Stuart Rhodes, founder of the far-right group Guardians of the Oath, and 10 others have been charged with a seditious plot related to their involvement in the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Rhodes is the highest-ranking member of a far-right group to be arrested in connection with the deadly blockade, and this is the first time the US Department of Justice has brought a conspiracy to sedition charge in connection with the riots.
The Justice Department said in a statement that Rhodes was arrested Thursday in Little Elm, Texas.
He is accused along with more than a dozen other members and associates of the Oath Keepers, who authorities say came to Washington, D.C. intent on stopping President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Rhodes did not enter the Capitol on January 6. He is accused of helping to start the violence that disrupted the certification of the vote.
The Oath Keepers case is the largest conspiracy case brought by federal authorities to date regarding the Capitol attack, when thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed police barriers and smashed windows, sending lawmakers into a run.
An incendiary plot is defined as an attempt to “overthrow, put down or destroy by force the Government of the United States” and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The Oath Keepers focuses on the recruitment of current and former police, emergency services and military personnel.
Prosecutors said that as of late December 2020, Rhodes used private encrypted communications to plan travel to the US capital on January 6. He and others planned to bring weapons to the area to help support the operation, they said.
“While some members of the Oath Keepers and its affiliates breached the Capitol buildings and building, others remained stationed outside the city in rapid response force (QRF) teams,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.
“According to the indictment, the QRF teams were prepared to rapidly transfer firearms and other weapons to Washington, D.C., in support of operations intended to use force to halt the legal transfer of presidential authority.”
The Justice Department said the charges against Rhodes, 56, and another man — Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona — are the first they face in connection with the Capitol riots.
It added that nine other defendants, accused of other crimes related to the riots, will now face charges of conspiracy to incite sedition and other crimes.
The nine previous defendants are: 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 Denilon, Florida; Roberto Minotta, 37, of Prosper, Texas; David Morchill, 44, of Punta Gorda, Florida; Brian Ulrich, 44, of Gayton, Georgia, and Jessica Watkins, 39, of Woodstock, Ohio.
The Justice Department has charged more than 725 people with crimes arising from the attack. Of those, about 165 have pleaded guilty and at least 70 have been sentenced.
Last week, a day before the first anniversary of the attack, US Attorney Merrick Garland vowed to hold anyone involved accountable. He said the Justice Department “will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Meanwhile, a US House of Representatives committee is also investigating the events that led to the riots, including the alleged involvement of prominent Republicans close to Trump.
US House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday declined a request to testify before that committee. McCarthy described the commission’s work as an “abuse of power” and said he had decided not to participate “without remorse or complacency.”