ANALYSIS – For the first time in the year-long investigation into the violence on January 6, 2021, the Biden Justice Department (DOJ) has filed sedition charges against members of one group that attacked the Capitol.
On Thursday the FBI arrested the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, charging him and 10 others with seditious conspiracy. This is a significant escalation in DOJ efforts to connect the acts of violence that day with the broader effort by former President Trump’s supporters to block the electoral vote certification.
The latest seditious conspiracy charges shows that the Biden DOJ is prepared to try to prove that these persons joined the Capitol attack as part of a coordinated effort to deny President Biden the White House. They are also an attempt to help combat a narrative from Republican lawmakers that the attack was primarily a protest that got out of hand and not an ‘insurrection.’
While some rioters have been charged with felonies, until now all the hundreds charged in connection with the riot were indicated as individuals and mostly for simple misdemeanor crimes such as demonstrating in the Capitol and disorderly conduct, or for being in a restricted building and disruptive activity.
This reinforces the Republican narrative of the attack being primarily conducted by a disorganized mob.
Charging Rhodes and his colleagues with seditious conspiracy raises the legal and political stakes, even though these are only a tiny fraction of those who entered the Capitol.
The Hill notes:
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.”
Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism and homeland security expert with the Council on Foreign Relations said:
When you’re talking about seditious conspiracy, you’re talking about something that’s planned, premeditated and purposeful. It’s not that all of a sudden these people are angered and spontaneously or serendipitously descended on the Capitol. … It’s elevating this entire Jan. 6 insurrection onto a different level where it becomes very difficult to deny it was an insurrection. It underscores how serious it was and puts it in the realm of terrorism.
The Hill explains:
The indictment from the Justice Department details how a group of 19 members wore paramilitary gear and used a military “stack” formation to enter the Capitol. It also details how Rhodes spent thousands of dollars on weapons before and after the riot and coordinated with a “quick reaction force” in Virginia that was awaiting word on whether to bring weapons into Washington, D.C.
However, charging people with sedition, and convicting them are very different.
Seditious conspiracy charges can be hard to prove and can be complicated by free speech challenges. This is why prosecutions have been rare in recent years, and federal prosecutors have a mixed record of success in the more recent cases.
Still, even if any of these 11 men are convicted, the fact that a very small group planned an attack on the Capitol, doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of the hundreds charged for being involved on January 6 did not.
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