Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the attack on the US Capitol, authorities said on Thursday.
Ten other people were also charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack that took place on January 6, 2021, when authorities said members of the extremist group came to Washington intent on stopping the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
These are the first charges of seditious conspiracy that the Justice Department has brought in connection with the attack led by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
The department confirmed the arrests and charges in a statement on Thursday afternoon.
“A federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment yesterday, which was unsealed today, charging 11 defendants with seditious conspiracy and other charges for crimes related to the breach of the US Capitol on January 6, which disrupted a joint session of the US Congress that was in the process of ascertaining and counting the electoral votes related to the presidential election,” a release from the department's public affairs section read.
Mr Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and Edward Vallejo, of Phoenix, Arizona, were arrested on Thursday.
The others who were charged were already facing criminal charges related to the attack.
Mr Rhodes is the highest-ranking member of an extremist group to be arrested in the deadly siege.
The arrest of Mr Rhodes and the others is a serious escalation of the accusations against the thousands of rioters who stormed the Capitol. And the charges answer in part a growing chorus of Republicans who have publicly questioned the seriousness of the January 6 insurrection, arguing that since no one had been charged yet with sedition or treason, it could not have been so violent.
“The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a speech on January 5, the day before the anniversary of the attack.
The ongoing investigation into the insurrection is the largest in the department's history, as more than 700 people have been arrested.
“The Department of Justice remains committed to holding all January 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible.”
Though Mr Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building on January 6, he is accused of helping put into motion the violence that disrupted the certification of the vote.
The Oath Keepers case is the largest conspiracy case federal authorities have brought so far over January 6, when rioters stormed past police barriers and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and sending members of Congress running.
The indictment against Mr Rhodes alleges the Oath Keepers formed two teams, or “stacks”, that entered the Capitol. The first “stack” split up inside the building to separately go into the House and Senate while the second “stack” confronted officers inside the Capitol Rotunda.
Outside Washington, the indictment alleges, the Oath Keepers had stationed two “quick reaction forces” that had guns “in support of their plot to stop the lawful transfer of power".
Jonathan Moseley, a lawyer representing Mr Rhodes, confirmed his client was arrested on Thursday in Texas.
“He has been subject to a lot of suspicion to why he wasn’t indicted” until now in the January 6 riot, Mr Moseley said. “I don’t know if this is in response to those discussions, but we do think it’s unfortunate. It’s an unusual situation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report