US prosecutors on Thursday charged the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, Stewart Rhodes, and 10 alleged members of the conspiracy group for their role in the January 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
They said Rhodes had warned his group to prepare for a “bloody and desperate struggle” in the days leading up to the attack, as supporters of then-President Donald Trump tried to stop Congress from certifying his election defeat.
This is the first time that the alleged participants in the attack have been charged with seditious conspiracy, which is defined as an attempt to “overthrow or forcibly destroy the government of the United States”.
“Let’s fight!” according to prosecutors, was what Rhodes told his allies on the Signal messaging app. “This cannot be avoided.”
The Oath Keepers are a loosely organized group of activists who believe the federal government is usurping their rights and focus on recruiting retired and active police, emergency services and military personnel.
Nine of the eleven accused of seditious conspiracy were already facing other charges related to the Capitol attack. Members of the far-right Proud Boys and Three Percenters were also accused of participating in the attack.
Attempt to interrupt power
The indictment says Rhodes began messaging his followers in November 2020, the month of Trump’s electoral defeat to Democrat Joe Biden, encouraging them to “forcefully oppose the legal transfer of presidential power.”
After his defeat, Trump repeatedly made false claims that his loss was the result of widespread fraud. He echoed those claims in an impassioned speech near the White House before thousands of his followers stormed the Capitol in the worst attack on Congressional headquarters since the War of 1812.
Prosecutors said that starting in late December 2020, Rhodes used encrypted private communications to plan to travel to Washington on January 6. He and others planned to bring in weapons to help support the operation, prosecutors said.
While some of the Oath Keeper members rushed inside the building using tactical gear, others remained outside in what they considered “rapid response force” teams, which were prepared to quickly transport weapons into the city, prosecutors said.
Jon Moseley, Rhodes’ attorney, told Reuters he was on the phone with Rhodes to discuss his planned appearance before the House Select Committee on Jan. 6, when the FBI called.
“He called me on the call and I identified myself as his attorney,” Moseley said in an email. The agent then told him that they were outside Rhodes’ house in Granbury, Texas and were there to arrest him.
The indictment alleges that Thomas Caldwell, who was previously charged, and Edward Vallejo of Arizona, a new defendant, were in charge of coordinating the rapid response force teams.
Seditious conspiracy is a crime carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed last week to hold anyone involved in the Capitol Hill attack accountable. The department has charged more than 725 people with crimes stemming from the attack. Of those people, about 165 pleaded guilty and at least 70 were sentenced. Garland said the Justice Department “will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
On the day of the attack, four people died. One of them, Ashli Babbitt, was shot dead by the Capitol Police while trying to break into the Speaker’s Gallery. Another three died of natural causes.
The next day, Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died. Although he was sprayed with a chemical irritant on the day of the attack, it was later determined that he died of natural causes. About 140 officers were injured and four officers later died by suicide.
The Justice Department has previously won convictions for seditious conspiracy against Puerto Rican nationalists and alleged Islamist militants, including Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the radical Islamic cleric known as the “Blind Sheikh.”
Charges of seditious conspiracy featured prominently in a case federal authorities opened in 1987 against leaders and members of a neo-Nazi group known as The Order. Fourteen alleged members or supporters were indicted, with 10 facing seditious conspiracy charges.
After a two-month trial, a jury acquitted all the defendants.
Reference: CNN Brasil