The chief of the Oath Keepers militia group, who was indicted Thursday on a collection of fees together with seditious conspiracy in reference to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, made his first look earlier than a decide Friday in a federal courtroom in Texas.
Stewart Rhodes, a former Military paratrooper and graduate of Yale Legislation Faculty, may spend many years behind bars if convicted on all 5 federal counts he faces — together with essentially the most severe seditious conspiracy cost, which carries a most sentence of 20 years in jail.
A lawyer for Rhodes instructed ABC Information Friday that the allegations towards Rhodes have been “lies,” and mentioned that no members of the Oath Keepers ever “deliberate or conspired to assault the Capitol.”
In his Friday court docket look, Rhodes responded “Sure” when requested by Justice of the Peace Choose Kimberly Priest Johnson if he understood the fees towards him. He then waived his proper to have the complete indictment learn aloud.
Prosecutors requested that Rhodes be detained whereas he’s awaiting trial, and the decide set a detention listening to for Jan. 20. Rhodes will stay in custody till then.
The indictment of Rhodes, together with 10 different alleged members of the Oath Keepers, alerts a big escalation within the Justice Division’s sprawling investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault and its prosecution of members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, described by prosecutors as a “giant however loosely organized assortment of people” who “explicitly concentrate on recruiting present and former army, regulation enforcement, and first-responder personnel.”
Prosecutors allege Rhodes and different Oath Keepers started coordinating as early as simply after Election Day “to oppose by pressure the execution of the legal guidelines governing the switch of presidential energy” between outgoing President Donald Trump and incoming President Joe Biden, based on court docket papers.
Whereas Rhodes himself is just not alleged to have entered the Capitol through the assault, prosecutors say he did enter the restricted space surrounding the constructing and coordinated with Oath Keepers who have been a part of a military-style “stack” formation seen strolling into the increase the east aspect steps. Prosecutors mentioned of their indictment Thursday that the members of the so-called “stack” have been particularly trying to find Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however left after they could not discover her.
Of their 48-page indictment, investigators chronicled intimately Rhodes’ alleged communications with members of the group over non-public and encrypted apps, and their alleged accumulation of heavy weaponry and tactical gear that the group is accused of storing simply outdoors Washington at a resort in Virginia, the place on Jan. 6 prosecutors say a so-called “Fast Response Pressure” of militia members waited on standby in case they have been known as into the town.
9 of these charged in Thursday’s indictment had been beforehand charged in reference to the Jan. 6 assault as a part of what was already the Justice Division’s largest and most advanced conspiracy case tied to the riot.
Along with Rhodes, 63-year-old Edward Vallejo of Arizona was arrested in Phoenix on Thursday and likewise charged with seditious conspiracy. Vallejo was allegedly a part of the “Fast Response Pressure” that was mendacity in wait on the Virginia resort.
After the riot, Rhodes and Vallejo allegedly met up at a restaurant the place they “celebrated their assault” and mentioned “subsequent steps,” based on the indictment. Vallejo allegedly despatched a message to a Sign chat group the morning after Jan. 6 the place he mentioned making a “recon” journey to the Capitol to probe the “protection line” put up by regulation enforcement within the wake of the assault, court docket papers mentioned.
Vallejo additionally made his first look earlier than a Justice of the Peace decide in Phoenix on Friday afternoon, the place a public defender representing him mentioned he plans to plead not responsible to all fees towards him. The decide set a detention listening to for subsequent Thursday because the Justice Division seeks to maintain Vallejo behind bars pending additional authorized proceedings in his case.
The deployment of the rarely-used seditious conspiracy cost will pose a serious check for the Justice Division in its investigation into the Capitol assault and the prosecution of Rhodes because the founder and self-described chief of the Oath Keepers.
Solely days after the Jan. 6 assault, the then-acting U.S. lawyer for Washington, D.C., Michael Sherwin, mentioned prosecutors have been contemplating the potential for seditious conspiracy fees towards a number of the most “heinous acts” that passed off on the Capitol. However because the investigation crossed the one-year mark and the variety of arrests stretched past 700, such fees had but to materialize, with prosecutors as an alternative opting to carry fees like conspiracy or obstruction of an official continuing, which equally carries a most sentence of 20 years in jail.
Lawyer Basic Merrick Garland appeared to foreshadow Thursday’s fees final week in a speech marking the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6, when he addressed criticism of the division’s dealing with of the investigation and the shortage of fees up to now towards the extra outstanding figures believed to have coordinated the assault on Congress.
“The actions we’ve taken up to now won’t be our final,” Garland mentioned. “The Justice Division stays dedicated to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any degree, accountable beneath regulation — whether or not they have been current that day or have been in any other case criminally answerable for the assault on our democracy.”
John Sandweg, a former appearing normal counsel on the Division of Homeland Safety, instructed ABC Information that Thursday’s indictment “confirms that the assault on the Capitol was not simply an impulsive act, however was a part of a premeditated conspiracy to forcibly steal the levers of energy.”
“It additionally demonstrates that, whereas a lot of the main focus has been on the prosecution of these on lesser fees associated to storming the Capitol, DOJ has been actively investigating the basis causes of the assault,” he mentioned. “The query stays how far up the meals chain will the remainder of the investigation lead, however this indictment considerably ups the ante.”
ABC Information’ Juan Renteria, James Scholz and Mireya Villarreal contributed to this report.