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U.S. broadens Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy indictment of Oath Keepers

Fla. member Jeremy Brown, retired Special Forces soldier an ex-GOP congressional candidate, also says he expects to face conspiracy charge

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers. (Susan Walsh/AP)

U.S. prosecutors have broadened a seditious conspiracy charge against Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and eight co-defendants, filing an amended indictment Thursday that alleges the group conspired to use force to oppose the authority of the federal government as well as to oppose the lawful transfer of power to President Biden in attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The superseding indictment, returned by a grand jury Wednesday, adds a second prong by which prosecutors can ask a jury to find Rhodes and accused co-conspirators guilty at a trial set for Sept. 26. Charging papers allege that the group coordinated travel, equipment and firearms and stashed weapons outside Washington, ready “to answer Rhodes’ call to take up arms at Rhodes’ direction.”

The new indictment does not allege new facts, but gives the Justice Department more leeway in proving a violation of the historically rare, Civil War-era charge in this case. It also aligns the count lodged against Rhodes’s Oath Keepers group with a seditious conspiracy indictment brought against five leaders of a second far-right group with a history of violence, the Proud Boys and its former chairman, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio.

The action came as the Justice Department continued to move to charge additional individuals connected to the Oath Keepers in the violence that disrupted Congress’s certification of electoral college votes, with Jeremy Brown — a retired Special Forces soldier and one-time congressional candidate from Florida who has said he joined the Oath Keepers to prepare them for civil war — saying in court Thursday that he also expects to be charged with conspiracy soon.

“They are building a case adding me to the seditious conspiracy case,” said Brown, who was arrested in September on misdemeanor counts in Washington of trespassing and disorderly conduct on restricted Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, and also charged federal felony charges in Florida of possessing unregistered explosive grenades, firearms, 8,000 rounds of ammunition and classified documents at his home in Tampa.

The documents, from 2004 and 2005, allegedly relate to improvised explosive device and threat frequency reports from Afghanistan, abbreviated operation orders and testing procedures for “spider” remote-controlled explosives, according to court filings.

Brown, who is representing himself with one court-appointed standby counsel and two pro-bono attorneys, observed that four federal prosecutors on Rhodes’s case recently joined his Jan. 6 case, saying, “Only a fool believes the government would need five prosecutors to prosecute a case on two misdemeanors.”

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes charged with seditious conspiracy in Jan. 6 Capitol riot

Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis J. Manzo told U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta, who oversees both Brown and Rhodes’s cases, that he knew of no expectation that Brown would be added to the two main Oath Keepers conspiracy cases “in the immediate future.” Brown is tentatively set to face trial in August in Florida, and has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Thursday’s latest Oath Keepers indictment dropped counts against two co-defendants who have since pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in exchange for leniency at sentencing — Joshua James, 34, of Arab, Ala., and Brian Ulrich, 44, of Guyton, Ga.

It also added an allegation that Rhodes aided and abetted the destruction of evidence two days after the Capitol breach by encouraging co-conspirators to delete media, files and communications showing their involvement.

In plea papers, cooperating Oath Keepers defendants have admitted to allegations that they were among a group that forced entry through the Rotunda doors after marching single file in a stack up the steps wearing camouflage vests, helmets, goggles and Oath Keepers insignia. They acknowledged some brought rifles to Washington that were stashed beforehand at a Ballston hotel and one in Vienna.

Rhodes and remaining co-defendants have pleaded not guilty, and Rhodes in an interview with The Washington Post in March 2021 said there was no plan to breach the Capitol. He has said the group staged firearms in Northern Virginia in case it was needed as a “quick reaction force” if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act and mobilized armed militia to keep himself in office.

How Trump’s flirtation with an anti-insurrection law inspired Jan. 6 insurrection

The attack on the Capitol came after a rally outside the White House, at which Trump urged his supporters to march to Congress. The rioters injured scores of police officers and ransacked Capitol offices, halting the proceedings as lawmakers were evacuated from the House floor.