Oath Keepers Prepared for Bloody Battle at White House to Keep Trump in Office

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Stewart Rhodes - Credit: Susan Walsh/AP
Stewart Rhodes - Credit: Susan Walsh/AP

A member of the Oath Keepers militia who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, admitting to charges he and others attempted to block the peaceful transfer of power by force. Joshua James, a 34-year-old veteran from Alabama, is the first member of the conspiracy to plead guilty, and the “statement of offense” he signed, admitting to his criminal conduct, includes chilling new details about the plot — including that the Oath Keepers were on standby to use “lethal force” at the White House.

The Oath Keepers are led by Stewart Rhodes, whom the government has charged was the ringleader of the conspiracy to keep Trump in office. Rhodes has been ordered detained until trial, and has pleaded not guilty. In court documents, the militia leader has defended his conduct — including stockpiling caches of weapons across the river in Virginia — as preparation for the contingency that Donald Trump invoked the Insurrection Act and called on militias to come to his aid.

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The 15-page statement of facts that James signed in relation to his crime alleges that the Oath Keepers were told to prepare for bloodshed at the White House. “In the weeks leading up to January 6, 2021,” the document reads, “Rhodes instructed James and other co-conspirators to be prepared, if called upon, to report to the White House grounds to secure the perimeter and use lethal force if necessary against anyone who tried to remove President Trump from the White House, including the National Guard or other government actors who might be sent to remove President Trump as a result of the Presidential Election.”

In addition, James stipulated to his own conduct, including assaulting a Capitol Police officer inside the halls of Congress while yelling: “Get out of my Capitol! Get out! Get out of my Capitol!” The document states: “James entered the Capitol in part to hinder or delay the certification of President-Elect Joseph R. Biden as President of the United States.”

The guilty plea creates new legal challenges for Rhodes, whose name appears 58 times in the factual summary of James’ crime. It undercuts arguments that he disapproved of the conduct of his militia members. The document asserts that after the Oath Keepers left the Capitol and convened with Rhodes on the grounds outside, “Rhodes told James he was glad James and others had gone inside the Capitol.”

Rhodes’ lawyers have asserted that the militia leader had a clean conscience after the events of Jan. 6, and enjoyed a relaxed meal with his companions at Olive Garden. But the factual stipulation of the guilty plea paints that dinner meeting in a starkly different light.

“While at the restaurant,” it reads, “Rhodes and James came to believe that law enforcement was searching for Rhodes and others after their attack on the Capitol.” It describes the group returning to their hotel, grabbing their bags, and then meeting at a gas station. “There, James saw what he estimated to be thousands of dollars’ worth of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment in Rhodes’s vehicle,” the document states. “Rhodes divvied up various firearms and other gear among James and others who occupied a total of three cars. Rhodes left his mobile phone with one person and departed with another person in that person’s car so that law enforcement could not locate and arrest him.”

The stipulation of facts also describes group text messages that James received “from an individual he understood to be an attorney for the Oath Keepers.” The messages advised Rhodes & Co. to cover their tracks. One message read: “STEWART: YOU ALL NEED TO DELETE ANY OF YOUR COMMENTS REGARDING WHO DID WHAT… You/we have not yet gotten a preservation order instructing us to retain those chat comments. So DELETE THEM.” It added: “GET BUSY. DELETE your self-incriminating comments or those that can incriminate others. Start now….”

James, in addition to confessing to the seditious conspiracy charge, has also pleaded guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding. Both offenses carry terms up to 20 years in prison. James has become a cooperating witness in the government’s case against the remaining alleged co-conspirators.

This is a developing story and will be updated

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