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Oath Keepers founder arrested for ‘seditious conspiracy’ for Capitol storming

Demonstrators on Capitol Hill, Jan. 6, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
January 13, 2022

Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, a U.S Army veteran and the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, has been arrested and stands charged — along with 10 others — with seditious conspiracy related to the Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol.

On Thursday, the Department of Justice announced Rhodes, 56, have been charged alongside Edward Vallejo, Thomas Caldwell, Joseph Hackett, Kenneth Harrelson, Joshua James, Kelly Meggs, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, Brian Ulrich, and Jessica Watkins with seditious conspiracy and other offenses.

The Oath Keepers is a loosely organized group that technically will accept anyone but mostly focuses on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement and first-responder personnel. The group is organized around the stated goal of keeping their oaths to defend the Constitution and to refuse to enforce unconstitutional orders.

Federal prosecutors allege Rhodes and the other 10 individuals planned to oppose by force the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden by Jan. 20, 2021. The defendants are accused of using encrypted communications, wherein they allegedly made plans to bring weapons to Washington D.C.

Prosecutors further allege the defendants were prepared and willing to use force and to transport firearms and ammunition to D.C.

An indictment alleges the defendants organized training sessions to learn paramilitary combat tactics and brought weapons and supplies – including knives, batons, camouflaged combat uniforms, tactical vests with plates, helmets, eye protection and radio equipment to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

On Jan. 6, as Congress convened a joint session overseen by then-Vice President Mike Pence, and as then-President Donald spoke at a rally to challenge the 2020 election results, Rhodes allegedly messaged the other defendants saying, “Pence is doing nothing. As I predicted. All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent of him to do anything. So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’ve had enough.”

As crowds at the Capitol broke windows and rammed through doors on Jan. 6, defendants Hackett, Harrelson, Meggs, Moerschel, Watkins, James, Minuta, and Ulrich, are accused of forming two “stack” formations along with other participants and entering the Capitol.

Prosecutors allege that while defendants like Hackett, Harrelson, Meggs, Moerschel, Watkins, James, Minuta, and Ulrich were present at the Capitol on Jan. 6, other Oath Keepers waited outside Washington D.C., prepared to respond in quick reaction force (QRF) teams. Prosecutors allege the QRF teams were prepared to rapidly move firearms and other weapons into the city in support of the effort to stop certification of election results for Biden.

Prosecutors allege Caldwell and Vallejo were in charge of coordinating the teams.

Seditious conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison

In addition to the charge of seditious conspiracy, Rhodes and the other defendants were charged with conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to obstruct an officer.

Rhodes, Meggs, James, Harrelson, Minuta, Hackett, Moerschell and Caldwell also faced evidence tampering charges.

Until Thursday, Rhodes and Vallejo had remained uncharged, while the remaining nine defendants have faced various past charges.

In the latest indictment, Hackett, Harrelson, Meggs, Moerschel and Watkins were also charged with destruction of government property. 

Watkins and James also faced further civil disorder charges.