Stewart Rhodes, the eyepatch-wearing founder of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers, has been arrested and charged for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, landing the feds perhaps their biggest blow yet on far-right extremist leadership since the failed insurrection.
Rhodes, a 56-year-old Army veteran and Yale Law graduate who founded the militia group in 2009, was indicted along with 10 others on Thursday and charged with several crimes, including seditious conspiracy.
It is the first time prosecutors have brought sedition charges against any of the more than 700 people arrested so far in the Jan. 6 investigation and came exactly one week after the first anniversary of the violent attack.
The Thursday arrests are far from the first in the federal probe to ensnare members of the Oath Keepers, who purport to be composed chiefly of current and former members of the military and law enforcement. Prosecutors allege the group was part of a wider conspiracy to recruit, train, and prepare for an attack on the Capitol.
As The Daily Beast reported at the time, Rhodes teased his own arrest in a bizarre rant against migrants at the southern U.S. border as far back as March 2021. Jonathan Moseley, his lawyer, told The New York Times on Thursday that FBI agents had taken his client into custody.
“The purpose of the conspiracy was to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force, by preventing, hindering, or delaying by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of power,” the seditious conspiracy indictment states.
In a statement Thursday, Moseley pushed back hard. “The prosecutors know with 100 percent certainty that the Oath Keepers came to D.C. to assist with logistics, security, and ushering VIPs and speakers at 100 percent peaceful, legal rallies that had permits from the U.S. Park Police and U.S. Capitol Police,” he said. “Prosecutors know that none of the Oath Keepers ever planned or conspired to attack the Capitol, disrupt the Joint Session of Congress, or anything they claim. I have got the documents.”
The indictment states that after the insurrection, Rhodes and two of his co-conspirators met at a Virginia restaurant “to celebrate their attack on the Capitol and discuss next steps,” including how to stop Biden’s inauguration.
The new charges come after Congress’ Jan. 6 committee investigating the riot previously issued subpoenas to Rhodes, along with ex-Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and the leader of 1st Amendment Praetorian, a lower-level, far-right faction helmed by Robert Patrick Lewis.
The committee’s letter to Rhodes stated, “You repeatedly suggested that the Oath Keepers should, or were prepared to, engage in violence to ensure their preferred election outcome.” It also quoted Rhodes calling on members of his group to “stock up on ammo” and gear up for a “full-on war in the streets.”
Also indicted was Edward Vallejo, a 63-year-old Phoenix, Arizona, man. Vallejo’s LinkedIn identifies him as a Reserve Officer Training Corps graduate and longtime libertarian activist—one personally converted to the GOP by former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whom he describes as a “friend.”
It also identifies him as a former precinct committeeman for the Arizona Republican Party and chief operating officer of Homefront Battle Buddies, a group launched by 2020 libertarian presidential candidate Adam Kokesh. Vallejo’s personal social-media feed is rife with pro-Trump posts, as well as biblical allusions and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic and the Jan. 6 insurrection. The Homefront Battle Buddies webpage describes him as a former Army radio telephone operator.
His most recent Twitter post, from Thursday morning, seemed to allude to his arrest: “I about [sic] to enter the Phoenix Field Office of the FBI to interrogate them regarding the January 6th affair,” it read.
Vallejo was actively involved in the plot as early as Dec. 30, 2020, and was among a group “on standby at the Comfort Inn Ballston, monitoring communications from the co-conspirators on the ground” in D.C. and “waiting a call to bring the weapons,” the indictment states. On the morning of the siege, Vallejo allegedly discussed the possibility of an “armed conflict” and “guerilla war” on a podcast.
Vallejo appears to have deep roots in far-right and anti-government movements. A YouTube account tied to him features videos of an Oath Keepers rally from 2011, including a Tucson News interview of his now-fellow defendant Rhodes. A 2014 Las Vegas Sun article pictured him alongside rogue rancher Cliven Bundy at the site of the infamous standoff with federal agents in Nevada. And in 2018, he was a guest on a libertarian podcast, along with discredited Dr. Judy Mikovits—who would become notorious in 2020 for her participation in the debunked conspiratorial documentary Plandemic.
Vallejo did not have a lawyer listed in federal court records Thursday afternoon.
