Oath Keepers leader, 10 others charged in seditious plot to breach U.S. Capitol during January 6 insurrection

Federal authorities on Thursday charged Stewart Rhodes, the leader and founder of the extremist far-right Oath Keepers militia, and 10 other people with seditious conspiracy and other crimes for their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

An indictment alleges that after the November 2020 presidential election, Rhodes and others conspired to oppose by force the transfer of presidential power from then-President Donald Trump to Joe Biden, which included plans to breach and try to take control of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The conspiracy allegedly involved the amassing of firearms on the outskirts of Washington, D.C, and distribution to so-called quick reaction force teams to support the effort to keep Trump in office, according to the indictment, issued by a grand jury in DC federal court.

That charging document is based in part on access to encrypted messages on the Signal app that federal authorities obtained access to.

The charge of seditious conspiracy carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison.

Rhodes, a 56-year-old former U.S. Army paratrooper who live in Granbury, Texas, was arrested early Thursday afternoon. He was subpoenaed in November by the House of Representatives select committee that is investigating the riot,.

Rhodes is known to have been outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan., 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the complex and breached its buildings in an effort to disrupt an ongoing session of Congress confirming the election of Biden.

Members and affiliates of the Oath Keepers were among the crowd that forcibly rushed into the Capitol past law enforcement officers.

Stewart Rhodes’ lawyer, Jonathon Moseley, told NBC News that he was on the phone with his client talking about his scheduled appearance before the House panel when the FBI came to Rhodes’ house to arrest him.”

Also indicted was Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, who was arrested Thursday morning in that city, authorities said.

Neither Rhodes nor Vallejo had been previously charged in connection with the riot.

Nine others who had been previously charged in connection with the riot also were indicted Thursday, according to authorities.

They are: Thomas Caldwell, 67, of Berryville, Va; Joseph Hackett, 51, of Sarasota, Fla.; Kenneth Harrelson, 41, of Titusville, Fla.; Joshua James, 34, of Arab, Ala.; Kelly Meggs, 52, of Dunnellon, Fla.; Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, Texas; David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda, Fla.; Brian Ulrich, 44, of Guyton, Ga.; and Jessica Watkins, 39, of Woodstock, Ohio.

James and Minuta reportedly have acted as bodyguards for Roger Stone, the longtime GOP operative and confidant of Trump. Stone did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the indictment.

 Less than a month after the riot, the Justice Department charged Caldwell, who allegedly held a leadership role within the Oath Keepers, of conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding and other charges.

A defense attorney told a judge last year that the Navy veteran Caldwell previously worked for the FBI and maintained a top-secret security clearance for years.

The Justice Department in a press release said, “Eight other individuals affiliated with the Oath Keepers, all previously charged in the investigation, remain as defendants in two related cases.”

An indictment Thursday charges that Rhodes and certain co-conspirators, which included “selected regional leaders, planned to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power by January 20, 2021, which included multiple ways to deploy force.”

“They coordinated travel across the country to enter Washington, D.C., equipped themselves with a variety of weapons, donned combat and technical gear, and were prepared to answer Rhodes’s call to take up arms at Rhodes’s direction,” the indictment says.

“Some co-conspirators also amassed firearms on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., distributed them among ‘quick reaction force’ (‘QRF’) teams, and planned to use the firearms in support of their plot to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.”

The charges come as some Trump-allied conservatives have pushed back on the notion that the riot posed a threat to democracy. Those allies previously noted that none of the defendants in Jan. 6-related cases have been charged with insurrection or similar crimes.

Some other court watchers, and at least one judge, have also questioned the Justice Department’s charging decisions in connection with the riot.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a speech last week on the first anniversary of the riot, appeared to respond to those critiques.

“In complex cases, initial charges are often less severe than later charged offenses. This is purposeful, as investigators methodically collect and sift through more evidence,” Garland said.

“The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last.”

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.


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