At a detention hearing for a member of the Oath Keepers on Thursday, federal prosecutors floated a new theory: When roughly two dozen members of the armed extremist group prepared to storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, they were expecting police to join them and the rest of the angry mob.
The theory is based on messages in which Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes compared the group’s efforts to the overthrow of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic more than two decades earlier.
Rhodes sent the messages just four days after the 2020 election, evidence shows, and included a step-by-step guide on how protesters forced the Serbian authoritarian to resign, which included storming the Balkan nation’s parliament building. “Police and military aligned with the people,” one message read.
Although no such alignment took place on Jan. 6, the Oath Keepers were successful in their attempts to delay certification of the election, Louis Manzo, a trial attorney for the Department of Justice, told a federal judge at the hearing in Phoenix. As a result, he added, Rhodes never felt the need to call in the group of heavily armed members of the Oath Keepers — referred to as the Quick Reaction Force, or QRF — that he had stationed at a hotel across the Potomac River.
One of the alleged commanders of the QRF was Edward Vallejo, who drove from his home in Phoenix and had stated his willingness to participate in what he called a “guerilla war” if Joe Biden were instated as president. Vallejo, a 63-year-old Army veteran who lives in Phoenix, was arrested last week and charged, along with Rhodes and nine others, with seditious conspiracy as well as other crimes.
Thursday’s hearing was set to determine whether he would be held in continued detention. Prosecutors, arguing that he should remain in custody, claimed he brought a large stockpile of armaments as well as a month’s worth of food to the hotel, that he attempted to launch a drone to spy on National Guard and US Capitol Police during the riot, and that he conducted a reconnaissance mission in the District of Columbia the following morning.
Debbie Jang, a public defender representing Vallejo, argued that her client was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community and should be allowed to return home while awaiting trial. She noted that he had not tried to escape or hide evidence, even after the FBI seized his cellphone last spring, and added that he did not have a passport and had never left the country.
Federal Judge John Z. Boyle was unpersuaded, however, stating that Vallejo “crossed a very serious line that could have led to the death and injury of many people if it had gone forward.” He denied bond to Vallejo and ordered that he be detained and transported to Washington, DC, where several other members of the Oath Keepers who were previously charged in the case are currently detained.
Vallejo’s unsuccessful attempt to stay out of jail may presage another detention hearing scheduled for Monday morning: that of Rhodes, who was arrested last week outside of Fort Worth, Texas, and, like Vallejo, is charged with seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.
Since first filing charges against members of the Oath Keepers nearly a year ago, prosecutors have signaled that Rhodes was the intellectual driver of what they have painted as a well-organized conspiracy aimed at the heart of American democracy. Manzo described Rhodes as “a dangerous man who is waging war on the US.”
Court records show that two DC-based prosecutors have filed to appear at Rhodes’ hearing to argue for his detention. That hearing was scheduled for Thursday as well but was delayed because Rhodes had been placed in quarantine for potential COVID exposure at the facility where he’s currently being held.
If convicted, Rhodes, Vallejo, and the other defendants in the case face up to 20 years in prison. Most of the defendants face additional charges, including obstruction for allegedly destroying or deleting records from their phones and other devices.