The founder of the far-right group Oath Keepers and 10 others were charged with rebellious conspiracy in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, the Justice Department announced on Thursday.
It was the first use of the powerful incitement charge in the extensive investigation into the Capitoline attack by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
Stewart Rhodes, 56, who founded and led the right-wing militia group, and another employee of the organization, Ed Vallejo, were arrested early on Thursday.
Nine men with ties to the Oath Keepers who had previously been arrested on minor charges in the violent attack, which temporarily shut down the US Congress, were also named as part of the alleged rebellious conspiracy.
“Following the presidential election on November 3, 2020, Rhodes conspired with his co-defendants and others to forcibly oppose the implementation of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power by January 20, 2021,” the Justice Department said in a news release. statement.
It said that in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the presidential election, they made plans to “break with and try to take control of the Capitol area and the building,” it said.
While doing so, it said, some Oath Keeper members remained stationed just outside Washington with weapons and ammunition, ready to bring them to the capital as reinforcements if the fighting escalated.
Moods in social media
They were the first of more than 725 defendants in the justice inquiry accused of incitement, a very rarely used indictment that changes the perception of the attack, which Republicans have tried to tone down.
The indictment was revealed on the same day as the parallel investigation on January 6 by a special house committee issued subpoenas for information from social media giants Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, all of which were used to plan and carry out the attack, according to the committee.
The committee is trying to see if Trump or members of his circle had a role in planning or encouraging the violent attack, and has also asked Trump advisers and aides, as well as a top Republican lawmaker who communicated with Trump on January 6.
Rhodes has openly led the Oath Keepers since founding the group in 2009. He is a former Army paratrooper and a graduate of Yale Law School, and was employed by former Congressman Ron Paul, a prominent libertarian.
The group is only loosely organized around the belief that the federal government becomes too powerful and can be forcibly removed under certain conditions, according to a recently published report on them published by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at the US Army West Point Military Academy.
“Conspiracy theories have always been an element” in their ideology, the report said, and they have regularly appeared in combat gear and heavily armed during politically charged protests, in demonstrations of power that critics describe as threats.
The group has focused on recruiting primarily current and former military, police and first responders. A recently leaked database had 38,000 names of people who had registered with Oath Keepers at one time or another.
The indictment described the group’s planning from text messages and chats between members from the November 2020 election through January 6.
Two days after Trump’s defeat, Rhodes convened the Oath Keepers’ leaders in an encrypted chat and told them, “We will not get through this without a civil war.”
He issued a call for action, and on December 11, he told the group that if Biden became president, “it will be a bloody and desperate struggle … It can not be avoided.”
Rhodes spent $ 18,000 before Jan. 6 on firearms, ammunition and other equipment, including sight and night vision for his group, the indictment said.
The indictment focuses on how they formed two “stacks”, battle-like formations, to force their way past the police and into the Capitol on January 6.
They also designed routes for their several armed “QRFs” – monitored by Vallejo – to come to their aid from Washington’s suburbs if fighting broke out.
The accused on Thursday risk up to 20 years in prison solely because of the accusation of conspiracy to incite. Most also face other allegations such as assault on law enforcement agencies and disruption of Congress.