election, which prosecutors say illuminate the plot to forcibly oppose the transfer of presidential power.

These alleged discussions include a November reading that Caldwell contacted to provide Rhodes with a November 9 trip he had made to DC to scout for an upcoming “operation.” Communications about the “bloody” “combat” and “revolution” were accompanied by logistical planning, prosecutors said, with the defendants discussing obtaining and bringing weapons to the Washington area. Rhodes allegedly spent thousands of dollars on firearms equipment en route to DC, prosecutors say.

Here is what

On Jan. 6, prosecutors allege oath keepers posted themselves around the DC area — some near the Capitol, others providing security and a third group waiting across the river at a hotel in Virginia with a weapons cache. At the Capitol, some members moved into a military “pile” formation in the Capitol where they fought with police, and a small group searched unsuccessfully for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to court documents.

The plot did not end with the Capitol Riot, prosecutors say, alleging that Rhodes and other co-conspirators met in Virginia to “celebrate” the attack and “discuss next steps.” In a Signal conversation with other members of the Oath Keepers leadership, Rhodes reportedly said that “Patriots entering their own Capitol to send a message to traitors is NOTHING compared to what is to come.”

In the week following the riot, Rhodes reportedly spent more than $17,500 on weapons, equipment and ammunition. One member, according to the filings, said Rhodes should remain “under the radar,” while another brought what he called “every weapon available” to Rhodes’ home in Texas.

Around inauguration day, Jan. 20, Rhodes reportedly told his associates to organize local militias to oppose the Biden administration. Another member reportedly said, “After this…if nothing happens…it’s war…Civil War 2.0.”

Change of approach

The charges mark a sea change in the Justice Department’s Jan. 6 investigation.

Previously, some Biden administration officials believed that using the sedition charge could politicize the Justice Department’s prosecution of the Capitol attackers, and the department backed down after the former chief state prosecutor Investigator Michael Sherwin said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he believed a seditious conspiracy could be charged.
Garland said in a speech last week commemorating the attack on the Capitol that the department was “committed to holding all perpetrators of January 6, at all levels, accountable under the law – whether present on this day – where they are otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”

Rhodes was also interested in the House’s Jan. 6 investigation, which issued subpoenas in November for him and his organization for a deposition and documents related to the events of that day.

CNN reported in July that Rhodes gave a voluntary interview to the FBI and that investigators seized his cellphone. He denied any wrongdoing.

According to previous court documents submitted by the Justice Department in other cases, Rhodes said in an online meeting in November 2020, “We are going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we are asking him to do what needs to be done. to save our country. Because if you guys don’t, 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 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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