The two men were charged with nine previously indicted individuals, including Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old Army vet accused of recruiting members to “fight hand to hand” to take over the Capitol; Thomas Edward Caldwell, a 65-year-old prosecutors have described as a leader of the Oath Keepers; and Kelly Meggs, the self-described leader of the group’s Florida chapter.
Federal authorities have described the Oath Keepers as “a large but loosely organized collection of militia who believe that the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”
Now they face their own charges of seditious conspiracy, and each faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison.
The charges against Rhodes follow months of the feds dancing around implicating the Oath Keeper leader in court documents, which described him as “Person One.” Prosecutors have referred to statements made by Rhodes, attributing them to “Person One,” including a Jan. 4, 2021, recruiting letter that he signed.
Prosecutors have alleged that Rhodes not only had direct contact with members already accused in the plot to prevent Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s win—but even warned there could be more violence after Jan. 6 if President Donald Trump didn’t step up.
While Rhodes has previously denied his involvement in the riots, and there is no evidence he entered the Capitol building that day, he appeared to act as a link between his group and other far-right factions involved in the attack.
And the indictment against him does note that Rhodes “entered the restricted area of the Capitol grounds and directed his followers to meet him at the Capitol.”
The seditious conspiracy indictment adds that beginning in Nov. 2020, Rhodes began “disseminating messages on encrypted applications that encouraged his co-conspirators” to oppose the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden.
Two days after the election, Rhodes allegedly sent a message to an invitation-only group chat, titled, “Leadership intel sharing secured,” a conversation prosecutors said also included Meggs.
“We aren’t getting through this without civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit,” Rhodes allegedly wrote in the chat. “It will be a bloody and desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can’t be avoided.”
On the day former President Donald Trump was officially projected to lose the election, Rhodes was said to write in the group: “[W]e must do now 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 says by the end of the month, the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers had already held a training on “unconventional warfare.”
At a Dec. 2020 rally in D.C., Rhodes warned of “bloody war” if Trump did not invoke the Insurrection Act. In a video the night before the riot, Rhodes made a Facebook video with other far-right figures. Among them were the leader of a PAC that employs leaders of the Proud Boys; the leader of “Vets For Trump,” who is facing charges for allegedly bringing a gun to a Pennsylvania vote-count center; and Amanda Chase, a Virginia state senator who has previously appeared alongside Proud Boys at a gun rally.
The new indictment says that on Dec. 30, 2020, Rhodes bought two night-vision devices and a $7,000 weapon—and shipped them both to Virginia to arrive two days before the insurrection.
Court filings by federal prosecutors show that the Oath Keepers discussed plans in an encrypted chat group—titled “DC OP: Jan 6 21”—at least one day before the riots. The chat allegedly included Rhodes, Watkins, Meggs, and two other Oath Keepers charged for participating in the riots but not included in the group conspiracy: Roberto Minuta and Joshua James. (James is accused of providing protection to former Trump adviser Roger Stone before storming the Capitol.)
In the group chat, the Oath Keepers discussed what weapons to bring to the siege, that handheld radios would be used for constant communication, and that a cache of weapons would be waiting outside the city in case of “worse-case scenarios.”
“Highly recommend a C or D cell flashlight if you have one,” Rhodes allegedly told members in the group chat, referring to heavy flashlights that can be swung like clubs. “Collapsible Batons are a grey area in the law. I bring one. But I’m willing to take that risk because I love ’em.”
The new indictment adds that on Jan. 1 and 2, 2021, Rhodes also spent an additional $5,000 on firearms and other equipment, including a shotgun, scope, ammunition, and gun-cleaning supplies. On Jan. 3, he allegedly left Granbury, Texas, for Washington, D.C.—and during his travels, spent another $6,000 on an AR-platform rifle and other firearm equipment.
During the siege, which forced dozens of lawmakers into hiding and ultimately left at least five people dead, Rhodes allegedly texted the group, “Pence is doing nothing. As I predicted,” according to previous court filings.
“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,” he allegedly added 10 minutes later.
After the riot, Rhodes was said to text the group: “Leaders check to be sure you have all your team members. If anyone is missing, post here.” Hours later, he allegedly sent the group a rousing speech comparing their coordinated effort to that of revolutionaries during the Boston Tea Party.
“Patriots entering their own Capitol to send a message to the traitors is NOTHING compared to what’s coming if Trump doesn’t take decisive action right now,” it read. “It helped to send that message to HIM. He was the most important audience today. I hope he got the message.”