In the year since the January 6 insurrection, a steady accumulation of evidence from federal criminal investigations, congressional testimony, public video footage, and other sources has revealed that the attack on Congress incited by Donald Trump included numerous armed extremists. Some of the starkest details have emerged from the ongoing prosecution of defendants who identify as Oath Keepers, a far-right militia network founded by Stewart Rhodes, who is among a group of 11 people charged with seditious conspiracy against the US government.
In court filings this week, the Justice Department further revealed the scope of the alleged plot by Oath Keepers to mobilize a heavily armed “quick reaction force” (also known as a “QRF”) just outside of downtown Washington, part of a plan to unleash violence in the nation’s capital and stop the lawful transfer of the presidency to Joe Biden. One filing, a detention memo in the case against Oath Keeper Edwards Vallejo of Arizona, hints that more people could yet be charged in connection with the conspiracy. Evidence it contains also shows that extremists have embraced Trump’s most recent rhetoric reinforcing the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him through fraud, messaging that continues to fuel a violent far-right movement.
Vallejo was arrested on January 13, as was Rhodes, the latest in a lengthy list of Oath Keepers facing conspiracy and sedition charges. According to the Justice Department, “Vallejo and his co-conspirators coordinated at least three regional QRF teams stationed at a Comfort Inn in Arlington, Virginia, to support the co-conspirators’ plot and the January 6 Capitol attack. The QRF teams guarded an arsenal of firearms and related equipment and were prepared to speed those weapons into the hands of co-conspirators on the ground in Washington, D.C., when directed by Rhodes or other conspiracy leaders.”
Shortly after the 2020 election, in an encrypted “Leadership Intel Chat” with fellow Oath Keepers, Rhodes had begun talking up “a civil war” and “a bloody and desperate fight” if Biden were to become president. Three days before the insurrection, prosecutors allege, Rhodes informed a co-conspirator by encrypted message, “We WILL have a QRF. This situation calls for it.” The alleged QRF plotters traveled to the nation’s capital from Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona, among other states, according to court documents:
The day before the attack on the Capitol, on January 5, [Oath Keeper Kelly] Meggs and his Florida team dropped off at least three luggage carts’ worth of gun boxes, rifle cases, and suitcases filled with ammunition with their QRF team. A second QRF team from North Carolina consisted of four men who kept their rifles ready to go in a vehicle parked in the hotel lot. Later, Vallejo and other members of the Arizona QRF team wheeled in bags and large bins of weapons, ammunition, and essential supplies to last 30 days… Throughout, Vallejo and other QRF team leaders updated Rhodes on the extent of their weapons stock and apprised him of their readiness to support the operation on January 6.
The morning of January 6, according to court filings, Rhodes messaged his co-conspirators before departing from his hotel for Washington: “We will have several well equipped QRFs outside DC. And there are many, many others, from other groups, who will be watching and waiting on the outside in case of worst case scenarios.”
The Justice Department also detailed comments made on a podcast the morning of the insurrection by Vallejo and another member of the Arizona QRF team, who is not identified in the court filing. The second Arizona member told the podcast host with regard to their mission, “We have a little bit of inside information with the powers that would oppose the powers that be.” He also stated, “We’re applying as much pressure as we can. The only and obvious next step is to go into armed conflict, but hoping very much that that doesn’t happen.” Also on that podcast, which has since been further documented by Just Security, Vallejo described January 6 as “a do or die situation” and indicated that a failure by Congress to overturn the election results for Trump could lead to “the declaration of a guerrilla war.”
According to court documents, as a handful of Oath Keepers outfitted in tactical gear approached the Capitol on January 6 in military-style “stack” formations and joined hundreds of other people storming the building around 2:30 p.m., Rhodes, who was outside the Capitol Building, communicated further with Vallejo and others via a Signal chat labeled “DC OP: Jan 6 21.” In that chat, Rhodes “explicitly directed his co-conspirators to go to the Capitol,” according to prosecutors. Vallejo messaged in the chat from Arlington: “Vallejo back at hotel and outfitted. Have 2 trucks available. Let me know how I can assist.” At 2:38 p.m. he further messaged: “QRF standing by at hotel. Just say the word…”
Requests for comment from Mother Jones to multiple Oath Keeper defendants and their lawyers have received no responses. In court proceedings this week, an attorney for Vallejo depicted him as a minor player in the alleged plot and cited Vallejo’s lack of a criminal record in arguing unsuccessfully for his release pending trial, according to the Associated Press. An attorney for Rhodes, Jonathon Moseley, who previously confirmed to Mother Jones the circumstances of his client’s arrest by the FBI, said in the Wall Street Journal this week that the case against Rhodes seemed to be “more public relations than anything else.”
“Other than the fact that Stewart Rhodes bought some guns, I don’t see any new allegations of fact,” Moseley told the Journal. “That makes me think they are just responding to congressional criticism, it’s not like they found something new.”
Rhodes said in media interviews predating his arrest that there were no plans to storm the Capitol and that Oath Keepers who entered the building had gone rogue. Those claims seem at odds, however, with another piece of evidence cited by prosecutors in their latest court filings. Around 7:30 p.m. on January 6, Rhodes messaged the group again in the “DC OP” chat, suggesting that the siege of Congress was just the beginning: “Patriots entering their own Capitol to send a message to the traitors is NOTHING compared to what’s coming.”
The latest filings also add to accumulating evidence that numerous January 6 defendants—and at least one unidentified associate described in the seditious conspiracy case—sought to cover up alleged criminal activity. “Many of Vallejo’s co-conspirators also took steps to destroy evidence of their involvement in this conspiracy and discussed securing their communications,” prosecutors allege. “In the weeks after January 6, an associate of Rhodes’s encouraged various co-conspirators to delete incriminating messages from their phones. The investigation has revealed that numerous co-conspirators deleted evidence from their phones in the weeks after January 6.”
Rhodes also engaged in such efforts, according to court filings. In late January 2021, Rhodes warned Vallejo in messages that the FBI was likely monitoring Oath Keeper communications, and when Rhodes’ mobile phone was seized and searched by the FBI in May 2021, “it revealed evidence that statements by Rhodes at key times on planning/coordination Signal chats had been deleted.”
The detention memo on Rhodes also adds him to the list of January 6 defendants who in their own words have debunked the phony conspiracy theory, often repeated by Republican leaders, that “antifa” was behind the insurrection. As the mob stormed Congress, an Oath Keeper participating in the “Leadership Intel Chat” claimed that antifa had breached the Capitol. “Nope,” Rhodes replied, according to the filing. “I’m right here. These are Patriots.”
The evidence newly made public by the Justice Department in Vallejo’s case also indicates that the insurrectionist movement is very much an active and ongoing threat. A year after the attack, “Vallejo continues to believe his and others’ actions at the Capitol on January 6 were not unlawful or dangerous,” prosecutors argue in the filing. They cite social media content shared by Vallejo in the past month that has included messages such as: “There was NO INSURRECTION on J6 just a peaceful protest” and “The real insurrection happened in the wee hours of Nov. 4, 2020.”
That Lost Cause-style rhetoric seeks to rewrite a uniquely horrific day in American history by inverting the reality of the assault on the peaceful transition of power. It is specific language that has emerged in the past few months, pushed hard by a principal source: Donald Trump himself.