We, who were desperate for the Justice Department to wake up from its sloth-like slumber, rejoiced after it was announced Thursday that Attorney General Merrick Garland’s office had charged individuals associated with the far-right, anti-government group Oath Keepers with seditious conspiracy for taking part in the violent, attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
However, that’s only the first step. In order to have full accountability and justice, we need to investigate their GOP allies who remain committed to subverting democracy and implementing minority rule through an ongoing, slow-moving coup.
The rarely-invoked charge of sedition, in such a publicized and politicized case, is a remarkable development. It means the Justice Department is flexing its full legal muscles at individuals—such as Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers and a former Army Ranger and Yale law graduate—because they are confident they can prove that at least two people conspired to use force to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States.”
Unlike most of the prosecutions around this investigation, the punishment won’t be a slap on the wrist or probation. This one has teeth. If found guilty, the accused face a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.
The indictment reveals a highly-detailed, organized, and coordinated plot by these members of the Oath Keepers to break into the U.S. Capitol and use violence against elected officials, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to deny the certification of the 2020 election. Heavily-armed members of the right-wing group were also stationed in a nearby Virginia hotel as a “quick reaction force” if needed.
This information alone shows Jan. 6 wasn’t just a “normal tourist visit,” as described by GOP Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA), who was hiding beside his colleagues behind a barricade and protected by the Capitol police. Those same police, by the way, are now mocked and ridiculed by some ostensibly pro-law and order conservatives, such as Fox News host Laura Ingraham, as crisis actors.
The attempted insurrection that resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer, wasn’t a spontaneous burst of “economic anxiety” in the heat of the moment that suddenly created an unruly mob of aggrieved Trump supporters. This was a methodically planned coup attempt perpetrated in part by heavily-armed individuals.
We already know their subversive intentions were shared by their conservative counterparts who wear suits instead of army fatigues and use pencils and powerpoints instead of guns.
For example, we have read right-wing activist and attorney John Eastman’s six-point memo that Trump and his team relied upon for their failed coup. Thanks to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ initial cooperation, the Jan. 6 House Intel Committee has also seen a slideshow that was shared among Trump’s allies that discussed how to overthrow the election. We know that ahead of Jan. 6, Trump and his team set up a “war room” at the Willard Hotel, which included Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon, to effectuate their plan.
As a cherry on top, last week Trump White House aide Peter Navarro fessed up to the plot on MSNBC without actually mentioning the word coup, instead admitting, “We had over 100 congressmen and senators…ready to implement” what he called “The Green Bay Sweep”—in which six battleground states would decertify the election and punt it to the House of Representatives.
The critical questions with a conspiracy are who else was involved, what did they know, and when did they know it? It’s easy to dismiss the Oath Keepers, a far-right group the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as an organization that “is based on a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy Americans’ liberties.” However, the fringe is now the base and beating heart of the GOP, which includes a disturbingly large number of elected officials and voters who believe in the Big Lie and support the QAnon movement—which is considered a domestic terror threat by the United States. About 40 percent of Republicans believe violence against the government is justified.
On the encrypted messaging app Signal, Rhodes wrote, “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war.” Later, he wrote, “We are going to have a fight. That can’t be avoided.”
Rhodes sounds a lot like GOP Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who gives keynote speeches at white nationalist conferences when he isn’t busy tweeting violent anime fantasies against Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
In his free time, Gosar visits the local Oath Keepers chapter in Arizona, where a few years earlier, the group’s leader asked him if the United States was headed for a civil war. “We’re in it,” Gosar allegedly replied. “We just haven’t started shooting at each other yet.” Gosar was also one of three Republican members of Congress whom Ali Alexander, one of the leaders of the “Stop the Steal” rally, said helped him hatch the plan to put “maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting.” The other congressmen include Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), another friend of the Oath Keepers, and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who just randomly decided to wear a Kevlar vest on Jan. 6. These three elected officials can be fairly classified as allies and friends of these far-right groups.
However, the modern GOP has become a radicalized, weaponized movement with active members of the Oath Keepers, including David Eastman and Mark Finchem (respectively of the Alaska and Arizona House of Representatives), both of whom believe the Big Lie and were present in Washington on Jan. 6 to protest the certification. In fact, Trump is supporting Finchem to be Arizona’s next Secretary of State. According to a BuzzFeed News analysis, at least 28 people who currently hold elected office either joined or supported the Oath Keepers, whose leader and members have just been charged with sedition.
As a Muslim, this blows my mind. I can’t imagine how this country would respond if a bunch of bearded Black and brown members of a far-right group planned to overtake the U.S. Capitol, attempted a coup, attacked cops, and chased around white members of Congress. If it was later found out that elected officials like Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were active supporters and members of the group, is it conceivable for them to still be in office, let alone not to be investigated and indicted? Of course not. But, in 2022, it’s still good to be a white elected official who’s a member of the Oath Keepers–for now.
The Justice Department’s latest indictment at least gives me hope that they are taking this active threat to our democracy seriously. The way to truly prove it, and ensure a coup like this doesn’t happen again in 2024, is to start going after their allies, the extremist fringe, sitting comfortably in Congress.