Oath Keepers leader makes 1st court appearance following arrest on seditious conspiracy charge

The chief of the Oath Keepers militia group, who was indicted Thursday on a collection of costs together with seditious conspiracy in reference to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, made his first look earlier than a choose Friday in a federal courtroom in Texas.

Stewart Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and graduate of Yale Law School, might spend a long time behind bars if convicted on all 5 federal counts he faces — together with essentially the most critical seditious conspiracy cost, which carries a most sentence of 20 years in jail.

A lawyer for Rhodes advised ABC News Friday that the allegations towards Rhodes had been “lies,” and mentioned that no members of the Oath Keepers ever “planned or conspired to attack the Capitol.”

In his Friday courtroom look, Rhodes responded “Yes” when requested by Magistrate Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson if he understood the costs towards him. He then waived his proper to have the complete indictment learn aloud.

Prosecutors requested that Rhodes be detained whereas he’s awaiting trial, and the choose set a detention listening to for Jan. 20. Rhodes will stay in custody till then.

The indictment of Rhodes, together with 10 different alleged members of the Oath Keepers, indicators a big escalation within the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault and its prosecution of members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, described by prosecutors as a “large but loosely organized collection of individuals” who “explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel.”

Prosecutors allege Rhodes and different Oath Keepers started coordinating as early as simply after Election Day “to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power” between outgoing President Donald Trump and incoming President Joe Biden, in keeping with courtroom papers.

While Rhodes himself just isn’t alleged to have entered the Capitol throughout the assault, prosecutors say he did enter the restricted space surrounding the constructing and coordinated with Oath Keepers who had been a part of a military-style “stack” formation seen strolling into the build up the east facet steps. Prosecutors mentioned of their indictment Thursday that the members of the so-called “stack” had been particularly looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however left after they could not discover her.

In their 48-page indictment, investigators chronicled intimately Rhodes’ alleged communications with members of the group over non-public and encrypted apps, and their alleged accumulation of heavy weaponry and tactical gear that the group is accused of storing simply exterior Washington at a lodge in Virginia, the place on Jan. 6 prosecutors say a so-called “Quick Reaction Force” of militia members waited on standby in case they had been known as into town.

Nine of these charged in Thursday’s indictment had been beforehand charged in reference to the Jan. 6 assault as a part of what was already the Justice Department’s largest and most complicated conspiracy case tied to the revolt.

In addition to Rhodes, 63-year-old Edward Vallejo of Arizona was arrested in Phoenix on Thursday and likewise charged with seditious conspiracy. Vallejo was allegedly a part of the “Quick Reaction Force” that was mendacity in wait on the Virginia lodge.

After the riot, Rhodes and Vallejo allegedly met up at a restaurant the place they “celebrated their attack” and mentioned “next steps,” in keeping with the indictment. Vallejo allegedly despatched a message to a Signal chat group the morning after Jan. 6 the place he mentioned making a “recon” journey to the Capitol to probe the “defense line” put up by legislation enforcement within the wake of the assault, courtroom papers mentioned.

Vallejo additionally made his first look earlier than a Justice of the Peace choose in Phoenix on Friday afternoon, the place a public defender representing him mentioned he plans to plead not responsible to all costs towards him. The choose set a detention listening to for subsequent Thursday because the Justice Department seeks to maintain Vallejo behind bars pending additional authorized proceedings in his case.

The deployment of the rarely-used seditious conspiracy cost will pose a serious take a look at for the Justice Department in its investigation into the Capitol assault and the prosecution of Rhodes because the founder and self-described chief of the Oath Keepers.

Only days after the Jan. 6 assault, the then-acting U.S. legal professional for Washington, D.C., Michael Sherwin, mentioned prosecutors had been contemplating the potential for seditious conspiracy costs towards a number of the most “heinous acts” that passed off on the Capitol. But because the investigation crossed the one-year mark and the variety of arrests stretched beyond 700, such costs had but to materialize, with prosecutors as an alternative opting to deliver costs like conspiracy or obstruction of an official continuing, which equally carries a most sentence of 20 years in jail.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared to foreshadow Thursday’s costs final week in a speech marking the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6, when he addressed criticism of the division’s dealing with of the investigation and the shortage of costs to this point towards the extra outstanding figures believed to have coordinated the assault on Congress.

“The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last,” Garland mentioned. “The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”

John Sandweg, a former performing normal counsel on the Department of Homeland Security, advised ABC News that Thursday’s indictment “confirms that the attack on the Capitol was not just an impulsive act, but was part of a premeditated conspiracy to forcibly steal the levers of power.”

“It also demonstrates that, while much of the focus has been on the prosecution of those on lesser charges related to storming the Capitol, DOJ has been actively investigating the root causes of the attack,” he mentioned. “The question remains how far up the food chain will the rest of the investigation lead, but this indictment significantly ups the ante.”

ABC News’ Juan Renteria, James Scholz and Mireya Villarreal contributed to this report.

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