Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the attack on the US Capitol, authorities said Thursday.
Ten other people have also been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack which took place on January 6, 2021, when authorities said members of the extremist group had come to Washington with the intention of preventing the certification of the victory of President Joe Biden.
These are the first seditious conspiracy charges the Justice Department has brought in connection with the attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
The department confirmed the arrests and charges in a statement Thursday afternoon.
“A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment yesterday, which was unsealed today, charging 11 defendants with seditious conspiracy and other charges for crimes related to breaching the U.S. Capitol. on January 6, which disrupted a joint session of the United States Congress that was in the process of verifying and counting electoral votes related to the presidential election,” read a statement from the department’s public affairs section.
Mr. Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and Edward Vallejo, of Phoenix, Arizona, were arrested Thursday.
The other defendants were already facing criminal charges related to the attack.
Mr Rhodes is the highest ranking member of an extremist group to be arrested during the deadly siege.
The arrest of Mr. Rhodes and the others is a serious escalation in the charges against the thousands of rioters who stormed the Capitol. And the charges respond in part to a growing chorus of Republicans who have publicly questioned the seriousness of the January 6 insurrection, arguing that since no one had yet been charged with sedition or treason, it could not have be so violent.
“The actions we have taken thus far will not be the last,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a speech Jan. 5, the day before the anniversary of the attack.
The ongoing investigation into the insurrection is the largest in the department’s history, as more than 700 people have been arrested.
“The Department of Justice remains committed to holding all perpetrators of January 6, at all levels, accountable under the law – whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally liable.”
Although Mr. Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building on January 6, he is accused of helping to spark the violence that disrupted the certification of the vote.
The Oath Keepers case is the biggest conspiracy case federal authorities have brought so far on Jan. 6, when rioters stormed police gates and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and sending members of Congress running.
The indictment against Mr. Rhodes alleges that the oath keepers formed two teams, or “stacks”, which entered the Capitol. The first “stack” split inside the building to enter the House and Senate separately while the second “stack” clashed with officers inside the Capitol rotunda.
Outside Washington, according to the indictment, the Guardians of the Oath had stationed two “quick reaction forces” which had firearms “in support of their plot to prevent the lawful transfer of power.”
Jonathan Moseley, a lawyer representing Mr Rhodes, confirmed his client was arrested in Texas on Thursday.
“He’s been under a lot of suspicion as to why he hasn’t been charged” so far during the Jan. 6 riot, Mr Moseley said. “I don’t know if it’s in response to those discussions, but we think it’s unfortunate. It’s an unusual situation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Updated: January 13, 2022, 10:12 p.m.