- The head of the far-right group Oath Keepers has been arrested in the Capitol-riot investigation.
- Elmer Stewart Rhodes and 10 others were charged with seditious conspiracy on Thursday.
- Thursday’s arrests are the first time prosecutors have brought sedition charges related to the riot.
The leader of the right-wing extremist group Oath Keepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, was arrested on Thursday. He and 10 others were charged with seditious conspiracy in connection to the Capitol riot, the Justice Department announced on Thursday.
It’s the most significant arrest yet and marks the first time that federal prosecutors have brought sedition charges in connection to the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation into the deadly January 6, 2021, Capitol siege.
Rhodes has said he was at the Capitol that day but did not enter the building, The Washington Post reported.
But prosecutors said key members of right-wing extremist groups, including the Oath Keepers, not only forced their way into the Capitol but also extensively planned for it beforehand by, among other things, keeping a “quick reaction force” on standby at a Virginia hotel.
The Post reported that prosecutors also alleged that some of the pro-Trump rioters specifically traveled to Washington, DC, at Rhodes’ urging, and that he began discussing how to keep Trump in the White House as early as November 9, 2020, two days after major news networks declared Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election.
Thursday’s seditious-conspiracy indictment alleged that Rhodes and other codefendants conspired to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.”
The charging document accused Rhodes and his codefendants of using encrypted messaging apps in late December 2020 to coordinate and plan to travel to Washington, DC, to disrupt Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s victory on January 6, 2021. Prosecutors also alleged that Rhodes and some of the codefendants made plans to bring weapons to the Capitol.
Investigators have repeatedly emphasized the nature of the Oath Keepers throughout the course of the Capitol-riot probe. Thursday’s indictment described the group as a “large but loosely organized collection of individuals,” adding that “though the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as members, they explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel.”
In all, the DOJ said, 19 defendants connected to the Oath Keepers were charged with corruptly obstructing an official proceeding. Eighteen of the 19 were charged with conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiring to prevent an office of the United States from discharging a duty. And 11 of the 19 were charged with seditious conspiracy.
Rhodes’ arrest came after the House select committee investigating the riot subpoenaed him and the leaders of other far-right groups, including the Proud Boys and the 1st Amendment Praetorian.
The groups are the most high-profile right-wing extremists to have been involved in the violent breach of the Capitol while Congress was in the process of certifying Biden’s victory.
Rhodes’ arrest also came days after Attorney General Merrick Garland delivered remarks on the eve of the anniversary of the Capitol siege and vowed that the Justice Department had “no higher priority” than holding those involved accountable.
He also characterized the Capitol-riot investigation as “one of the largest, most complex, and most resource-intensive investigations in our history.”
The last time the department brought sedition charges connected to white-supremacist violence was in 1987, when it charged 13 white supremacists in Arkansas with conspiring to overthrow the federal government, said Kathleen Belew, a historian and assistant professor at the University of Chicago.