US prosecutors on Thursday charged Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, and 10 other people with seditious conspiracy for their role in the deadly January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
It marked the first time prosecutors brought that charge against defendants in the attack. The crime is defined as attempting "to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States."
Supporters of former US president Donald Trump that day stormed the Capitol in a failed bid to stop Congress from certifying his election loss to President Joe Biden.
The attack occurred shortly after Trump in a speech repeated his false claims that his loss was the result of widespread voting fraud and urged his supporters to go to the Capitol and "fight like hell" to stop the election from being stolen.
The Oath Keepers are a loosely organised group of activists who believe that the federal government is encroaching on their rights, and focus on recruiting current and former police, emergency services and military members.
Prosecutors said that beginning in late December 2020, Rhodes used private encrypted communications to plan to travel to Washington on January 6. He and others planned to bring weapons to the area to help support the operation, they said.
While some of the Oath Keeper members rushed inside the building wearing tactical gear, others remained stationed outside in what they deemed "quick-response force" teams, which were prepared to rapidly transport arms into the city, prosecutor said.
The indictment alleges that Thomas Caldwell, a previous defendant in the case, and Edward Vallejo of Arizona, a new defendant in the case, were in charge of coordinating these quick-response force teams.
Seditious conspiracy is a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Nine of the 11 defendants were already facing other charges.
Over the years, the Justice Department obtained seditious conspiracy convictions against Puerto Rican nationalists and alleged Islamist militants including Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the radical Islamic clergyman known as the "Blind Sheikh." (Reuters)