11 Oath Keepers Charged With Seditious Conspiracy in Capitol Attack
(Bloomberg) -- Nearly a dozen leaders of the far-right Oath Keepers group were charged by the U.S. Justice Department with conspiring to violently prevent the certification of Joe Biden as president last year.
The indictment filed Thursday in Washington, including one count of seditious conspiracy, represents the most serious criminal case brought so far over the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters. More than 700 people, including members of several right-wing groups, have been charged since the deadly assault on Jan. 6, 2021.
The U.S. alleges that Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes and 10 others coordinated travel to Washington and organized into teams as they mused about an inevitable civil war and the need for a violent assault.
In the days before the insurrection, the men allegedly set up staging areas for equipment in Washington’s suburbs and organized training sessions to teach paramilitary combat tactics, the DOJ said. They also brought gear including knives, batons, tactical vests, helmets, eye protection and radio equipment onto the Capitol grounds, according to the filing.
During the assault, Oath Keepers member Roberto Minuta was recorded confronting police officers at the Capitol in a mob, yelling, “Get out! Get the cops out! It’s our f---ing building!” He and another defendant, Joshua James, then briefly breached the Rotunda, according the indictment, though James was expelled by officers with chemical spray.
According the indictment, Rhodes communicated with other Oath Keepers members after law enforcement secured the Capitol, telling them in encrypted messages that night, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
“We aren’t quitting!! We are reloading!!” said another member, Kelly Meggs.
Defense lawyers for the men couldn’t immediately be determined, though attorneys in related cases stemming from the assault have outlined several possible defenses, including arguing that Congress wasn’t obstructed because it wasn’t in session, and that police allowed rioters to enter the building. In fact, lawmakers fled for their lives, and more than 140 police were injured while securing the Capitol.
The indictment also includes details of extensive electronic communications between the alleged co-conspirators and others before the assault. Rhodes, referring to Biden as an “usurper,” at one point said there would be a “bloody and desperate fight,” according to the filing.
“We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” he said, according to the U.S. “Too late for that.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland and leaders of the Justice Department had come under criticism for not pursuing charges against those who organized the Jan. 6 attack or plotted behind the scenes to prevent Biden’s election certification, concentrating until now on more conventional charges, from trespassing to assaulting police.
In comments last week, Garland pledged to hold “all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law” whether “they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”
Sedition is the crime of inciting a revolt against the government, and it’s seldom charged because of free-speech issues. In the action Thursday, the Justice Department formally alleges that there was a deliberate conspiracy to prevent Biden’s election certification.
Rhodes previously told the Washington Post that he was communicating with members of his group on Jan. 6 in an effort to “keep them out of trouble,” and that Oath Keepers associates who did go into the Capitol “went totally off mission.”
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