Oath Keepers leader arrested, charged with seditious conspiracy for Jan. 6 riot The federal government has charged Stewart Rhodes and 10 others with seditious conspiracy in the most serious case to emerge from its investigation into the Capitol riot.


Oath Keepers leader arrested, charged with seditious conspiracy for Jan. 6 riot

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A major development today in the investigation into last year's attack on the U.S. Capitol. Stewart Rhodes, the head of the Oath Keepers extremist group, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy and other crimes.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now with more details. Hi, Ryan.


CHANG: OK. So before we get to the specific charges here, can you just first remind us a bit about Stewart Rhodes, like who he is and the whole backstory of the Oath Keepers?

LUCAS: So Rhodes has an interesting background. He's a former Army paratrooper, a Yale Law School graduate. He's got a memorable look to him. He lost an eye at one point, so he has an eyepatch.

More than a decade ago, he founded this group called the Oath Keepers. It's a loose-knit militia organization. It says it aims to recruit former military folks, former police officers, first responders, people like that. Rhodes likes to say that the group is dedicated to defending the rights of Americans from what he views as a tyrannical government. Watchdog groups and researchers say, though, that the Oath Keepers is really just a far-right extremist group.

As for January 6, Oath Keepers were at the Capitol that day. More than 20 members or associates have been charged in connection with the attack; a number that, of course, went up today.

CHANG: Exactly. OK. So tell us more about the charges specifically against Rhodes.

LUCAS: Well, in this case, Rhodes has been charged along with 10 other people. All but one of them were already facing charges in connection with January 6. But in this indictment, there are several charges, including obstruction.

But the big charge here is the one that you mentioned earlier - seditious conspiracy. Prosecutors allege that Rhodes and his co-defendants plotted to stop by force the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden last January. The indictment says this effort started almost right after Trump lost the election in November. It says this group led by Rhodes started to talk about how to oppose, again, by force, Biden from taking office.

Prosecutors say that these alleged conspirators used encrypted messaging applications to communicate, that they planned to travel to Washington, D.C. They talked about what equipment, what tactical gear to bring with them, and some brought firearms and then stashed them on the outskirts of D.C. for January 6 just in case things got messy.

Many of the defendants in this case entered the Capitol on January 6. Rhodes himself was on the Capitol grounds. We've seen photos of him talking with Oath Keepers there. But he's not believed to have entered the building. He's alleged more to have had sort of a leadership and organizational role.

CHANG: I see. OK. So what's been the reaction so far from Rhodes to these charges?

LUCAS: Well, an attorney for Rhodes, Jon Moseley, was interviewed on the far-right website Infowars today. He said that he was on the phone with Rhodes when the FBI showed up to arrest him.


JON MOSELEY: I was on the phone for about 10 minutes while they were arresting him trying to herd everybody out of the house that was there, which means that I assume that they are searching the house - probably still doing it now - going through all of the documents, records and seeing what might be there.

LUCAS: Now, officials say that Rhodes was arrested in Little Elm, Texas. He's expected to make his initial appearance in federal court sometime soon.

CHANG: And, Ryan, I'm just curious, how serious is the charge of seditious conspiracy?

LUCAS: Well, this is a rarely used charge, but it's definitely a serious one. At root, it involves the allegation of plotting to prevent the execution of U.S. law. In this instance, they're talking about the laws governing the transfer of power. And the transfer of power of, course, is a bedrock of democracy in this country. So it's a big deal. It carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

We've known for months that this is a charge that prosecutors were looking at. But as of the one-year anniversary of the Capitol attack, they still hadn't brought it against anyone. Dozens of people had been charged with conspiracy, kind of run-of-the-mill conspiracy. But now here with this indictment of Rhodes, we have the first seditious conspiracy charges brought in the Capitol riot investigation.

CHANG: That is NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thank you, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you.

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