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Oath Keepers founder indicted in Capitol riots investigation

WASHINGTON – U.S. prosecutors on Thursday indicted Stewart Rhodes, founder of far-right militia Oath Keepers, and 10 others with seditious conspiracy over their role in the deadly Jan.6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

It was the first time that prosecutors brought this charge against those accused of the attack. Crime is defined as an attempt “to forcibly overthrow, bring down or destroy the government of the United States.”

That day, supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent Congress from certifying its electoral defeat to US President Joe Biden. The attack came shortly after Trump, in a speech, repeated his false claims that his loss was the result of widespread election fraud and urged his supporters to come to Capitol Hill and “stand down. beat like hell ”to prevent election theft.

The Oath Keepers are a loosely organized group of activists who believe the federal government is infringing on their rights and focus on recruiting current and former police, emergency services, and military personnel.

Prosecutors said that as of late December 2020, Rhodes used private encrypted communications to plan his trip to Washington on January 6. He and others planned to bring weapons to the area to help support the operation, they said.

While some of the Oath Keeper members rushed inside the building with tactical gear, others remained stationed outside in what they considered to be “rapid reaction force” teams. who were ready to quickly transport weapons to the city, the prosecutor said.

The indictment alleges that Thomas Caldwell, a former defendant in the case, and Edward Vallejo of Arizona, a new defendant in the case, were responsible for coordinating these rapid reaction force teams.

Seditious conspiracy is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Nine of the 11 accused were already facing other charges.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, the day before the anniversary of last week’s attack, vowed to hold anyone involved in the riot responsible. The department has charged more than 725 people with crimes resulting from the attack. Of these people, around 165 have pleaded guilty and at least 70 have been convicted. Garland said the Justice Department “will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

Over the years, the Justice Department has secured convictions for seditious conspiracy against Puerto Rican nationalists and suspected Islamist militants, including Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the radical Islamic clergyman known as the “blind sheikh.”

Charges of seditious conspiracy featured prominently in a 1987 case brought by federal authorities against leaders and members of a neo-Nazi group known as The Order. Fourteen suspected members or sympathizers were indicted, including 10 for seditious conspiracy.

After a two-month trial, a jury acquitted all the defendants.