A third person has pleaded guilty in the Justice Department’s seditious conspiracy case against members of the Oath Keepers extremist group for their role in the Jan. 6 riot.
William Todd Wilson, the head of a North Carolina chapter of the group, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of seditious conspiracy and one count of obstruction of an official proceeding for his role in what the government calls a plan to “oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force.” As part of his plea deal, Wilson has agreed to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation.
According to prosecutors, Wilson stowed firearms and other gear at a hotel in Virginia during the lead-up to Jan. 6 and later went into DC, where he became the first Oath Keeper to breach the building and was “in the center of a mob of people trying to push open the Rotunda Doors.” In the wake of the riot, Wilson threw his mobile phone into the Atlantic Ocean to “prevent law enforcement from discovering incriminating evidence about his participation in this conspiracy.”
Wilson, 45, is the third person convicted of seditious conspiracy, and the eighth member of the Oath Keepers overall, to agree to cooperate with the government in the increasingly large case. In early March, Joshua James of Alabama was the first individual to plead guilty to the sedition-related charge, and that was followed last week by a plea from Brian Ulrich of Georgia.
Unlike James and Ulrich, however, Wilson was not previously indicted by a grand jury, and the fact that his first appearance in court comes as a voluntary guilty plea suggests that he may have already been secretly cooperating with law enforcement for an undetermined length of time.
Wilson’s name has not surfaced at all in the thousands of documents and records spanning across multiple Oath Keepers–related cases filed over the past 16 months — save for a single mention of his name in a voluminous exhibit filed by a different defendant two weeks ago. That document showed that Wilson, of Newton Grove, North Carolina, took part in a group telephone call between Oath Keepers on Nov. 9, 2020, that was hosted by the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes.
In the call, Rhodes — who in January was indicted for seditious conspiracy but has pleaded not guilty — called the presidential election results a “fraud” and said that then-president Donald Trump should “refuse to concede.” He encouraged Oath Keepers to go to Washington to defend Trump and likened the cause to the Alamo. “So if the shit kicks off, you rock and roll.”
Court papers have described how squads of Oath Keepers from Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina rallied at a Comfort Inn in Arlington, Virginia, where they deposited weapons and tactical gear. Those individuals, prosecutors allege, formed a so-called quick reaction force, or QRF, that could be called into DC, which has strict restrictions on firearms, if the need arose. In the November 2020 call, Rhodes said that if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act, he would then call in the QRF.
“We’re hoping he will give us the orders,” Rhodes told his members. “And if he does that, then DC gun laws won’t matter.”
In the end, the Insurrection Act was not invoked, the QRF was not called into Washington, and Trump did not stay in office, but prosecutors claim that the Oath Keepers were still successful in their conspiracy because their presence in the Capitol helped force Congress to delay certification of the Electoral College.
Wilson, the leader of the Sampson County, North Carolina, chapter of the Oath Keepers, was active in encrypted leadership chats for the group in the wake of the election, stating, for example, in one chat on Dec. 14, 2020, “It is time to fight!”
On Jan. 5, he drove to Washington, bringing an AR-15-style rifle, a 9 mm pistol, 200 rounds of ammunition, body armor, pepper spray, a pocket knife, and other items. “It’s going to hit the fan tonight!” he wrote in a group chat on the Signal app that day. The following morning, he traveled into DC with Rhodes and marched on the Capitol; shortly thereafter, Wilson entered the building “armed with a pocketknife.” When the Rotunda doors were opened, Wilson filmed other Oath Keepers coming into the building on his cellphone and eventually moved outside where the group gathered around Rhodes.
Notably, Wilson was also witness to a phone call between Rhodes and an unidentified Trump intermediary made several hours later at the Phoenix Park Hotel. According to Wilson’s statement of offense, filed on Wednesday, he “heard Rhodes repeatedly implore the individual to tell President Trump to call upon groups like the Oath Keepers to forcibly oppose the transfer of power.”
Rhodes, the document continues, asked to speak to Trump directly, but the request was denied.
The following day, Wilson altered his phone settings to prevent “incriminating evidence” from being stored in his Apple iCloud account, and later that month he chucked the entire device into the ocean.
A total of nine defendants, including Rhodes, currently stand charged with seditious conspiracy, while seven other Oath Keepers and associates of the group are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States in a second case. A trial for Rhodes, and several other seditious conspiracy defendants who are currently in federal detention, is scheduled to begin July 11.
A second seditious conspiracy trial, for those who have been released on bond and are not in jail, is set for Sept. 26. Additional trials for the defendants in the other case are scheduled for November and next February.
Separately on Wednesday, the federal judge overseeing the Oath Keepers cases, Amit Mehta, agreed to release the head of the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers from detention pending trial.
Edward Vallejo, 63, was indicted for seditious conspiracy along with Rhodes in January and has been in jail since his arrest. Prosecutors claim he formed part of the QRF stationed in Virginia on Jan. 6, and that he called for “armed conflict” and “guerilla war” in a podcast interview that morning.
A week after his arrest, a magistrate denied Vallejo’s request for bond, but Mehta struck a different tone. Although there were disturbing elements to his involvement in the alleged conspiracy, Mehta said, the fact that he never actually set foot in DC, and also that he was at large for a full year before his arrest without incident, convinced him that Vallejo is not a significant threat to public safety. As a result, he can now return to Phoenix, where he will be under home confinement under his wife’s supervision.
That leaves only four defendants still under lock and key: Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, and Kenneth Harrelson. All of them are charged with seditious conspiracy.
Correction: Brian Ulrich is from Georgia. His home state was misstated in a previous version of this story.