The seditious conspiracy charges brought by the Justice Department on Thursday against the leader of the Oath Keepers and other members of the right-wing group signal the government is prepared to take on an ambitious fight to show that they joined the Jan. 6, 2021, attack as part of a coordinated effort to deny President Biden the White House.
The indictment contains the first sedition charges that have been brought following the riot and mark a significant escalation in prosecutors’ efforts by drawing a connection between the physical acts of mayhem that day and the broader effort by former President Trump’s supporters to obstruct Biden from taking office.
The arrest of Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right militia group, followed criticism that the Justice Department, despite filing hundreds of charges, was failing to go after major actors behind the attack.
The criminal statute for seditious conspiracy covers plots to overthrow or attack the government or use force to prevent the execution of U.S. laws. The Justice Department’s case against the leaders of the Oath Keepers alleges that they conspired “to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power.”
“It’s significant because they are so rarely used, and that reflects the gravity of the charges and the difficulties of proving it in court,” said Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism and homeland security expert with the Council on Foreign Relations.