Assault on the Capitol: the leader of one of the main American far-right groups arrested

Alexis Guilleux, edited by Gauthier Delomez with AFP
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11:23 a.m., January 14, 2022

The charismatic leader and founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, one of America’s leading far-right groups, was arrested Thursday on charges of “sedition” for his role in the violent assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. This is the most serious charge to date against the participants in the attack on the headquarters of Congress, when the elected officials certified the victory of Joe Biden in the presidential election.

Social networks assigned by the parliamentary committee

In another part of this vast investigation, the parliamentary commission, responsible for shedding light on the events of January 6 and establishing the responsibility of Donald Trump, announced Thursday to assign the social networks Alphabet, parent company of Youtube, Meta ( formerly Facebook), Reddit and Twitter. Lawmakers want to know “how much the spread of disinformation and violent extremism has contributed” to this onslaught and what steps these companies have taken to prevent their platforms from becoming tools of radicalization.

Stewart Rhodes, 56, was charged with “sedition” along with ten other members of the Oath Keepers. Nine of them had already been arrested and faced charges of “criminal conspiracy” to interfere with an official process, which involved some degree of coordination. The charge of “sedition”, very rarely used and punishable by 20 years in prison, goes further. It implies having conspired against the government or one of its laws, a much more political dimension.

Rhodes spoke of a “civil war” after the presidential election

Two days after the presidential election on November 3, 2020, Stewart Rhodes had claimed in an encrypted conversation with other members: “We cannot get out of this without a civil war”, according to the indictment. Before January 6, Stewart Rhodes “associated” with some of his co-defendants “in order to prevent the peaceful transfer of power”, in particular “by using violence”, it is indicated.

The arrested members of the Oath Keepers thus “organized transport from all over the country to Washington, equipped themselves with all kinds of weapons, dressed in combat gear and were ready to answer Rhodes’ calls to arms”. Their goal was to “forcibly enter and attempt to take control” of the Capitol, the document claims.

At the time of the attack, Stewart Rhodes, a former serviceman who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, was near the Capitol, but it’s unclear whether he entered its compound. In addition to Stewart Rhodes, a law graduate from Yale University before practicing in Montana, the police arrested Thursday, in Arizona, another member of this radical group, Edward Vallejo, 63 years old.

An organization with thousands of members

Stewart Rhodes is the figurehead, recognizable by his patch over his left eye, of this largely decentralized paramilitary organization with several thousand members, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which fights anti-Semitism and racism. . The Oath Keepers are particularly opposed to the federal government, accused of collaborating with a global conspiracy to deprive American citizens of their rights, in particular that of owning a weapon.

The organization primarily recruits soldiers, police, firefighters or members of the emergency services, who have sworn to protect the American Constitution “against its foreign and domestic enemies”, according to the ADL. Upon joining the Oath Keepers, they also promise to disobey any order from a “tyrannical government” that violates the Constitution, such as to “disarm the Americans” or impose martial law on the country.

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