WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment charging 11 defendants with seditious conspiracy and other charges for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The riot disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the process of ascertaining and counting the electoral votes related to the presidential election.
According to court documents, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 56, of Granbury, who is the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers; and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, were charged for the first time in connection with events leading up to and including the melee.
Rhodes was arrested on Jan. 13 in Little Elm and Vallejo was arrested in Phoenix.
In addition to Rhodes and Vallejo, those named in the indictment include nine previously charged defendants: Thomas Caldwell, 67, of Berryville, Virginia; Joseph Hackett, 51, of Sarasota, Florida; Kenneth Harrelson, 41, of Titusville, Florida; Joshua James, 34, of Arab, Alabama; Kelly Meggs, 52, of Dunnellon, Florida; Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, Texas ; David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda, Florida; Brian Ulrich, 44, of Guyton, Georgia, and Jessica Watkins, 39, of Woodstock, Ohio. In addition to the earlier charges filed against them, they now face additional counts for seditious conspiracy and other offenses.
Eight other people affiliated with the Oath Keepers, all previously charged in the investigation, remain as defendants in two related cases. All defendants – except Rhodes and Vallejo – previously were charged in a superseding indictment. The superseding indictment has now effectively been split into three parts: the 11-defendant seditious conspiracy case, a seven-defendant original case, and a third case against one of the previously charged defendants.
In one of the related cases, the original superseding indictment, charges remain pending against James Beeks, 49, of Orlando, Florida; Donovan Crowl, 51, of Cable, Ohio; William Isaacs, 22, of Kissimmee, Florida; Connie Meggs, 60, of Dunnellon, Florida; Sandra Parker, 63, of Morrow, Ohio; Bernie Parker, 71, of Morrow, Ohio, and Laura Steele, 53, of Thomasville, North Carolina. The other case charges Jonathan Walden, 57, of Birmingham, Alabama.
The three indictments collectively charge all 19 defendants with corruptly obstructing an official proceeding. Eighteen of the 19 defendants – the exception is Walden – are charged with conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiring to prevent an officer of the United States from discharging a duty. Eleven of the 19 defendants are charged with seditious conspiracy. Some of the defendants are also facing other related charges.
As alleged in the indictments, the Oath Keepers is a large but loosely organized extreme right-wing group of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias, that is based on the premise that its members vow to support the oaths they took on joining law enforcement or the military to defend the Constitution forever. The group is often associated with conspiracy theories that baselessly allege that the federal government is under the control of a "global cabal" and plans to institute martial law. Rhodes is friends with extreme right-wing radio host Alex Jones and has frequently appeared on his show in the past.
Though the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as members, they explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel. Members and affiliates of the Oath Keepers were among the individuals and groups who forcibly entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, according to the FBI.
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. 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.
According to the seditious conspiracy indictment, the defendants conspired through a variety of manners and means, including: organizing into teams that were prepared and willing to use force and to transport firearms and ammunition into Washington, D.C.; recruiting members and affiliates to participate in the conspiracy; organizing trainings to teach and learn paramilitary combat tactics; bringing and contributing paramilitary gear, weapons, and supplies – including knives, batons, camouflaged combat uniforms, tactical vests with plates, helmets, eye protection, and radio equipment – to the Capitol grounds; breaching and attempting to take control of the Capitol grounds and building, in an effort to prevent, hinder and delay the certification of the electoral college vote; using force against law enforcement officers while inside the Capitol ; continuing to plot, after Jan. 6, to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power, and using websites, social media, text messaging and encrypted messaging applications to communicate with co-conspirators and others.
On that day, a large crowd began to gather outside the Capitol perimeter as the Joint Session of Congress got under way at 1 p.m. Crowd members eventually forced their way through, up, and over U.S. Capitol Police barricades and advanced to the building's exterior façade. Shortly after 2 p.m., crowd members forced entry into the Capitol by breaking windows, ramming open doors, and assaulting Capitol police and other law enforcement officers. At about this time, according to the indictment, Rhodes entered the restricted area of the Capitol grounds and directed his followers to meet him at the Capitol.
At 2:30 p.m., as detailed in the indictment, Hackett, Harrelson, Meggs, Moerschel, and Watkins, and other Oath Keepers and affiliates – many wearing paramilitary clothing and patches with the Oath Keepers name, logo, and insignia – marched in a "stack" formation up the east steps of the Capitol, joined a mob, and made their way into the Capitol. Later, another group of Oath Keepers and associates, including James, Minuta, and Ulrich, formed a second "stack" and breached the Capitol grounds, marching from the west side to the east side of the Capitol building and up the east stairs and into the building.
While certain Oath Keepers members and affiliates breached the Capitol grounds and building, others remained stationed just outside of the city in quick reaction force (QRF) teams. According to the indictment, the QRF teams were prepared to rapidly transport firearms and other weapons into Washington, D.C., in support of operations aimed at using force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power. The indictment alleges that the teams were coordinated, in part, by Caldwell and Vallejo.
The charge of seditious conspiracy carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
This case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and the Department of Justice National Security Division's Counterterrorism Section. Valuable assistance was provided by U.S. Attorney's Offices in the Northern District of Texas and the District of Arizona.
The case is being investigated by the FBI's Washington Field Office with valuable assistance provided by the FBI's Dallas and Phoenix Field Offices. These charges are the result of significant cooperation between agents and staff across numerous FBI Field Offices, including those in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Arizona, Alabama and Georgia, among other locations.
In the one year since Jan. 6, more than 725 individuals were arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol, including over 225 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement. The investigation remains ongoing.
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