What to Know
- Two North Texas men face sedition charges related to Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol.
- The charges mark a serious escalation in the DOJ investigation and rebut, in part, those who question if the attack was an attempted insurrection.
- Seditious conspiracy charges carry a possible prison term of 20 years.
Two North Texas men, Stewart Rhodes and Roberto Minuta, linked to the militia group Oath Keepers, are among 11 people charged with seditious conspiracy in last year's assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Despite hundreds of charges already brought in the year since pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory, this is the first time seditious conspiracy charges have been brought by prosecutors in connection with the Jan. 6 riot.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 56, of Granbury, was arrested by the FBI Thursday in Little Elm, the Department of Justice said. Another North Texas man, Roberto Minuta, 37, of Prosper, was previously arrested but the conspiracy charges were added to his case.
Rhodes is the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, a group that seeks members who are former military, law enforcement, and first responders, the DOJ said. Rhodes and the others made plans to bring weapons to Washington, prosecutors said.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes
The charges mark a serious escalation in the largest investigation in the Justice Department's history - more than 700 people have been arrested and charged with federal crimes - and highlighted the work that has gone into piecing together the most complicated cases. The charges rebut, in part, the growing chorus of Republican lawmakers who have publicly challenged the seriousness of the insurrection, arguing that since no one had been charged yet with sedition or treason, it could not have been so violent.
The indictment (embedded at the bottom of this article) alleges Oath Keepers for weeks discussed trying to overturn the election results and preparing for a siege by purchasing weapons and setting up battle plans. They repeatedly wrote in chats about the prospect of violence and the need, as Rhodes allegedly wrote in one text, "to scare the s---out of" Congress. And on Jan. 6, the indictment alleges, they entered the Capitol building with the large crowds of rioters who stormed past police barriers and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and sending lawmakers running.
U.S. Capitol Riot
According to the indictment, the FBI obtained encrypted communications among the Oath Keepers. On Nov. 5, two days after the election, Rhodes sent a message: “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit.”
A few days later, Rhodes wrote: “We must now do what the people of Serbia did when Milosevic stole their election -- refuse to accept it and march en-mass on the nation’s Capitol.”
The indictment against Rhodes alleges Oath Keepers formed two teams, or "stacks," that entered the Capitol. The first stack split up inside the building to separately go after the House and Senate. The second stack confronted officers inside the Capitol Rotunda, the indictment said. Outside Washington, the indictment alleges, the Oath Keepers had stationed two "quick reaction forces" that had guns "in support of their plot to stop the lawful transfer of power."
Sedition charges are difficult to win and rarely used, but defendants face steep prison time of 20 years if convicted, compared with five for the other conspiracy charges. The last time U.S. prosecutors brought such a seditious conspiracy case was in 2010 in an alleged Michigan plot by members of the Hutaree militia to incite an uprising against the government. But a judge ordered acquittals on the sedition conspiracy charges at a 2012 trial, saying prosecutors relied too much on hateful diatribes protected by the First Amendment and didn't, as required, prove the accused ever had detailed plans for a rebellion.
Among the last successful convictions for seditious conspiracy stemmed from another, now largely forgotten storming of the Capitol in 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the House floor, wounding five representatives.
Most of the hundreds of people charged with violence are facing lower-level crimes. More than 150 people have been charged with assaulting police officers at the Capitol. Over 50 have been charged with conspiracy, mostly people linked to the far-right Proud Boys and anti-government Oath Keepers. There have been no sedition charges brought against the Proud Boys.
Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6 but is accused of helping put into motion the violence. Jonathan Moseley, an attorney who said he represented Rhodes, said Rhodes was supposed to testify before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection in a deposition but it got called off.
"He has been subject to a lot of suspicion to why he wasn't indicted," so far in the Jan. 6 riot, Moseley said. "I don't know if this is in response to those discussions, but we do think it's unfortunate. It's an unusual situation."
A second attorney representing the group, Kellye SoRelle, said she was issuing a statement later and said Mosley did not represent Rhodes.
Rhodes has said in interviews with right-wing hosts that there was no plan to storm the Capitol and that the members who did so went rogue. But he has continued to push the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, while posts on the Oath Keepers website have depicted the group as a victim of political persecution.
Other defendants in the conspiracy have argued in court that the only plan was to provide security at the rally before the riot or protect themselves against possible attacks from far-left Antifa activists.
Rhodes, a former U.S. Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, has appeared in court documents in the conspiracy case for months as "Person One."
Authorities say Rhodes held a GoToMeeting call days after the election, telling his followers to go to Washington and let then President Donald Trump know "that the people are behind him." Rhodes told members they should be prepared to fight Antifa and that some Oath Keepers should "stay on the outside" and be "prepared to go in armed" if necessary.
"We're going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country. Because if you don't guys, you're going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody -- you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or fight," Rhodes said, according to court documents.
Authorities have said Rhodes was part of an encrypted Signal chat with Oath Keepers from multiple states leading up to Jan. 6 called "DC OP: Jan 6 21" and it showed the group was "activating a plan to use force" that day.
On the afternoon of the 6th, authorities say Rhodes told the group over Signal: "All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They've had enough."
Around 2:30 p.m., Rhodes had a 97-second phone call with Kelly Meggs, the reputed leader of the group's Florida chapter, who was part of the military-style stack, authorities say. About 10 minutes later, Rhodes sent a photo to the group showing the southeast side of the Capitol with the caption, "South side of US Capitol. Patriots pounding on doors." Around that same time, those in the stack formation forcibly entered the Capitol, prosecutors say.
Rhodes was expected in court on Friday in Texas.
Seditious conspiracy charges carry a possible prison term of 20 years.
NBC 5's Scott Gordon and Associated Press writers Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City, and Nomaan Merchant, Eric Tucker, Michael Kunzelman in Washington contributed to this report.