Oath Keepers founder pleads not guilty to sedition in US Capitol attack

Oath Keepers militia founder Stewart Rhodes made a brief initial appearance in federal court in Plano, Texas. — Reuters file pic
Oath Keepers militia founder Stewart Rhodes made a brief initial appearance in federal court in Plano, Texas. — Reuters file pic

PLANO (Texas), Jan 15 — The founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group, Stewart Rhodes, yesterday pleaded not guilty to seditious conspiracy charges for his alleged role in the deadly January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

Rhodes made a brief initial appearance in federal court in Plano, Texas. He was in the custody of US Marshals, wearing handcuffs and leg irons.

Rhodes and 10 other associates or members of the group were accused by the Justice Department on Thursday of plotting to storm the Capitol by force, in a failed bid to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Rhodes, 56, is the most high-profile defendant of more than 725 charged so far for allegedly taking part in the attack on the Capitol by former President Donald Trump’s supporters. The riot was fuelled by Trump’s false claims that his election defeat was the result of fraud.

The Justice Department will request that Rhodes be detained while he awaits trial, a prosecutor said at yesterday’s hearing.

James Lee Bright, a lawyer for Rhodes, told reporters Rhodes intends to fight the charges.

“He believes he will be found not guilty,” Bright said, adding that Rhodes will oppose the government’s request for pretrial detention.

“He has no reason to flee. He has no passport. He has nowhere to go,” Bright said.

Rhodes and his associates are the first people charged with seditious conspiracy for their alleged role in the attack. That charge can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Another Oath Keeper, Edward Vallejo, appeared in a Phoenix courtroom to face seditious conspiracy charges.

A judge scheduled a follow-up court hearing for Vallejo on January 20 to determine whether the 63-year-old will be detained while he awaits trial. A lawyer for Vallejo indicated he planned to enter a not guilty plea at a future hearing.

A prosecutor said during yesterday’s hearing that the Justice Department will request pretrial detention for Vallejo.

Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers, which believes the federal government is encroaching on its rights. Its membership is largely made up of current and retired military and law enforcement officials.

The indictment portrayed Rhodes as a ringleader who warned his members to prepare for a “bloody and desperate fight” to prevent Democrat Joe Biden from becoming president.

It says he helped rally his members to go to Washington and played a key role in organising and helping stage logistics for the group, including the establishment of so-called “quick reaction force” teams that stashed firearms outside the city limits.

The indictment also says Rhodes spent thousands of dollars stockpiling gear and weapons, including an AR-15 rifle, night vision goggles and ammunition. — Reuters