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Oath Keepers militia members, led by Yale lawyer, plead not guilty to Jan. 6 sedition

by ERIK LARSON Bloomberg News
| January 25, 2022 7:00 AM

Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the Yale Law School graduate who founded the right-wing Oath Keepers militia group, pleaded not guilty to seditious conspiracy for his role in the assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters.

Rhodes, who lives in Texas, entered the plea Tuesday during a virtual hearing before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington. Half a dozen other Oath Keepers members also entered not-guilty pleas, signaling a drawn out fight over the most serious charges brought so far by the U.S. Justice Department over January 2021 insurrection.

One of the militia members who pleaded not guilty was former Broadway actor James Beeks, who played Judas in a touring production of the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar," according to prosecutors. Beeks, who joined the Oath Keepers a few weeks before the insurrection, was arrested in Milwaukee in November.

Prosecutors said at the hearing that the government is continuing to make extensive amounts of evidence available to the defense as they prepare for at least two trials of Oath Keepers members as soon as April, including some who weren't charged with sedition. The militia members are among more than 700 people charged since the deadly assault on the Capitol.

In the days before the insurrection, the men accused in the sedition case allegedly set up staging areas for equipment in Washington's suburbs and organized training sessions to teach paramilitary combat tactics. They also brought gear including knives, batons, tactical vests, helmets, eye protection and radio equipment onto the Capitol grounds, according to the indictment.

"Some members of the Oath Keepers believe that the federal government has been coopted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights," the U.S. said in court filings. "Though the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as members, they explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel."

During the assault, Oath Keepers member Roberto Minuta of New Jersey was recorded confronting police officers at the Capitol in a mob, yelling, "Get out! Get the cops out! It's our f---ing building!" He and another defendant, Joshua James of Alabama, then briefly breached the Rotunda, according the indictment, though James was expelled by officers with chemical spray.

Rhodes, who graduated from Yale Law School in 2004 and founded Oath Keepers in 2009, communicated with other militia members after law enforcement secured the Capitol, telling them in encrypted messages that night, "You ain't seen nothing yet," according to the indictment.

"We aren't quitting!! We are reloading!!" said another member, Kelly Meggs, of Florida.

Lawyers for Minuta, James and Meggs all entered not-guilty pleas for their clients on Tuesday.

Sedition is the crime of inciting a revolt against the government, and it's seldom charged because of free speech issues. In the action Thursday, the Justice Department formally alleges that there was a deliberate conspiracy to prevent Biden's election certification.