Takeaways from the historic sedition indictment against the Oathkeepers

Attorney General Merrick Garland had balked at earlier efforts to bring the seditious conspiracy charge. But in the months that followed, people briefed on the matter said that FBI investigators and DC federal prosecutors spent a lot of time building the case, at least in part with the help of cooperators and at least in part. benefit of internal communications between oath keepers.

Federal prosecutors have been criticized — by legal experts, Democratic lawmakers, Donald Trump critics and media pundits — for being soft on the rioters. This criticism has now been largely answered by accusations of “seditious conspiracy”.

Garland said in a landmark speech last week that prosecutors would prosecute the perpetrators of Jan. 6 “at any level … whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy”. Thursday’s indictment puts meat to the bones.

Sedition is difficult to prove in court and an indictment is only the very beginning of a legal case. There are many hurdles that prosecutors will have to jump through before securing convictions. But it is a crucial first step.

It destroys, once and for all, the rhetoric of those who downplay the events of January 6 that the attack on the Capitol was not an insurrection because no one was charged with sedition.

It took a long time to get there in the investigation. Last March, it appeared former U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin, who initially led the investigation, came out before his skis when he said there should be sedition cases. Months passed with nothing materializing to back up his claims. With the new indictment, Sherwin was exonerated.

Readiness for January 6

One of the most debated questions about Jan. 6 was how much planning there was to invade the Capitol.

Thousands of Trump supporters violated the Capitol grounds and a few thousand entered the building. But was there a plan? And who knew about the plan?

It is clear from court documents that for many rioters there was no organized plan. But that’s not the whole story. The sedition case against the Oath Keepers highlights that there were hardened groups of suspected criminals within the mob who essentially planned the war.

Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, reportedly told his followers that they should prepare for a “bloody” operation and that they should “fight” in a “war”.

One of the defendants is said to have traveled to Washington in early November to conduct reconnaissance for an upcoming “operation”. Communications about the “bloody” “combat” and “revolution” were accompanied by logistical planning, prosecutors said, with the defendants discussing obtaining and bringing weapons to the Washington area.

It could have been worse

The indictment provided another reminder that Jan. 6 could have been much worse.

Shortly after entering the Capitol, a group of Oathkeepers attempted to make a coordinated move towards the Senate Chamber, seemingly as if on a mission. According to the indictment, they “attempted to force their way through” a line of police, but the officers “repelled their advance by force.” (Other rioters eventually broke through the Senate floor and gallery.)

Prosecutors added more details about how the oath keepers allegedly stored weapons at a nearby hotel in Virginia, just in case they needed to deploy a “quick reaction force” to DC.
READ: Seditious conspiracy indictment related to attack on US Capitol

The charging documents state that one defendant, Joshua James, received a message from a friend saying, “I have some friends not far from DC with lots of guns and ammo if you get in trouble.” James replied, “That might be useful, but we have a load of QRFs waiting with an arsenal.”

Rhodes also amassed weapons and other equipment on his way to Washington, DC, before Jan. 6, prosecutors said. He reportedly purchased a rifle, magazine and other firearms equipment including sights, mounts, triggers, slings and an optical plate. Rhodes was on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 but was not charged with entering the building, though prosecutors said he “directed” his supporters to do so.

The plot was bigger than January 6

So far, federal prosecutors have charged the defendants with conspiracy to block Congress’s vote to certify the election.

But Thursday’s case ups the ante, expanding the conspiracy after Jan. 6. The indictment says the oath keepers aimed for more than disruption of Congress. This group, according to prosecutors, wanted to prevent the transfer of presidential power from Trump to Joe Biden.

After the uprising, they gathered to celebrate, then continued to talk.

“We are not giving up!! We are reloading!!,” one of the defendants wrote in a Signal chat.

In the week following the riot, Rhodes reportedly spent more than $17,500 on weapons, equipment and ammunition. One member, according to the filings, said Rhodes should remain “under the radar,” while another brought what he called “every weapon available” to Rhodes’ home in Texas.

Here is what

Around inauguration day, Jan. 20, Rhodes reportedly told his associates to organize local militias to oppose the Biden administration. Another member reportedly said, “After this…if nothing happens…it’s war…Civil War 2.0.”

“Rhodes and certain co-conspirators … planned to halt the lawful transfer of presidential power by January 20, 2021, which included multiple ways to deploy force,” the indictment reads.

Hunt for the biggest fish

The Department of Justice has spent all of 2021 rounding up nearly two dozen suspected members of the Oath Keepers. They secured the cooperation of a few people charged in the original Oath Keepers conspiracy case – the one without the sedition charges – which was a significant step forward.

We now know that the prosecutors were building a bigger case and tracing it back to the head of the extremist organization. Rhodes has previously denied any wrongdoing regarding Jan. 6.

Reservation photo of Oath Keeper Chief Stewart Rhodes. From Collin County, Texas

The big question is: is this the end of the road? Could Rhodes have information that implicates someone else up there?

His organization was widely reported to be providing security for Trump surrogates like Roger Stone and Ali Alexander while in DC around January 6. A major criminal case obviously increases the pressure on people like Rhodes to make a deal with prosecutors and become a government witness, if they have a story to tell.

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz, Evan Perez and Tierney Sneed contributed to this report.

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