In laying out the sedition charge against Stewart Rhodes, founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keeper militia, and 10 others, federal prosecutors have built a timeline of events as evidence of a conspiracy to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 last year.
Seditious conspiracy can be a difficult charge to prove, and it requires prosecutors to show that at least two people conspired to overthrow the government or delay the execution of a U.S. law. The charge is the most serious yet to be filed in connection with the riot. So far, more than 700 people have been accused of crimes related to the Jan. 6 assault.
The case is developing, but the documents released last week provide a detailed look at the activities of Rhodes and other Oath Keepers, beginning as early as two days after Election Day in 2020.
Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers and affiliates are accused of recruiting participants; organizing trainings in paramilitary combat; coordinating travel, teams and logistics; and bringing weapons to the Washington, D.C., area in order to carry out the conspiracy.
As part of the sedition charge, the documents also accuse the Oath Keepers and affiliates of bringing paramilitary equipment, such as tactical gear and chemical spray, into the Capitol; assaulting police officers; and trying to take control of the Capitol building. All of the defendants are charged with several other crimes in addition to sedition.
The members are also accused of continuing to plot after the Jan. 6 attack with actions like continuing to purchase firearm parts and equipment, and spreading messages against the Biden presidency.
Several other people associated with the Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the investigation, but those charged with sedition are not among them. Lawyers for several of the defendants have said that their clients deny having planned to storm the Capitol or overthrow the government.
Activities of Oath Keepers and affiliates detailed in the charging documents
— 62 days before Jan. 6
RECRUITMENT: Two days after the 2020 presidential election, Rhodes sent a message to an invitation-only, encrypted chat group called “Leadership intel sharing secured.”
In his message, Rhodes urged his followers to refuse to accept the election results. The chat group included Kelly Meggs — head of the Florida chapter of Oath Keepers — and others.
Rhodes: “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit.”
— 60 days before Jan. 6
RECRUITMENT: On the day that Donald Trump was projected to have lost the election, Rhodes outlined plans in the group chat to stop the transfer of presidential power. He later published the plan of action on the Oath Keepers’ website.
Rhodes: “[W]e must now do what the people of Serbia did when Milosevic stole their election. – Refuse to accept it and march en-mass on the nation’s Capitol.”
— 58 days before Jan. 6
RECRUITMENT: Rhodes hosted a private online meeting in which he urged attendees to participate in a plan to stop the transfer of the presidency. He told his followers to be prepared to fight antifa.
After Rhodes’ speech, other members of the group discussed the types of weapons that were legal in Washington, D.C.
Rhodes: “[…] I do want some Oath Keepers to stay on the outside, and to stay fully armed and prepared to go in armed, if they have to […] We hope [the president] will give us the orders. We want him to declare an insurrection, and to call us up as the militia.”
RECRUITMENT: Immediately following Rhodes’ call to action, Meggs contacted a different group chat to pass along Rhodes’ message. The group chat included Kenneth Harrelson, a former Army sergeant, and others.
Meggs: “Anybody not on the call tonight. We have been issued a call to action for DC. This is the moment we signed up for […]”
TRAINING: Jessica Watkins, a bartender and former Army infantry soldier who deployed to Afghanistan, contacted several people she called “recruits” to organize their “military style” training in Ohio.
Watkins: “I need you fighting fit by innaugeration.”
COORDINATION: Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy lieutenant commander and former FBI section chief, contacted Rhodes to coordinate on an upcoming “op” and to provide details of a reconnaissance trip he took to Washington.
— 45 days before Jan. 6
TRAINING: The Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers held training on “unconventional warfare.”
— 26 days before Jan. 6
RECRUITMENT: Rhodes sent a message to an invitation-only chat group and described potential violence if President-elect Joe Biden assumed the presidency.
The group chat included Joshua James, who earned a Purple Heart in the Army; Roberto Minuta, an owner of a tattoo parlor in New York; and others.
Rhodes: “It will be a bloody and desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can’t be avoided.”
— 25 days before Jan. 6
TRAINING: Unspecified members of the North Carolina Oath Keepers held a training session on skills, including “setting up hasty ambushes” and “convoy operations.” Watkins had planned to but did not attend the training.
— 23 days before Jan. 6
Rhodes published an open letter to Trump on the Oath Keeper website calling for forceful action.
