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Oath Keepers founder, 10 others charged with seditious conspiracy for January 6 attack

Capitol rioters charged with seditious conspiracy
Capitol rioters charged with seditious conspiracy 02:28

Washington — The Justice Department charged 11 people, including the founder of the right-wing militia known as the Oath Keepers, with "seditious conspiracy" for their alleged roles in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the most serious charges brought to date relating to the riot.

Elmer Stewart Rhodes of Granbury, Texas, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., and arrested in Texas on Thursday morning, the Justice Department said. Prosecutors allege he and others conspired to storm the Capitol and interrupt the tallying of electoral votes in the 2020 election.

In total, 19 people were charged in three separate indictments unsealed Thursday. Eleven of the individuals face seditious conspiracy charges, while the rest face counts of corruptly obstructing an official proceeding and other related charges. Rhodes and another man, Edward Vallejo of Phoenix, Arizona, were charged for the first time, while the others have been named in previous indictments.

"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," the Justice Department said.

One of Rhodes' attorneys, Jon Moseley, told CBS News "I don't think they'll be able to prove" the case against Rhodes based off the documents.

Before Thursday's announcement, approximately two dozen members or affiliates of the Oath Keepers had been charged for their alleged participation in the January 6 attack, many as part of one large case accusing them of conspiracy.

In a 48-page indictment, prosecutors detailed how Rhodes and his co-conspirators allegedly planned to stop the transfer of power by January 20, 2020, when President Biden would be sworn into office.

"They coordinated travel across the country to enter Washington, D.C., equipped themselves with a variety of weapons, donned combat and tactical gear, and were prepared to answer Rhodes's call to take up arms at Rhodes's direction," according to the indictment. "Some co-conspirators also amassed firearms on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., distributed them among 'quick reaction force' teams, and planned to use the firearms in support of their plot to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power." 

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, is seen February 28, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas.
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, is seen February 28, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. Aaron C. Davis/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Rhodes began sending messages through encrypted applications in November 2020 encouraging fellow Oath Keepers to oppose the transfer of powers, prosecutors said.

In one message sent November 5, two days after the election, Rhodes told his followers in a message on the app Signal: "We aren't getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body spirit." Then, in another message on November 7, when Mr. Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election, Rhodes wrote, "We must now do what the people of Serbia did when Milosevic stole their election - Refuse to accept it and march en-mass on the nation's Capitol."

Rhodes then convened an online meeting with Oath Keepers members, during which he outlined a plan to stop the transfer of presidential power, which included preparations for the use of force, court documents allege.

Following the meeting, Kelly Meggs, the self-described leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers who is already facing charges, sent a message to other members, saying: "Anybody not on the call tonight. We have been issued a call to action for DC. This is the moment we signed up for…."

Coordination and planning for the events of January 6 began in late December, federal prosecutors allege, with Rhodes and fellow Oath Keepers making plans to bring weapons to the Washington area to support their efforts to stop Congress from reaffirming Mr. Biden's election win.

On the day of the attack, prosecutors detailed how the members of the Oath Keepers and its affiliates formed two "stacks" to breach the Capitol building. The first stack entered the Capitol Rotunda and split up, with one half attempting to push through law enforcement outside the Senate chamber and the second half heading toward the House looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to the indictment. 

"They did not find Speaker Pelosi and ultimately left the building," the filing states.

The second stack also breached the grounds of the Capitol, and three of the Oath Keepers entered the Rotunda and attempted to push back police guarding the area, prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, the charging documents allege a separate team of Oath Keepers remained outside Washington and was "prepared to rapidly transport firearms and other weapons into Washington, D.C., in support of the operations."

If convicted, each charge of seditious conspiracy carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, although federal judges have wide latitude to impose sentences.

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