WASHINGTON – Eleven members of the Oath Keepers, including its leader Stewart Rhodes, were indicted Thursday on charges of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol for allegedly trying to overthrow the government, the harshest charges yet filed in cases against more than 700 people.
The charges are the first against Rhodes, 56, of Granbury, Texas, who founded the Oath Keepers; and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix. Rhodes was arrested in Little Elm, Texas and Vallejo in Phoenix, the Justice Department announced.
The federal seditious conspiracy statute can be used to charge two or more people who conspire to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States” or “by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States.”
The seditious conspiracy charge is one of the 57 federal crimes under the terrorism enhancement statute. A conviction can carry a 20-year prison sentence.
The last time the federal government won convictions alleging seditious conspiracy was in a 1995 case involving Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman. Abdel-Rahman and other associates were implicated in the first World Trade Center bombing and plots against other prominent U.S. landmarks.
The indictment comes after lawmakers had begun questioning the pace of prosecutions and whether Attorney General Merrick Garland was pursuing the organizers and fundraisers behind the attack. He vowed the day before the anniversary of the attack to pursue the participants at all levels.
More than 700 people have been charged and 150 have pled guilty in the Jan. 6 attack. About 140 police officers were injured and four people died that day, as a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol and temporarily halted the counting of Electoral College votes.
The Oath Keepers are an extremist group that recruits former members of the military and law enforcement. The indictment charged that beginning in December 2020, members coordinated and planned travel to Washington for Jan. 6 through encrypted and private communications.
In November, Rhodes was subpoenaed to testify and provide documents to the special House committee investigating the Capitol attacks. At the time, lawmakers referred to the Oath Keeper leader’s 2020 Election Day statements, urging followers to “stock up on ammo” and prepare for a “full-on war in the streets,” if Donald Trump failed to secure a second term.
Two men in the Oath Keepers’ case – Mark Grods and James Dolan – have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of Congress. Grods admitted to bringing a shotgun and Dolan an M4 rifle to the area, weapons they left in Northern Virginia hotels.
The nine others charged Thursday with seditious conspiracy are all defendants who already faced conspiracy and other charges for allegedly organizing their portion of the attack. Members of the Oath Keepers allegedly planned their participation ahead of time, wore military gear and forced their way into the Capitol in a stack formation with one person’s hand on the shoulder of the person ahead.
The nine other 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 Dunnellon, Florida; Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda, Florida; Brian Ulrich, 44, of Guyton, Georgia; and Jessica Watkins, 39, of Woodstock, Ohio.
Oath Keepers allegedly organized into teams that were prepared and willing to use force, according to the department. Training sessions were organized to teach and learn paramilitary combat tactics, according to the department. And participants wore paramilitary gear such as tactical vests with protective plates, helmets and eye protection. The goal was to hinder the Electoral College vote by force, according to the department.
As the crowd gathered outside the Capitol about 2 p.m., Rhodes allegedly entered the restricted area of the Capitol grounds and directed his followers to meet him at the Capitol, according to the department.
About 2:30 p.m., Hackett, Harrelson, Meggs, Moerschel and Watkins, and other Oath Keepers and affiliates – many wearing paramilitary clothing and patches with the Oath Keepers name, logo, and insignia – marched in a “stack” formation up the east steps of the Capitol and made their way inside, according to the indictment.
Later, a group including James, Minuta, and Ulrich, formed a second “stack” and allegedly breached the Capitol grounds, marching from the west side to the east side of the Capitol building and up the east stairs and into the building, according to the indictment.