Rhodes: “[…] If you fail to act while you are still in office, we the people will have to fight a bloody civil war and revolution […]”
RECRUITMENT: Rhodes sent a similar message to an invitation-only chat group titled “Oath Keepers of Georgia,” which included Brian Ulrich, a resident of Guyton, Georgia.
— 18 days before Jan. 6
COORDINATION: Joseph Hackett, a resident of Sarasota, Florida, sent an email to another group member, outlining efforts to secure their communication and avoid digital detection of “important info” like locations, identities and operations planning.
— 15 days before Jan. 6
RECRUITMENT: In an interview with a regional Oath Keepers leader, Rhodes said that violence would be inevitable if Biden assumed the presidency. He also urged Trump to use military force.
Rhodes: “We will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them. That’s what’s going to have to happen.”
— 14 days before Jan. 6
Rhodes published another open letter to Trump on the Oath Keeper website calling for forceful action.
Rhodes: “[…] If you fail to do your duty, you will leave We the People no choice but to walk in the Founders footsteps […] And, like the Founding generation, we will take to arms in defense of our God given liberty […]”
— 7 days before Jan. 6
COORDINATION: Rhodes invited several of his followers to an encrypted group chat called “DC OP: Jan 6 21.” Many also joined another chat group for the Florida chapter for which Meggs and Harrelson were administrators.
The group members used these chat groups throughout the next days to plan for Jan. 6.
Rhodes: “There is no standard political or legal way out of this.”
WEAPONS: Rhodes purchased about $7,000 worth of firearm-related equipment and night-vision devices, and shipped the items to Virginia.
— 6 days before Jan. 6
COORDINATION: Members coordinated plans to supply and store weapons in the Washington area.
The plan included arranging a “Quick Reaction Force” of members with weapons, stationed just outside the city “on standby with an arsenal.”
— Late December
COORDINATION: Caldwell identified a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, as the base of operations for the “Quick Reaction Force” weapons arsenal. Group members reserved rooms at the hotel and used them to store and guard firearms.
— 5 days before Jan. 6
WEAPONS: In the five days leading up to the riot, members transported firearms, ammunition and related supplies to the Washington area.
WEAPONS: In the first two days of January, Rhodes purchased approximately $5,000 worth of firearm equipment, including a shotgun, scope, magazine, sights and a case of ammunition.
— 4 days before Jan. 6
COORDINATION: Caldwell sent a message to his contacts seeking boats to support the Quick Reaction Force in transporting weapons.
Caldwell: “[…] If we had someone standing by at a dock ramp (one near the Pentagon for sure) we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms […]”
— 3 days before Jan. 6
COORDINATION: Watkins exchanged messages with her team about uniforms and weapons.
Watkins: “Pack khaki/tan pants. Weapons are OK now as well. Sorry for the confusion. We are packing the car and heading your way shortly”
COORDINATION: Meggs added Harrelson to the encrypted group chat, writing that Harrelson would be the “Ground Team lead.”
WEAPONS: Rhodes left Texas and began traveling to the Washington area. During two days of travel, he spent about $6,000 in Texas on an AR-platform rifle and firearm equipment, and $4,500 in Mississippi on additional firearm equipment.
— 2 days before Jan. 6
COORDINATION: Caldwell emailed several maps to a member of the Quick Reaction Force.
Caldwell: “These maps walk you from the hotel into D.C. and east toward the target area on multiple roads […]”
WEAPONS: In the two days before Jan. 6, as members of the group arrived in the Washington area, they coordinated with one another to drop off weapons and ammunition with the Quick Reaction Force. The members coordinating together included Edward Vallejo, who previously served in the Army.
Watkins: “Where can we drop off weapons to the QRF team? I’d like to have the weapons secured prior to the Op tomorrow.”
— 1 day before Jan. 6
COORDINATION: Caldwell and others drove into Washington on a reconnaissance mission, traveling around the Capitol and returning to their hotel in Virginia.
— Jan. 6
Most defendants entered the restricted Capitol grounds or the Capitol itself, actions that were later included as part of their sedition charges. Vallejo and others remained at the hotel, awaiting a call to bring the weapons.
Sources: Court documents in federal cases identified by the U.S. Department of Justice as being related to events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6; Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University; Oath Keepers website (quotations from open letters published on the site)