The leader of a far-right militia has been charged with seditious conspiracy following the January attack on the US Capitol.
The charge, which alleges the group attempted to overthrow the government, is more serious than the lesser crimes others have faced and carries a 20-year prison sentence.
More than 150 people have been accused of assaulting police and more than 50 of conspiring – mostly linked to another far-right group, the Proud Boys.
However, now 11 members of the Oath Keepers militia are the first to be arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy, including founder and leader Stewart Rhodes, 56, of Granbury Texas.
What is a seditious plot?
A seditious conspiracy occurs when two or more people conspire to “overthrow, crush to destroy by force” the United States government or oppose by force in an attempt to prevent the execution of any law.
If found guilty, he faces a 20-year sentence behind bars.
But the Civil War-era accusation is rarely used because it is difficult to prove and harder to win.
The last time prosecutors brought 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 the judge ordered an acquittal at trial, saying it had not been proven that the accused ever had detailed plans for a rebellion.
Among the last successful convictions for seditious conspiracy was the storming of the Capitol in 1954 by four Puerto Rican nationalists who opened fire on the floor of the house, injuring five.
Sky News last spoke to Rhodes in September 2020 after armed civilians took to the streets in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s death.
At the time, Rhodes said his anti-government group took to the streets to “protect businesses”.
A former U.S. Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate, Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in 2009. The far-right group recruits current and former military, police and first responders.
Among the Oath Keepers indicted alongside Rhodes is Jessica Watkins, 39, of Woodstock, Ohio.
Special Envoy Alex Crawford spoke to group members after last year’s attack, and a friend of Watkins’ said she considered herself a patriot who had done nothing wrong.
“Jessica was at no time in an area not open to the public,” her friend said.
“She has prevented individuals in her sphere of influence from breaking or stealing.”
Former sailor Donovan Crowl, 51, of Cable, Ohio, has also been charged with seditious conspiracy. In 2021, his mother, Teresa Rowe, told Sky News that she had been separated from him for several years, having kicked him out for his right-wing views.
“I think he should face a prison sentence,” she said.
The indictment alleges the Oath Keepers argued for weeks about their plans to overturn the election results and prepared for a siege by purchasing weapons.
They wrote repeatedly in conversations about the prospect of violence, and Rhodes is said to have written in a text that he wanted to “scare” Congress.
On January 6, large crowds of rioters entered the capital, breaking through police barriers, smashing windows and causing lawmakers to run.
The indictment against Rhodes alleges that the Oath Keepers formed two teams, or “piles”, which entered the Capitol.
The first pile has split inside the building to go separately after the House and the Senate. The second stack clashed with officers inside the Capitol Rotunda.
Outside Washington, according to the indictment, the Oath Keepers had posted two “rapid reaction forces” which had weapons “in support of their plot to stop the legal transfer of power.”
According to court documents, Rhodes said, “We will stand up for 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, you” going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody – you can call it an insurgency or you can call it a war or a fight. “
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More than 70 defendants are still being held for riots. About 183 people have pleaded guilty to riot-related charges and at least 78 of them have been convicted, including 35 people who have received prison terms or prison terms or have already been served.