U.S. far-right group leader indicted for breaking into Capitol Hill

Donald Trump supporters at the Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021 – AFP/Archives

The leader of the Oath Keepers, one of the main far-right groups in the United States, and ten others have been indicted for sedition and conspiracy for the January 6, 2021 Capitol invasion, announced this Thursday (13) the Justice Department.

Stewart Rhodes, 56, who founded in 2009 and runs the extremist group, and 10 other members were arrested on Thursday.

These are the most serious charges brought against participants in the Capitol Hill raid aimed at preventing Joe Biden’s election victory from being certified.

Nine of them were already being prosecuted for “conspiracy to commit crimes” and affecting an official process, or for violent acts, which implies a certain degree of coordination.

The charge of “sedition”, which can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, goes further. It implies having conspired against the government or one of its laws, a much more political dimension.

In addition, the parliamentary committee in charge of clarifying the events of that day announced this Thursday that it will convene those responsible for four social networks: the parent company of YouTube (Alphabet, which controls Google), that of Facebook (Meta), Reddit and Twitter.

Investigators want to know “how the spread of disinformation and violent extremism contributed to the onslaught on our democracy” and what steps companies have taken, if any, to prevent their platforms from becoming fertile ground for radicalization.

– “Civil war” –

Two days after the November 3, 2020 election, Stewart Rhodes declared in an encrypted conversation with other members of his group: “We cannot get out of this without a civil war,” according to the indictment.

Before January 6, Rhodes “associated” with some of his colleagues “to prevent the peaceful transfer of power”, mainly “using violence”.

Members of the Oath Keepers “organized transports from all over the country to Washington, equipped with all kinds of weapons, donned combat uniforms and were ready to respond to Rhodes’ call to arms”, the document highlights.

At the time of the attack, this ex-serviceman recognizable by his eye patch was near the Capitol, but it is not certain whether he entered the building.

In addition to Rhodes, law enforcement detained on Thursday in Arizona another member of the radical group: Edward Vallejo, 63.

– Worldwide conspiracy –

This highly decentralized paramilitary organization has thousands of members, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which fights anti-Semitism and racism.

The Oath Keepers opposes the federal government, which it accuses of collaborating in a global conspiracy to deprive American citizens of their rights, in particular to own weapons.

The organization primarily recruits soldiers, police, firefighters and members of the emergency services, who are sworn to protect the United States Constitution “against its enemies foreign and domestic,” according to the ADL.

When they join the group, they also promise to disobey any order from a “tyrannical government” that violates the Constitution, such as “disarming the Americans” or imposing martial law on the country.

Members of the Oath Keepers, dressed in military uniforms and armed, gained more visibility in 2020 by participating in protests against restrictions imposed in some states to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

They were also seen on the sidelines of the large anti-racist demonstrations that shook the country to, according to them, protect businesses from looting.

The group echoed conspiracy theories such as the existence of a “deep state” within the US government that wants to establish a “new world order”.

Since the day of the bombing, more than 725 people, including members of the far-right groups Proud Boys, Oath Keepers or Three Percenters, have been detained for their participation in the events.

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