Federal prosecutors – by legal experts, Democratic lawmakers, Donald Trump critics and media analysts – have been criticized for leniency with the rioters. This criticism has now been largely answered with accusations of “incitement conspiracy”.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a keynote speech last week that attorneys general will pursue the perpetrators of January 6 “at any level…whether they were present on that day or were criminally responsible for an assault on our democracy.” Thursday’s indictment puts some meat in the bones.
Sedition is difficult to prove in court, and the issuance of an indictment is only the beginning of a legal case. There are many hoops that prosecutors will need to get through before they can win convictions. But this is a critical first step.
It destroys, once and for all, the talking point of those who downplayed the events of January 6 that the attack on the Capitol was not an insurrection because no one was charged with sedition.
How to prepare for January 6
One of the most controversial questions around January 6 was about the scale of planning for the invasion of the Capitol.
Thousands of Trump supporters broke into the grounds of the Capitol, and a few thousand entered the building. But was there a plan? And who knew the plan?
It is clear from court filings that for many rioters, there was no organized plan. But this is not the full story. The case of sedition against the guards of the oath highlights the presence within the mob of militant groups of alleged criminals who originally planned the war.
Rhodes, the leader of the Guardians of the Section, was quoted as telling his supporters that they should prepare for a “bloody” operation and that they would need to “fight” in a “war”.
One of the defendants allegedly made a trip in early November to Washington for an upcoming “reference” survey. Prosecutors claimed that communications about the “bloody” “fight” and “revolution” were accompanied by logistical planning, in which the defendants discussed obtaining weapons and bringing them to the Washington area.
It could have been worse
The indictment provided another reminder that January 6th could have been much worse.
Shortly after entering the Capitol, a group of department guards attempted a coordinated move into the Senate Chamber, as if they were carrying out a mission. According to the indictment, they “attempted to force their way through” a row of police, but the officers “repelled their advance with force.” (Other rioters eventually broke through the Senate floor and gallery.)
The indictment documents say one of the defendants, Joshua James, received a letter from a friend saying, “I have friends not far from the capital and they have plenty of guns and ammunition if you get in trouble.” James replied, “That might be useful, but we have a load of QRF at the ready with an arsenal.”
Prosecutors said Rhodes collected weapons and other equipment on his way to Washington, D.C., before January 6. He allegedly purchased a rifle, magazine, and other firearms equipment, including sights, mounts, triggers, levers, and an optical plate. Rhodes was at the Capitol on January 6 but was not charged with entering the building, although prosecutors said he “directed” his supporters to do so.
The plot was bigger than January 6
Up to this point, federal prosecutors had charged the defendants with conspiring to obstruct Congress’s vote to certify the election.
But Thursday’s case increases the scale of the plot, expanding the scope of the plot beyond January 6. The indictment says the oath guards aimed to do more than disrupt Congress. Prosecutors say this group wanted to stop the transfer of presidential power from Trump to Joe Biden.
After the uprising they gathered to celebrate and then continued talking.
One of the defendants wrote in a conversation on Signal: “We’re not giving up!! We’re reloading!!”.
In the week following the riots, Rhodes allegedly spent more than $17,500 on weapons, equipment, and ammunition. According to the affidavits, one member said Rhodes should stay “under the radar,” while another brought what he called “all available weapons” to Rhodes’ Texas home.
Around inauguration day, January 20, Rhodes allegedly asked his aides to organize local militias to oppose the Biden administration. Another member allegedly said, “After this…if nothing happens…its war…Civil War 2.0.”
The indictment stated that “Rhodes and some of the co-conspirators … planned to stop the legal transfer of presidential power by January 20, 2021, which included multiple methods of deploying force.”
Find a bigger fish
We now know that the plaintiffs were building a larger case, and moving up the chain, to the leader of the extremist organization. Rhodes has previously denied any wrongdoing in connection with January 6.
The big question is: Is this the end of the road? Could Rhodes have information implicating anyone else above him?
It was widely reported that his organization had been providing allies to Trump agents such as Roger Stone and Ali Alexander. Obviously, a major criminal case increases the pressure on people like Rhodes to make a deal with them and become a government witness, if they have a story to tell.
CNN’s Catelyn Pollantz and Tierney Snead contributed to this report.