For the first time in more than a quarter century, the Department of Justice has secured a conviction for seditious conspiracy.
Joshua James, a member of the Oath Keepers, pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday to the rarely employed charge for his role in the Jan. 6 riot. James, 34, also pleaded guilty to obstructing an official proceeding and agreed to cooperate with the government as part of a plea deal. He is the sixth member of the militant group to plead guilty, all but one of whom were charged with conspiring to block certification of the presidential election.
According to prosecutors, James, an Army combat veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart, participated in leadership planning with other members of the Oath Keepers in anticipation of Jan. 6 and joined a military-style “stack” of the group’s members who pushed their way into the Capitol building. While inside, he allegedly grabbed a police officer by the vest and shouted, “Get out of my Capitol! Get out of my Capitol! Get out of my Capitol!”
James, a father of three who owns a pressure-cleaning company in Arab, Alabama, was arrested just under a year ago and charged with conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding by blocking certification of the Electoral College vote. A month later, he was granted release from detention on bond, and in January he and 10 other members of the Oath Keepers were indicted for seditious conspiracy. Calling into a courtroom overseen by federal Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, DC, James accepted guilt for his actions.
According to sentencing guidelines, he could face a prison term of between 87 and 108 months, although that could be reduced based on his cooperation. He also faces fines that could total as much as $300,000, and he has agreed to pay $2,000 in restitution for damages incurred to the Capitol building. James’ sentencing date has not yet been set.
The last time the government secured a conviction for seditious conspiracy was in 1995, when Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as “the Blind Sheikh,” was found guilty for planning a series of unrealized attacks on a number of targets in New York City, including the United Nations building, bridges, and tunnels. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Attempts to use the charge against right-wing extremists have been less successful. In 1998, prosecutors failed to convince a jury in Washington state to convict 14 people of seditious conspiracy for planning to overthrow the government and murder federal officials. And in the most recent seditious conspiracy case, a federal judge in Michigan acquitted nine members of a fundamentalist Christian group called the Hutaree, who prosecutors claimed had plotted to kill police officers.
Unlike those cases, which allege violent plots that took place in fairly remote, rural areas, the prosecution of the Oath Keepers involves an assault on the heart of the federal government. That, along with the presence of a participant who is willing to testify under oath that crimes were committed, may help it find a more sympathetic ear with jurors.
Evidence presented by prosecutors shows that James was in frequent contact with other members of the Oath Keepers in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, that he stowed weapons at a hotel in Virginia as part of a stockpile for a Jan. 6 “Quick Reaction Force,” and that he was part of a detail that provided security to VIPs that day, including political consultant Roger Stone.
When mobs of people began storming the Capitol, James and another member of the Oath Keepers raced to the site in a golf cart and joined others, who together pushed their way into the building. In the wake of the insurrection, he kept in touch with Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who is also charged with seditious conspiracy. Rhodes urged him and others to prepare for further clashes with the government. Prosecutors say James gathered “all available firearms” and joined Rhodes outside Dallas; on the day Joe Biden was inaugurated, James wrote in a message, “After this…if nothing happens…its war…Civil War 2.0.”
In addition to James, five other members of the Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty. One, Jon Schaffer, leader of a well-known heavy metal band, was not alleged to have been in contact with other members of the Oath Keepers and was the first person in any Jan. 6 case to reach a plea deal with prosecutors. Subsequently, four members who were part of what prosecutors call a conspiracy among Oath Keepers to block certification of the presidential election have also taken pleas, most recently Jason Dolan last September.
James is one of a number of Oath Keepers defendants who have turned to online fundraising to help cover legal expenses. Roughly two weeks after James was arrested, his wife, Audrey James, launched a campaign for him on crowdfunding site GiveSendGo that to date has raised $195,000; she wrote that he was an “upstanding member of his community” facing “unexpected and unjust legal battles.”
Last June, after Graydon Young and Mark Grods, other members of the Oath Keepers, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, she reacted critically, writing, “The fact they are agreeing to ‘tell the truth’ but also by signing this agreement they are ‘pleading guilty because I am in fact guilty of these offenses’ makes ZERO sense. Those two statements contradict themselves.”
She added, “These pleas are bad news for Josh and any other Oath Keeper because these pleas are setting the standard for everyone else.”
According to messages posted on the site, the couple’s confidence in an acquittal began fading after the more severe charges were leveled. On Feb. 3 of this year, Audrey James wrote that she would “send the last of the funds to the attorneys this week” and that they would need $50,000 more to cover the costs of going to trial.
On Feb. 25, she posted again, noting that the jury pool in Washington would be unfavorable to the defense and that she and her husband had been “told there is little chance we will win at trial. We’re almost guaranteed 15-20 years minimum.”
“It all seems unreal,” she continued. “A nightmare. How can any of this be happening?”