Far-right militia members charged with seditious conspiracy for U.S. Capitol riots – National

On Thursday, authorities said Stuart Rhodes, founder and leader of the far-right group Guardians of the Oath, and 10 other members or associates, were charged with seditious conspiracy in the violent attack on the US Capitol.

Despite hundreds of charges already brought in the year since pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, these were the first seditious plot charges brought in connection with the January 6 attack. 2021.

It represents a dangerous escalation in the largest investigation in the history of the Department of Justice — more than 700 people have been arrested and charged with federal crimes — and highlights the work that has gone into putting together the most complex cases. These accusations refute, in part, the growing chorus of Republican lawmakers who publicly challenged the seriousness of the rebellion, arguing that since no one had yet been charged with sedition or treason, it could not have been violent.

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The indictment alleges that department guards discussed for weeks trying to overturn the election results and prepare for the siege by buying weapons and making combat plans. They wrote repeatedly in conversations about the possibility of violence and the need, and Rhodes allegedly wrote in one text, “to frighten Congress.” The indictment alleges, on January 6, that they entered the Capitol with large crowds of rioters who stormed police barricades and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and sending lawmakers running.

Authorities said the department’s guards and their comrades worked as if they were going to war, discussing weapons and training. Days before the attack, one of the defendants suggested in a text message getting a boat to move the weapons across the Potomac River to their “waiting arms,” ​​prosecutors say.

On January 6, several members, dressed in combat camouflage, were seen on camera as they made their way through the crowd to the Capitol in a military-style stack formation, authorities say.

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The indictment against Rhodes alleges that department guards formed two teams, or “stacks,” that entered the Capitol. The first pile splits up inside the building, separating the House and Senate. The indictment said the second group confronted the officers inside the Capitol Rotunda. Outside Washington, the indictment alleges, department guards positioned two “rapid reaction forces” who had weapons “to support their plot to stop the legal transfer of power.”

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Rhodes, 56, of Granbury, Texas, is the highest-ranking member of an extremist group to be arrested in the deadly siege. He and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, were arrested Thursday. The other nine were already facing criminal charges related to the attack.

Sedition charges are hard to win and are rarely used, but the defendants face a heavy prison sentence of up to 20 years if convicted, compared to five on other conspiracy charges. The last time US prosecutors filed a seditious conspiracy case was in 2010 in an alleged plot in Michigan by members of the Hotari militia to instigate an uprising against the government. But a judge acquitted him of the conspiracy to sedition charges in his 2012 trial, saying the plaintiffs relied too much on hateful diatribes protected by the First Amendment and did not prove, as required, that the accused had detailed plans to rebel.

Among the recent successful convictions for seditious conspiracy stemmed from another, now largely forgotten, storming of the Capitol in 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the floor of the House of Representatives, injuring five deputies.

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Most of the hundreds of people accused of violent acts face low-level crimes. More than 150 people have been charged with assaulting police officers at the Capitol. More than 50 people have been charged with conspiracy, most of them people linked to the far-right Proud Boys and the anti-government Oath Keepers. No sedition charges were brought against the Pride Boys.

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Rhodes did not enter the Capitol on Jan. 6, but is accused of helping to start the violence. Jonathan Moseley, the attorney who said he represented Rhodes, said Rhodes was supposed to testify before the House committee investigating the January 6 mutiny, but it was overturned.

“He’s been the subject of a lot of doubt as to why he hasn’t been charged” so far in the January 6 riots, Mosley said. I don’t know if this is in response to those discussions, but we think it’s unfortunate. It’s an unusual situation.”

The second attorney representing the group, Kelly Sorrell, said she later issued a statement saying Mosley did not represent Rhodes.

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Rhodes said in interviews with right-wing hosts that there was no plan to storm the Capitol and that members who did so went rogue. But he continued to push the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, while posts on the Oath Keepers website portrayed the group as a victim of political persecution.

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Other defendants in the conspiracy argued in court that the only plan was to provide security at the assembly before the riots or to protect themselves from possible attacks from anti-activists of the far-left factions.

Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate, founded Oath Keepers in 2009. The far-right group recruits military, police, and current and former responders. Many of those arrested are war veterans.

Rhodes appeared in court documents in the conspiracy case for months as “First Person.”

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Authorities say he made a GoToMeeting call days after the election, telling his followers to go to Washington and tell President Donald Trump that “the people are behind him.” Rhodes told members that they should be prepared to fight against Antifa and that some of the department’s guards should “stay out” and be “willing to engage with arms” if necessary.

We will stand up for the president, the duly elected president, and call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country. Because if you guys don’t, said Rhodes, because if you guys don’t, you’ll be in a bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody—you can call it a rebellion or you can call it a war or a fight.”

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Authorities said Rhodes was part of an encrypted Signal chat with Oath Keepers from multiple states through January 6 called “DC OP: January 21st 6” and showed that the group was “activating a plan to use force” that day.

On the afternoon of the sixth day, authorities said Rhodes told the group via Signal: “All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intention on his part to do anything. So the Patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’ve had enough.”

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US Capitol riots: Representative Castro talks about the January 6 attack on the 1st anniversary – January 6, 2022

At about 2:30 p.m., Rhodes had a 97-second phone call with Kelly Meggs, the coveted leader of the group’s Florida chapter, who was part of the military-style group, authorities say. About 10 minutes later, Rhodes sent a photo to the group showing the southeast side of the Capitol with the caption, “South Side of the U.S. Capitol. Patriots are bombing the doors.” At about that time, members of the stack team forcibly entered the Capitol, prosecutors say.

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Rhodes was captured in Little Elm, a suburb about 35 miles north of Dallas. He was booked into the Collin County Detention Center, where the deputy sheriff said local prison officials could not make Rhodes available to speak with a reporter because he had been arrested by federal agents.

He was expected to appear in court on Friday in Texas.

More than 70 defendants remain in custody on riot charges. At least 183 defendants have pleaded guilty to charges relating to the riots as of January 11. At least 78 of them have been sentenced, including 35 people who have been sentenced to prison terms, imprisonment or the time they have already served.

Associated Press writers Jack Belloud in Phoenix, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Lindsey Whitehurst in Salt Lake City, and Newman Merchant, Eric Tucker and Michael Konzelman in Washington contributed to this report.

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