What there is to know
- Two North Texas men are facing sedition charges related to the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.
- The charges mark a serious escalation in the DOJ’s investigation and rebut, in part, those who question whether the attack was an attempted insurgency.
- Seditious conspiracy charges carry a 20-year prison sentence.
Two north Texas men, Stewart Rhodes and Roberto Minuta, linked to the Oath Keepers militia, are among 11 people charged with seditious conspiracy in last year’s assault on the US Capitol.
Despite hundreds of charges already being laid in the year since pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol in an effort to prevent certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, it’s the first time seditious conspiracy charges have been brought by prosecutors in connection with the Jan 6 riot.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 56, of Granbury, was arrested by the FBI on Thursday in Little Elm, the Justice Department said. Another North Texas man, Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, has already been arrested, but the conspiracy charges have been added to his case.
Rhodes is the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, a group that seeks members who are former military, law enforcement and first responders, the DOJ said. Rhodes and the others planned to bring weapons to Washington, prosecutors said.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes
The charges mark a serious escalation in the largest investigation in Justice Department history – more than 700 people have been arrested and charged with federal crimes – and highlight the work that has been done to piece together the most recent cases. more complicated. The charges rebut, in part, the growing chorus of Republican lawmakers who have publicly challenged the seriousness of the insurgency, arguing that since no one had yet been charged with sedition or treason, it could not have been so violent.
The indictment (embedded at the bottom of this article) alleges that the oath keepers discussed for weeks trying to overturn the election results and preparing for a siege by buying weapons and setting up battle plans. They wrote repeatedly in discussions about the prospect of violence and the need, as Rhodes reportedly put it in one piece, “to scare the s—outs” from Congress. And on January 6, according to the indictment, they entered the Capitol building with the large crowd of rioters who stormed police barriers and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and scaring away lawmakers.
According to the indictment, the FBI obtained encrypted communications between the Oath Keepers. On November 5, two days after the election, Rhodes sent a message: “We will not get out of this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, your body, your spirit.
A few days later, Rhodes wrote, “We must now do what the people of Serbia did when Milosevic stole his election: refuse to accept it and march en masse on the Nation’s Capitol.”
The indictment against Rhodes alleges that the Oath Keepers formed two teams, or “stacks”, which entered the Capitol. The first stack split inside the building to attack the House and Senate separately. The second stack clashed with officers inside the Capitol rotunda, according to the indictment. Outside Washington, according to the indictment, the Oath Keepers had stationed two “quick reaction forces” which had firearms “in support of their plot to prevent the lawful transfer of power.”
Sedition charges are hard to win and rarely used, but defendants face a hefty prison sentence of 20 years if convicted, compared to five for other conspiracy charges. The last time US prosecutors brought such a riotous conspiracy case was in 2010 in an alleged Michigan plot by members of the Hutaree militia to incite an uprising against the government. But a judge ordered acquittals on sedition conspiracy charges at a 2012 trial, saying prosecutors relied too heavily on hateful rants protected by the First Amendment and failed, as they should, proved that the accused ever had detailed plans for a rebellion.
Among the last successful convictions for seditious conspiracy was another now largely forgotten Capitol storming in 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the floor of the House, injuring five Representatives.
Most of the hundreds of people charged with violence face lesser crimes. More than 150 people have been charged with assaulting police officers at the Capitol. More than 50 people have been charged with conspiracy, mostly people linked to the far-right Proud Boys and the anti-government Oath Keepers. No sedition charges have been brought against the Proud Boys.
Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6 but is accused of helping to ignite the violence. Jonathan Moseley, an attorney who said he represented Rhodes, said Rhodes was supposed to testify before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 uprising in a deposition, but that deposition was quashed.
“He’s been under a lot of suspicion as to why he hasn’t been charged” so far in the Jan. 6 riot, 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.”
A second attorney representing the group, Kellye SoRelle, said she would release a statement later and said Mosley was not representing Rhodes.
Rhodes said in interviews with right-wing hosts that there were no plans to storm the Capitol and that members who did have gone rogue. But he continued to spread the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, while posts on the Oath Keepers website described the group as victims of political persecution.
Other defendants in the plot argued in court that the only plan was to provide security for the rally before the riot or to protect against possible attacks by far-left Antifa activists.
Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, appeared in court papers in the conspiracy case for months as ‘Person One’ .
Authorities say Rhodes held a GoToMeeting call days after the election, telling his supporters to come to Washington and let President Donald Trump know “the people are behind him.” Rhodes told members that they should be ready to fight Antifa and that some oath keepers should “stay on the outside” and be “ready to go in armed” if necessary.
“We’re going to stand up for the president, the duly elected president, and we’re 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 situation, a civil war bloody and bloody – you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or a fight,” Rhodes said, according to court documents.
Authorities said Rhodes was part of an encrypted Signal conversation with multi-state oath keepers before Jan. 6 called “DC OP: Jan 6 21” and it showed the group was “activating a plan to use force. ” That day.
On the afternoon of the 6th, authorities say Rhodes told the group via Signal, “All I see Trump is complaining. I don’t see any intention on his part to do anything. So the patriots are taking matters into their own hands. They’ve had enough.”
Around 2:30 p.m., Rhodes had a 97-second phone call with Kelly Meggs, the reputed leader of the group’s Florida chapter, who was part of the military-style pile, authorities said. About 10 minutes later, Rhodes sent a photo to the group showing the southeast side of the Capitol with the caption, “South side of US Capitol. Patriots knocking on doors.” Around the same time, members of the stack formation forced their way into the Capitol, prosecutors say.
Rhodes was due in court Friday in Texas.
Seditious conspiracy charges carry a 20-year prison sentence.
Scott Gordon of NBC 5 and Associated Press writers Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City and Nomaan Merchant, Eric Tucker, Michael Kunzelman in Washington contributed to this report.
DOJ INDICTMENT, USA VS. RHODES
NBC 5 and Associated Press.