By Katelyn Polantz, Hannah Rabinowitz, Holmes Lybrand, and Tierney Sneed, CNN
The Justice Department has charged 11 defendants with seditious conspiracy related to the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021, including the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes.
The new indictment, handed down by a grand jury on Wednesday and made public Thursday, alleges that Rhodes and his co-conspirators engaged in a conspiracy to “oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force, by preventing, hindering, or delaying by force execution of laws governing the transfer of power.”
The latest court filings revealed that Oath Keeper Thomas Caldwell, who was arrested in January, claimed to take a reconnaissance trip to Washington, DC, before January 6. The indictment also surfaces previously unknown communications Rhodes is alleged to have sent that prosecutors say encouraged the use of force to oppose the lawful transfer of power.
“We aren’t going through this without civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body and spirit,” Rhodes allegedly said in a November 5, 2020, signal message. In December, Rhodes — according to the indictment — wrote of the electoral college certification that “There is no standard political or legal way out of this.”
Prosecutors have previously said that Rhodes used Signal during the attack to communicate with other members of the Oath Keepers who were at the Capitol.
“All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything,” Rhodes allegedly wrote. “So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’ve had enough,” he allegedly said on Signal at 1:38 p.m. that day, shortly after the siege had begun.
Additionally, the indictment says that that Oath Keepers from three different states, including newly charged Edward Vallejo, stashed weapons in a Virginia hotel as part of a quick reaction force.
The charges mark a dramatic change in the Justice Department’s January 6 probe. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a speech last week commemorating the Capitol attack that the department was “committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”
The Justice Department until now had been careful not to push the idea of sedition, instead charging defendants affiliated with right-wing groups with conspiracy to obstruct the congressional proceeding on January 6. The seditious conspiracy charge carries the same possible consequence as an obstruction charge, but is rarely used, politically loaded and has been difficult for the Justice Department to use successfully against defendants in the past.
Previously, some Biden administration officials believed using the sedition charge could politicize the Justice Department’s prosecution of the Capitol attackers, and the department recoiled after the former top prosecutor over the investigation, Michael Sherwin, said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” he believed seditious conspiracy could be charged.
Rhodes has also been of interest to the House’s January 6 investigation, which issued subpoenas in November for him and his organization for a deposition and documents related to the events of that day.
CNN reported in July that Rhodes gave a voluntary interview to the FBI and that investigators seized his cell phone. He has denied all wrongdoing.
According to previous court filings submitted by the Justice Department in other cases, Rhodes said at a November 2020 online meeting, “We’re going to defend 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 guys, you’re going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war and a bloody — you can call it an insurrection, or you can call it a war or fight.”
Rhodes’ lawyer, Jonathan Moseley, confirmed the arrest.
This story has been updated with additional details.
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CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.