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Oath Keepers leader arrested, charged along with 1 Ohioan with seditious conspiracy for Jan. 6 riot

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, speaks during a 2017 rally outside the White House. [Susan Walsh / AP]
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, speaks during a 2017 rally outside the White House.

Updated: 10:30 a.m., Friday, Jan. 14, 2022

The Justice Department unsealed seditious conspiracy charges against the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group and 10 other people on Thursday, alleging they plotted to disrupt the electoral process at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and endangered former Vice President Mike Pence.

Federal authorities arrested Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes in Texas on Thursday morning and also took Edward Vallejo into custody in Arizona. The other nine people had already been accused of some crimes related to the siege on the Capitol last year.

Jessica Marie Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio, is one of the nine other Oath Keepers charged with sedition. She has been in custody since her arrest last January.

Three Ohioans, Bennie and Sandra Parker and Donovan Ray Crowl, were part of the group charged with conspiracy a year ago but were not included in the seditious conspiracy indictment.

The grand jury indictment in the District of Columbia is the most serious and sweeping case to emerge from the federal investigation into the Capitol riot and the first to include the seditious conspiracy charge, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. Rarely seen in recent years, seditious conspiracy charges are made against those who plot to prevent the execution of U.S. law.

Just last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland described the outlines of the sprawling government investigation and pledged that "the actions we have taken thus far will not be our last."

The Justice Department said the Oath Keepers were determined to stop the lawful transfer of power, with two groups marching in military-style formations toward the Capitol that day and other personnel labeled "quick reaction forces" waiting outside D.C. to transport firearms and other weapons. Vallejo allegedly helped coordinate one of those quick-reaction teams.

The court papers said the defendants organized teams to use force and bring firearms to the Capitol, recruited members to participate, organized trainings and brought paramilitary gear, knives, batons and radio equipment to Washington.

Rhodes communicated with other leaders on Jan. 6 using a chat group on the encrypted app Signal, according to court documents.

"Pence is doing nothing. As I predicted," Rhodes typed to the group that day. "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."

Rhodes compared the Oath Keepers' actions that day to "the founding generation" that tarred and feathered tax collectors and "dumped tea in water," according to the court filings.

"Next comes our 'Lexington,' " Rhodes wrote. "It's coming."

Watkins is accused of recruiting and organizing military-style training for new members in advance of the storming of the Capitol and attending multiple planning meetings with Rhodes and other group leaders.

Watkins is a former member of the Army, founder of the Ohio State Regular Militia and bar owner in Champaign County. She allegedly posted videos from inside the Capitol and can be seen in multiple images from the day wearing a military-style uniform, including a helmet and flak jacket.

The Ohio Capital Journal interviewed Watkins at the Capitol, where she acknowledged entering the building but told the reporter that she didn’t think she had committed a crime.

The new indictment focused on the “quick reaction forces” and alleged stockpiling of weapons at a hotel near the Capitol by members of the Oath Keepers, including Watkins, who allegedly brought her own and instructed others to bring firearms to the hotel.

Authorities said the plotting continued even after the insurrection, which injured at least 140 law enforcement officers.

Five officers who reported for duty on Jan. 6 have since died.

The Justice Department has charged more than 725 people in connection with the Capitol riot, part of an investigation that has utilized nearly every U.S. attorney and FBI field office across the nation. Investigators have pored over thousands of hours of video footage and hundreds of thousands of tips from ordinary Americans seeking to bring the rioters to justice.

Democratic politicians and members of the public pressed the attorney general to target anyone who organized or funded the insurrection. In his remarks last week, Garland said such efforts do not "suddenly materialize."

"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," Garland said. "We will follow the facts wherever they lead."

Ideastream Public Media's Matthew Richmond contributed to this story.

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