Oath Keepers Chief Stewart Rhodes Arrested On Jan. 6-Related Charges

The charges mark the first time feds have sought to pinpoint a leader in the insurrection.
An Oath Keeper named Stewart Rhodes, brought on to provide security, stands guard during a pro-Donald Trump rally at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley, California on April 27, 2017. (Photo by Phili... An Oath Keeper named Stewart Rhodes, brought on to provide security, stands guard during a pro-Donald Trump rally at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley, California on April 27, 2017. (Photo by Philip Pacheco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) MORE LESS

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes was arrested by federal agents on Thursday after a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Rhodes and ten others on charges of seditious conspiracy against the United States, the Justice Department said.

The filings mark the first time that the DOJ has brought sedition charges in connection with the Capitol insurrection.

The 48-page indictment describes a “plot to oppose by force the 2020 lawful transfer of presidential power.”

In addition to seditious conspiracy, the indictment brings charges of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property, civil disorder, and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties.

In the indictment, federal prosecutors say that Rhodes used the Oath Keepers to coordinate a group of people from across the country to block the transfer of power in 2020.

“They coordinated travel across the country to enter Washington, D.C, equipped themselves with a variety of weapons, donned combat and tactical gear, and were prepared to answer RHODES’S call to take up arms at RHODES’S direction,” the indictment reads.

The indictment also hints at the potential of other attack leaders who have not been identified. At several points in the indictment, the document refers to an unnamed person labeled “the operation leader.”

Prosecutors divide the Oath Keepers who participated in the attack into three groups, formed of many who have already been charged: two “stacks” of Oath Keepers who assaulted the Capitol, and one “Quick Reaction Force” stationed outside of Washington D.C., “prepared to rapidly transport firearms and other weapons into Washington D.C.”

‘Leadership Intel Sharing’

Federal prosecutors describe a scheme to block Biden’s win that began immediately after the 2020 election. 

On Nov. 5, 2020, the indictment says, Rhodes created a group chat on encrypted messaging app Signal titled “Leadership intel sharing secured.”

“We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” Rhodes purportedly wrote to the chat. 

Two days later, when major news networks called the election for Biden, Rhodes had a plan. Prosecutors said that it was based on the reaction to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. 

“We must now do what the people of Serbia did when Milosevic stole their election,” Rhodes allegedly wrote. “Refuse to accept it and march en-masse on the nation’s Capitol.” 

Prosecutors describe in detail how Rhodes rallied the Oath Keepers for Jan. 6.

After the initial post-election messages, Rhodes allegedly held meetings with multiple Oath Keepers who would go on to storm the Capitol. Some of these took place via phone or video chat, while some Oath Keeper chapters held in-person preparation sessions. Prosecutors describe how, on Dec. 12, 2020, the group’s North Carolina chapter held a “training session” on offensive operations that included teaching the group “how to fall into a formation when we assemble.”

The first references to preparing for early January, 2021 appeared within days of the election, the indictment alleges. One Oath Keeper messaged her “recruits,” prosecutors say, saying she wanted to get them “fighting fit by innaugeration.” 

The week before the attack, prosecutors say, Rhodes and others began to gather weaponry and tactical gear. One Oath Keeper, the indictment reads, discussed bringing a separate backpack with his “ammo load out.” Rhodes, prosecutors say, spent $7,000 on weapons sights and two night-vision devices on Dec. 30, shipping them to someone in D.C.’s Virginia suburbs. The next week, Rhodes would drop another $5,000 on a shotgun, scope, ammo magazines, and other accessories, prosecutors say, in addition to another $6,000 on a semiautomatic rifle and weapons attachments. 

After spending another $4,500 on firearms equipment on Jan. 4, prosecutors say, Rhodes spent at least $22,500 on weapons and accessories before the attack.

LARPing A DC Invasion 

Prosecutors’ description of the Oath Keepers’ planning in the immediate days before Jan. 6 occasionally reads like it took place at the level of children plotting an incredibly sinister reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware. 

