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Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes charged with seditious conspiracy in January 6 case

Rhodes, 56, is the first defendant to be charged with sedition in connection with the assault on the U.S. Capitol last year.

WASHINGTON — Oath Keepers president Elmer Stewart Rhodes III and 10 other members of the militia group have been indicted on charges of seditious conspiracy, according to the Justice Department – marking the first defendants to be charged with sedition in connection with the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Rhodes, 56, was arrested Thursday at his home in Granbury, Texas, on one count of seditious conspiracy. Another defendant, Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, was arrested on four counts, including seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging any duties. The other nine defendants indicted in the case are Oath Keepers who have previously been charged in connection with the Capitol riot.

If convicted at trial, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy could face up to 20 years in prison.

Just two days after the November 2020 presidential election, prosecutors say Rhodes — a U.S. Army veteran and Yale-educated lawyer — already was calling for his followers to refuse the election results: “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit.” He then shared a “step-by-step” plan he said had led to the overthrow of former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević. The plan called for “complete civil disobedience,” the storming of police barricades and the capture of the capitol.

On Nov. 9, 2020, Rhodes organized a private call for Oath Keepers members. During the meeting, investigators say, Rhodes “outlined a plan to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power, including preparations for the use of force, and urged those listening to participate.”

Immediately after the meeting, Florida Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs allegedly sent a message to an invitation-only Signal chat with other Oath Keepers 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…” Meggs is accused of bragging he’d organized an “alliance” between the Oath Keepers, Florida Three Percenters and Proud Boys ahead of January 6. The day after Christmas, Meggs is alleged to have urged other Oath Keepers to “wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection.”

Prosecutors say Ohio Oath Keepers leader Jessica Watkins also immediately took action after the call with Rhodes – reaching out to several people listed in her phone as “recruits” and informing them she was organizing a military-style basic training class to get them “fighting fit by innaugeration [sic].”

That same month, Meggs and other Oath Keepers in Florida held a training on “unconventional warfare.” In previous court documents, prosecutors have said the group’s preparations included “gunfight oriented training” for tactical warfare.

‘A Bloody and Desperate Fight’

Prosecutors say the Oath Keepers’ preparations ramped up further in December, when Rhodes sent a message to an invitation-only Signal chat titled “Dec 12 DC Security/Leadership.”

In the message, Rhodes said that if President-elect Joe Biden were to assume the presidency, “It will be a bloody and desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can’t be avoided.”

A day later, the North Carolina chapter of the Oath Keepers held a training session focused on vehicle operations, roadblocks and setting up ambushes.

“But the first thing we are going to do is fall into a formation when we assemble,” the organizer of the training wrote. Less than a month later, Oath Keepers would move in two groups in a military “stack” formation as they entered the Capitol.

Rhodes continued revving followers up throughout the month, prosecutors say. On Dec. 19, Texas Oath Keeper James Minuta messaged another individual, “Oath Keepers president is pretty disheartened. He feels like it’s go time, the time for peaceful protest is over in his eyes. I was talking with him last night.”

Three days later, in an interview with a regional Oath Keepers leader. Rhodes said if Biden were to assume the presidency, “We will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them. That’s what’s going to have to happen.”

On Dec. 30, investigators say, Rhodes purchased two night-vision devices and a weapon sight for approximately $7,000 and had them shipped to another individual in Virginia near Washington, D.C. Oath Keepers would eventually stage a “quick reaction force” with weapons just outside of the city. Two days later, prosecutors say Rhodes spent another $5,000 on firearms and related equipment, including a shotgun, scope, magazines, sights and a bipod.

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“We have a s***load of QRF on standby with an arsenal,” Oath Keeper Joshua James – who served as security for Trump confidante Roger Stone on January 6 – wrote in a message.

Four days before January 6, Meggs allegedly sent the Oath Keepers leadership group a map of D.C. with information about rally points for the quick reaction force to supply militia members with weapons. Another Oath Keeper, Thomas Caldwell, allegedly sent messages the same day to his contacts looking for boats to support the effort.

On Jan. 3, investigators say Rhodes spent approximately $6,000 on an AR-platform rifle and firearms equipment. The next day they say he spent another $4,500 in Mississippi en route to D.C. on more firearms equipment, including additional sights, mounts and a magazine.

In total, investigators say, in the days leading up to January 6, Rhodes spent more than $22,000 on firearms and equipment – much of it while on his way to D.C.

‘Next Comes our Lexington’

At 1:30 p.m. on January 6 – a little more than 30 minutes after the first barricades had been breached, but before the building itself was entered – Rhodes was shooting down the idea that “antifa” was behind the push.

“I’m right here. These are patriots,” he wrote in the Oath Keepers’ Leadership Intel Chat.

Shortly thereafter, in response to another militia member who said they were “acting like the Founding Fathers,” Rhodes said the time had come for street violence.

“Next comes our ‘Lexington,’” he wrote, referencing the battle that started the Revolutionary War.

At the same time, “Stack One” – composed of Oath Keepers Meggs, Watkins and others – were marching toward the Capitol in formation. On the militia’s “Stop the Steal J6” Zello chat, Watkins said, “It has spread like wildfire that Pence has betrayed us, and everybody’s marching to the Capitol… We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan.”

Watkins followed up with, “Y’all, we’re one block away from the Capitol right now. I’m probably gonna go silent when we get there, because I’m gonna be a little busy.”

