By Dominic Taylor-
U.S. prosecutors on Thursday charged the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, Stewart Rhodes, and 10 alleged members of the group with seditious conspiracy for their role in the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Former president Donald Trump, was impeached for inciting the insurrection in Capitol Hill that saw congressmen and women ushered out of the building in fear of their lives on 6 January.
Thousands of Trump supporters gathered at a “Save America” rally organized to challenge the result of last November’s presidential election.
They listened as Mr Trump spoke to them on the National Mall, near the White House in Washington DC, as the former president exhorted his staunch supporters to march on Congress where politicians had met to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s win. The attack began moments after he took the applause.
The former president insisted he won the election by a and slide and told his supporters to stop the steal that they would never concede.
The oath keepers were one of the former president’s loyal supporters who decided to support the president fully.
Rhodes was said to have warned his group to prepare for a “bloody and desperate fight” in the days leading up to the assault, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump tried to stop Congress from certifying his election defeat.
This is the first time alleged participants in the attack have been charged with seditious conspiracy, which is defined as attempting “to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States.”
“We are going to have a fight,” prosecutors said Rhodes told his allies on the messaging app Signal. “That can’t be avoided.”
The Oath Keepers are a loosely organized group of activists who believe that the federal government is encroaching on their rights, and focus on recruiting current and former police, emergency services and military members.
Nine of the eleven charged with seditious conspiracy were already facing other charges relating to the Capitol attack. Members of the far-right Proud Boys and Three Percenters have also been charged with taking part in the attack.
The indictment accuses Rhodes of sending messages to his followers in November 2020, the month of Trump’s election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, encouraging them to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.”
Trump repeatedly made false claims that his loss was a result of widespread fraud. He repeated those claims in a fiery speech near the White House before thousands of his followers stormed the Capitol in the worst attack on the seat of Congress since the War of 1812.
Prosecutors said that beginning in late December 2020, Rhodes used private encrypted communications to plan to travel to Washington on Jan. 6. He and others planned to bring weapons to help support the operation, prosecutors said.
The details of the capitol insurrection was outlined in court. Some of the Oath Keeper members rushed inside the building wearing tactical gear, others remained outside in what they deemed “quick-response force” teams, which were prepared to rapidly transport arms into the city, prosecutors said.
Jon Moseley, an attorney for Rhodes, told Reuters he was on the phone with Rhodes to discuss his planned appearance before the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 when the FBI called.
“He patched me in on the call and I identified myself as his lawyer,” Moseley said in an e-mail. The agent then told him they were outside Rhodes’ home in Granbury, Texas, and were there to arrest him.
The indictment alleges that Thomas Caldwell, who was previously charged, and Edward Vallejo of Arizona, a new defendant, were in charge of coordinating the quick-response force teams.
Seditious conspiracy is a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last week vowed to hold accountable anyone involved in the attack on the Capitol. The department has charged more than 725 people with crimes arising from the attack. Of those people, about 165 have pleaded guilty and at least 70 have been sentenced. Garland said the Justice Department would “follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Five people in total died during the insurrection, four the first day, one the second day. One of them, Ashli Babbitt, was shot dead by Capitol Police while trying to break into the Speaker’s Gallery. Three others died of natural causes.
The following day, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died. Around 140 police officers were injured, and four police officers later died by suicide.
The Justice Department has previously obtained seditious conspiracy convictions against Puerto Rican nationalists and alleged Islamist militants including Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the radical Islamic clergyman known as the “Blind Sheikh.”