On the one hand, Oath Keepers beefed up their “Quick Reaction Force” with real guns and real ammo. That “QRF,” prosecutors say, was stationed 15 minutes away from the Capitol at a hotel in Ballston, a neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. 

On the other, the indictment describes how one Oath Keeper looked at a map of D.C. and began to try to obtain “boat transportation,” purportedly discussing with another group member how the “Corner of west basin and Ohio is a water transport landing!!” That, the alleged plotters said, would serve as “rally points” for the reaction force if “the bridges get closed.” 

“Can’t believe I just thought of this,” the member allegedly wrote. “If it all went to shit, our guy loads our [weapons] AND Blue Ridge Militia weps and ferries them across.”

‘That’s What I Came Up Here For!’

Rhodes, though he did allegedly enter restricted Capitol grounds, is not charged with entering the Capitol building itself.

He allegedly stayed outside as others in the Oath Keepers rushed in. The details of the surge have been laid out in several preceding indictments against the militia group members: They allegedly moved in militaristic “stack” formations, resisted law enforcement officers’ attempts to stop them, and shared rapturous communications over chat groups and the “Zello” walkie talkie app describing their actions.

But the charges of seditious conspiracy, and Rhodes’ addition to the roster, were built on new evidence.

Many of the details of the Oath Keepers’ alleged participation in the attack — moving in stack formations, resisting law enforcement officers’ attempts to stop them, and rapturous communications back and forth — have been captured in multiple previous indictments against members of the militia group. 

But the charges of seditious conspiracy, and Rhodes’ addition to the roster, were built on new evidence. 

Sometime after 2 p.m., for example, as Joshua James, Roberto Minuta and other alleged conspirators discussed the fact that individuals had breached the Capitol, Minuta allegedly stated words to the effect of, “Now we’re talking, that’s what I came up here for!” 

A few minutes later, Rhodes allegedly responded to a text message from a chat group stating that “news is reporting Congress given gas masks and are trying to get out.” 

“Fuck em,” Rhodes allegedly responded — before posting a photo of people storming the Capitol. 

Soon after, the indictment describes James’ and Minuta confronting law enforcement officers inside the Capitol. 

“This is what’s bound to happen, just get out!” Minuta allegedly yelled, as James allegedly grabbed the vest of a Metropolitan Police Department officer and pulled the cop toward the mob. 

As the attack unfolded, Edward Vallejo, the only other new indictee Thursday besides Rhodes, was allegedly waiting at a hotel in Virginia with the Oath Keepers’ “QRF.”

“Vallejo back at hotel and outfitted,” he allegedly wrote at 2:24 p.m. from the Comfort Inn Ballston. “Have 2 trucks available. Let me know how I can assist.” 

As rioters assaulted law enforcement officers guarding the Capitol building’s doors, including with thrown objects and chemical spray, Vallejo allegedly chimed in again. 

“QRF standing by at hotel. Just say the word…”

‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’

Immediately after the attack, on the night of Jan. 6, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers allegedly shared triumphant text messages about what had happened.

“Thousands of ticked off patriots spontaneously marched on the Capitol,” Rhodes wrote at 7:30 p.m., according to the indictment. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“We’ll be back at 6am to do it again,” Vallejo allegedly wrote. He added that “‘After Action Reports’ will be dated 1/21/21” — the day after Joe Biden’s scheduled inauguration. 

Kelly Meggs, an alleged member of the first “stack” of Oath Keepers to breach the Capitol, allegedly wrote: “We aren’t quitting!! We are reloading!!” 

In the days after the Capitol attack, Rhodes allegedly received a message from a member of the “quick reaction force” asking about “next steps.” Around that time, according to the indictment, Rhodes allegedly messaged others to “organize local militias to oppose President Biden’s Administration.” Rhodes also, prosecutors say, purchased a veritable armory after the attack, including $17,500 on firearms parts, ammunition and accessories.

Read the indictment here:

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