At 2:12 p.m., prosecutors say, Rhodes himself entered the restricted Capitol grounds on the northeast side.

Two minutes leader, the Oath Keepers’ operations leader, Mike “Whip” Simmons – who has not, to date, been charged in connection with January 6 – wrote to the Signal chat, “They have taken ground at the capital. We need to regroup any members who are not on mission.”

At the Comfort Inn in Ballston, Virginia, Vallejo messaged the leadership chat to let them know he was outfitted with two trucks available.

“Let me know how I can assist,” he wrote.

Rhodes then told Oath Keepers to meet him on the south side of the Capitol, where he eventually conferenced Meggs into a call with Simmons. Minutes later, Meggs, Watkins and other Oath Keepers reformed “Stack One” and entered the Capitol, “each member keeping at least one hand on the shoulder of the other in front of them.”

Investigators say “Stack One” moved toward the House of Representatives in search of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but did not find her.

At the same time, “Stack Two” – made up of James and Minuta, who had been working security for Roger Stone, and other Oath Keepers – made their way to the Capitol. At 3:15 p.m. they also entered the Capitol. Rather than heading toward the House, investigators say “Stack Two” moved toward the east doors of the Rotunda and the Senate Wing.

Neither group found their targets, according to investigators, and both eventually retreated back outside the building to regroup with Rhodes. Eventually, they left the Capitol, but continued discussing the need to stop the lawful transfer of power.

“We’ll be back to 6 a.m. to do it again,” Vallejo wrote. “We got food for 30 days. We have only [begun] to fight.”

Rhodes added: “Patriots entering their own Capitol to send a message to the traitors is NOTHING compared to what’s coming.”

Shortly before 6 a.m. on Jan. 7, Vallejo wrote that he was departing for “recon.”

“We are going to probe their defense line right now,” he said.

In the days following the riot, prosecutors say Rhodes, who returned to Texas, spent another $17,500 on firearms and equipment – bringing his total expenditure to $40,000 in the immediate timeframe of January 6. Another Oath Keeper, Joshua James, allegedly met with Rhodes in Alabama, collected “all available firearms” and then joined Rhodes and others at the president’s home in Texas.

On Inauguration Day, prosecutors say, James sent a message saying, “After this… if nothing happens… its war… Civil War 2.0.”

Conspiracy Charges Find their Leader

Until Thursday, Rhodes had, for more than year, appeared in the criminal investigations into January 6 only as "Individual 1" in the cases against other Oath Keepers. Last month, defense attorney Carmen Hernandez, representing Oath Keeper Donovan Crowl, told a federal judge she couldn't see how any conspiracy charge could be tried without Rhodes named as a co-defendant.

On Thursday, the Justice Department announced, along with Rhodes’ arrest, that its largest single Capitol riot case involving more than 20 Oath Keepers had been split into three separate cases. Rhodes joins 10 other Oath Keeper defendants in the government’s new marquee seditious conspiracy case, while Crowl and six other defendants – including Kelly Meggs’ wife, Connie Meggs, and “Jesus Christ Superstar” actor James Beeks – have been split off into their own conspiracy and obstruction case. Another Oath Keeper, Jonathan Walden, will face trial as a solo defendant against two charges of obstruction of an official proceeding and entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds.

In addition to the mountain of evidence the Justice Department has compiled in the case, the Oath Keepers will also have to face the prospect of testimony from at least five fellow militia members so far who have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution. Those plea deals include heavy metal guitarist Jon Schaffer — a founding member of the Oath Keepers and the first January 6 defendant to accept a plea offer in the case. 

Another Oath Keeper, Alabama resident Mark Grods, has agreed to testify that the group conspired to stash weapons outside of D.C. ahead of Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally. A third militia member, Graydon Young, may have to testify against his sister, Laura Steele — who he helped recruit into the group — if her case goes to trial.

Rhodes appears repeatedly as “Person 1” in court documents related to the Oath Keepers cases. In charging documents against New Jersey resident and alleged Oath Keepers organizer James Breheny, investigators say they obtained communications showing Rhodes took part in a leadership meeting of “multiple patriot groups” on Jan. 3.

In plea documents for another Oath Keeper, Graydon Young – who allegedly helped recruit his sister and co-defendant, Laura Steele, into the organization – prosecutors say they’ve identified footage of Young and other Oath Keepers regrouping less than 100 feet from the Capitol building with Rhodes after the “stack” had entered the Capitol.

The first group of Oath Keepers was scheduled to begin trial on April 4 before U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta, although it was unclear whether the new indictment and splitting of the cases would affect that schedule.

Rhodes is also one of numerous individuals subpoenaed by the January 6th Committee as part of its own investigation into what happened at the Capitol. In a letter to Rhodes dated Nov. 23, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said Rhodes, in a statement on the militia’s website, had called on Oath Keepers to prepare for a “full-on war in the streets.” Rhodes gave a speech on Dec. 12 in D.C. calling on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, “warning that the Oath Keepers would mount a ‘much more desperate [and] much more bloody war’ if he did not do so.” Thompson also wrote that multiple Oath Keepers were captured on video on or around January 6 outside the Willard Hotel – which the committee has homed in on as the “command center” for events surrounding the “Stop the Steal” rally.

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