The leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to seditious conspiracy connected to the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes is one of 11 defendants who were charged with seditious conspiracy earlier this month for their roles in the failed insurrection. Most of the defendants entered not-guilty pleas, with the exception of Edward Vallejo, who was not present, and James Beeks, whose lawyer declined to enter a plea and said that "we will stand silent."
But assistant U.S. attorney Kathryn Rakoczy said prosecutors are engaged in discussions with some defense lawyers about if any of the defendants want to enter guilty pleas, adding that the seditious conspiracy indictment might prompt some of them to have a change of "perspective."
Tuesday's status conference related to three separate cases involving the Oath Keepers: an original indictment which charged nine defendants — but was later slimmed down to seven defendants — with conspiracy to interfere with Congress' activities; the seditious conspiracy indictment against 11 defendants including Rhodes; and a separate indictment against Oath Keepers member Jonathan Walden, who was charged with obstructing Congress and illegally being at the Capitol.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta set an April 19 trial date for six of the seven defendants charged in the original indictment. He set a tentative July 11 trial date for the 11 defendants charged with seditious conspiracy but noted that the schedule may change depending on if any defendants decide to change their pleas.
A trial date hasn't yet been set for Walden since his lawyer said they haven't yet had a chance to speak with government lawyers about his case.
The 48-page seditious conspiracy indictment alleges that the defendants planned the Capitol siege in advance and accuses them of attempting to use force to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. In bringing seditious conspiracy charges, experts said, the Justice Department confirmed that it sees at least some elements of the Capitol riot as a coup attempt.
The sweeping indictment alleged that Rhodes and other co-defendants conspired to "oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power."
It went on to say that core members of the Oath Keepers not only forced their way into the Capitol but also extensively planned for the siege beforehand, communicating on encrypted messaging apps from December 2020 onward, keeping a "quick reaction force" on standby at a Virginia hotel, and in some cases bringing weapons to Washington, DC, on January 6.
Vallejo, an Oath Keepers member accused of coordinating that quick reaction force, was arrested the same day as Rhodes and charged with seditious conspiracy. A federal magistrate judge in Phoenix, Arizona ordered last week that Vallejo remain behind bars as he awaits trial.
Rhodes, for his part, repeatedly said during interviews with the right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that he and others were prepared to take extraordinary measures to keep then-President Donald Trump in power.
Shortly after the November 2020 election, for instance, he said on Jones' Infowars show that he had armed men stationed outside Washington, D.C., who were "prepared to go in if the president calls us up."
And on January 20, 2021, two weeks after the failed insurrection and on the day Joe Biden was sworn into office, Rhodes again appeared on Jones' show and urged "local militias" to "get together" and fight the "illegitimate" Biden administration.
The seditious conspiracy charges came a week after Attorney General Merrick Garland delivered remarks urging patience as the Justice Department conducts its Capitol riot inquiry, which Garland described as "one of the largest, most complex, and most resource-intensive investigations in our history.
"Those involved must be held accountable, and there is no higher priority for us at the Department of Justice," he said on the eve of the first anniversary of the deadly siege.