Far-right Oath Keepers Leader, Stewart Rhodes, along with 10 other members were arrested on charges of seditious conspiracy in the Capitol attack on January 6th, 2021. The arrest is major progress for the House panel investigating the Capitol attack.
The Oath Keepers are accused of planning, before the attack, recruiting members, stocking up on weapons, and arranging to bring disruption in the Congress certification. Further details show that the weapons were stored at a Virginia Hotel and they were all ready and prepared to transport those firearms to Washington, D.C. The prosecutors said that Rhodes had cautioned his members to prepare for a “bloody and desperate fight” days before the attack.
Seditious conspiracy means when 2 or more participants conspire to “overthrow, put down or destroy by force” the US government or to wage war against them, or to oppose by force, delay, or try to hinder the execution of any law. The charges have the same consequences as the obstruction charge, however, it is rarely used, due to its low success rates against defendants in the past. If guilty though, the charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars.
Who are these Oath Keepers? Oath Keepers are a far-right, anti-government group of activists who claim to defend the Constitution. They recruit people belonging to the former and current police forces, military personnel, and emergency services. Oath Keepers group came into existence in 2009 at a rally in Lexington, Mass. At the event, Rhodes said that his plan was for members to disobey certain illegal orders from officials and stick to their oath at the Constitution. They also opposed, even physically, to BLM movement, but strangely after Trump took office, they had shifted their focus from anti-government views, seemingly accepting this new sense of nationalism
Prosecutors are also saying that during the early days of the 2020 election, Rhodes initiated a seditious plot “to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force”. According to the charges, one of the members even claimed to go for a scouting trip to Washington, D.C. Under Rhodes’s command, some members broke into the Capitol in a military-style formation, whereas others were positioned in a hotel in Alexandria, as an armed “quick response team”, who would readily transport the weapons.
Rhodes, 56, is a former Army paratrooper and earned a law degree from Yale. Rhodes has been under investigation since last Spring and was at the Capitol. There’s no evidence that he entered the Capitol, however, he did communicate with members who went into the Capitol with the help of a chat app. Just two days after the election day Rhodes told the members to deny Biden’s victory. He said the following to the members in the chat app Signal, “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit.”
After one month of plotting, Rhodes told the members to use violence as a means to prevent Biden from taking office. He wrote, “It will be a bloody and desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can’t be avoided.”
However, in an interview with New York Times in the summer, Rhodes said several members of his group went “off mission” by entering the Capitol and that there were no instructions from him or the leadership to do so. But, four of the Oath Keepers members who were present at the Capitol have sworn in court papers that the group had all the intent to breach the building and obstruct the Congress certification.
The plotting continued even after the attack. Apparently, Rhodes and others met in Virginia to celebrate the attack and “discuss next steps”. Rhodes allegedly said to the members on Signal that, “Patriots entering their own Capitol to send a message to the traitors is NOTHING compared to what’s coming.” A week after the riot, Rhodes spent more than $17,500 on weapons, tactical gears, and ammunition. He even planned to disrupt the inauguration day, by telling associates to arrange for local militias to oppose Biden’s administration.
Rhodes also mentioned in November 2020 in an online meeting, “We’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country. Because if you don’t guys, you’re going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war and a bloody — you can call it an insurrection, or you can call it a war or fight.”
This is the first for the Justice Department to charge rioters on sedition conspiracy. Currently, they have prosecuted 275 people for obstructing Congress certification to certify the 2020 vote counts.