Attorney General Merrick Garland had opposed the previous attempts to bring the seditious conspiracy charges. But in the months since, people briefed on the case say FBI investigators and DC federal prosecutors spent a lot of time building the case, at least in part with the help of associates and the benefit of internal communication between the Oath Keepers. .
Federal prosecutors have been criticized — by legal experts, Democratic lawmakers, critics of Donald Trump and media pundits — for taking it easy on the rioters. That criticism has now been met with the accusation of “seditious conspiracy.”
Garland said in a keynote speech last week that prosecutors would pursue the January 6 perpetrators “at every level … whether they were present that day or otherwise criminally responsible for the attack on our democracy.” Thursday’s indictment puts some flesh on the bones.
Sedition is difficult to prove in court, and an indictment is only the very beginning of a lawsuit. There are many hoops that prosecutors have to go through before they win convictions. But this is a crucial first step.
It destroys once and for all the talking point of those who downplay the events of January 6 that the attack on the Capitol was not an insurrection because no one has been charged with sedition.
Level of preparation for January 6
One of the most discussed questions on January 6 was about how many plans there were to invade the Capitol.
Thousands of Trump supporters broke through the Capitol grounds and several thousand entered the building. But was there a plan? And who knew about the plan?
It is clear from court records that there was no organized plan for many of the rioters. But that’s not the full story. The sedition case against the Oath Keepers highlights that there were hardened groups of alleged criminals within the mob who were essentially planning war.
Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, told his supporters to prepare for a “bloody” operation and to “fight” in a “war”.
A defendant is said to have made a trip to Washington in early November to conduct reconnaissance for an upcoming “operation.” Communications about the “bloody” “battle” and “revolution” involved logistical planning, prosecutors said, with defendants discussing obtaining and bringing weapons into the Washington region.
It could be worse
The indictment was another reminder that January 6 could have been so much worse.
Shortly after entering the Capitol, a group of Oath Keepers attempted to make a coordinated move in the Senate Chamber, seemingly as if they were on a mission. According to the indictment, they tried to “make their way through” a police line, but the officers “were violently repulsed on their advance”. (Other rioters eventually broke through the Senate floor and the gallery.)
According to the indictment documents, a defendant, Joshua James, received a message from a friend saying, “I have friends not far from DC with plenty of guns and ammunition if you get into trouble.” James replied, “That could be helpful, but we have a huge load of QRF on standby with an arsenal.”
Rhodes also amassed weapons and other equipment en route to Washington, DC, before Jan. 6, prosecutors said. He is said to have bought a rifle, magazine and other firearms equipment, including sights, barrels, triggers, slings and an optical plate. Rhodes was on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 but has not been accused of entering the building, although prosecutors have said he “instructed” his supporters to do so.
The plot was larger than Jan 6
Until now, federal prosecutors had accused those accused of conspiracy to block the Congressional vote to certify the election.
But Thursday’s case ups the ante, widening the conspiracy beyond Jan. 6. The indictment says the Oath Keepers intended more than just disrupting Congress. This group, prosecutors say, wanted to stop the transfer of presidential power from Trump to Joe Biden.
After the uprising, they gathered to celebrate and then continued their conversation.
“We’re not giving up!! We’re reloading!!” one of the defendants wrote in a Signal chat.
In the week following the riots, Rhodes is said to have spent more than $17,500 on weapons, equipment and ammunition. One member, according to the files, said Rhodes should stay “under the radar”, while another brought what he called “all available weapons” to Rhodes’ Texas home.
Around the day of the inauguration, January 20, Rhodes is said to have told employees to organize local militias to oppose the Biden government. Another member reportedly said, “After this…if nothing happens…it’s war…Civil War 2.0.”
“Rhodes and certain conspirators planned to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power by January 20, 2021, including multiple means of using violence,” the indictment said.
On the hunt for the bigger fish
Now we know that prosecutors were building a bigger case, and higher up the chain, to the leader of the extremist organization. Rhodes has previously denied committing any wrongdoing related to January 6.
The big question is: is this the end of the road? Could Rhodes have information that involves someone else higher up?
It is well known that his organization provided allies to Trump surrogates such as Roger Stone and Ali Alexander. A major criminal case is clearly increasing the pressure on people like Rhodes to make a deal and become a government witness, if they have a story to tell.
Katelyn Polantz, Evan Perez and Tierney Sneed of DailyExpertNews contributed to this report.