Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers charged in connection with Jan. 6 overthrow attempt


Photo courtesy of Politico, via Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

Members of the Oath Keepers at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Tanner Trafelet, Contributor

As reported by the Associated Press, 11 members of the Oath Keepers paramilitary extremist group have been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection to the Jan. 6, 2020 attack on the U.S. Capitol building. These indictments are a marked departure from the more than 700 other people that have been charged with federal crimes in connection with Jan. 6, as they allege that the Oath Keepers attempted to overthrow the U.S government, or stop the execution of U.S. law.

Dr. Peter Trumbore, Ph.D., professor of political science at Oakland University, explained that the legal charges brought against the 11 Oath Keepers — including the group’s founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes — center around the Justice Department’s ability to prove the accused conspirators were planning at least halt the certification process for the 2020 elections results.

“Seditious conspiracy is hard to prove, generally speaking,” Dr. Trumbore said. “A charge of seditious conspiracy would assume that [the Justice Department] can prove and show evidence that conspirators were working together and planning to either overthrow the government or delay the execution of U.S. law [certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results].”

This civil-war era statute has rarely been used in cases of politically motivated violence in the U.S., but federal prosecutors deemed the charges levied appropriate due to the level of alleged planning, training and organization that the Oath Keepers engaged in leading up to Jan.6. Dr. Trumbore further explained that the group purchased and stashed weapons in the areas surrounding Washington D.C., as well as creating armed “Quick Reaction Forces” to be mobilized following group leadership authorization.

Of further relevance to both the indictments brought against the 11 Oath Keepers — and analysis of the Oath Keepers’ actions as instances of domestic terrorism, Dr. Trumbore posits — is the potential role that individuals connected to the Trump administration played in inciting the mob and riot at the Capitol building. As well as the role that some members may have played in collaborating with members of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys in the days leading up to the insurrection.

“What is included in some of these documents that the Jan. 6 commission wants to see are visitor logs, phone records and notes that were being taken by the Chief of Staff by Meadows and others,” Dr. Trumbore said. “In this tranche of documents may be material that directly connects the president, his chief of staff and others in the president’s inner circle in the White House to the group that was in the ‘War Room’ in the Willard Hotel,” Dr. Trumbore said. “This would further connect the dots between the [Trump] lieutenants at the Willard Hotel and people such as Roger Stone and others who we know had connections to both the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.”

Dr. Trumbore repeatedly emphasized the importance of distinguishing between the large number of people charged with lesser federal crimes — but who still knowingly engaged in mob violence and rioting — and those such as the Oath Keepers who trained, organized and acted in order to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. He explained that the Oath Keepers should be considered domestic terrorists, and  this form of politically motivated violence is distinct.

“I think these charges of [seditious conspiracy] against this group of individuals are based on what we know, are justified and appropriate.” Dr. Trumbore said. “However, that doesn’t mean  the government can prove the case. But based on what is included in the indictments, I think  they are absolutely appropriate. Further, I believe that it is most appropriate that these are the individuals who have been charged with this as opposed to the 700 or so others who have been so far charged in connections with the events on Jan. 6.”