The far-right group Oath Keepers may soon face particularly serious repercussions for its actions as well as a series of internet bans. A federal grand jury in DC has revealed seditious conspiracy charges against Oath Keepers founder Stuart Rhodes and 10 other individuals for their alleged role in the January 6, 2021 Capitol breach. Rhodes and his followers face accusations that they planned to use force to oppose the Electoral College’s voting certificate, including This is the direct attempt to seize the Capitol as well as through several “rapid reaction force” teams that planned to deliver weapons and other weapons to the extremists inside the building.
The Oath Keepers’ digital knowledge played an important role in the charges. The paramilitary group discussed the plans with the co-conspirators through encrypted messaging apps, social media, text messages and websites, according to the Justice Department. Federal investigators revealed that they used Signal’s messages as part of the case, although it was not clear how they obtained the discussions – CNBC It is speculated that one of the participants in the group chats leaked the contents to federal agents.
Only Rhodes and Edward Vallejo, who reportedly helped coordinate the rapid response teams, are facing charges for the first time. The rest, including notable members like Donovan Kroll and Jessica Watkins, are already facing indictment. The penalty for conspiracy is up to 20 years in prison.
Legal action can bring down a group long accused of promoting harm both online and offline. Oath Keepers threatened online violence, leading to Twitter being banned in September 2020, and spreading COVID-19 conspiracy theories that sometimes included hashtags linked to QAnon. Meanwhile, the group’s incursion into the Capitol was prompted in part by online election disinformation promoting unsupported allegations of widespread fraud during the 2020 presidential election.
The Oath Keepers already lost much of their online presence in the months before and after the Capitol incident, but the new fees could make it very difficult for the group or its members to maintain that representation online. This also underscores the imperfect attempts of social media to curb violent organizations and the disinformation that feeds them. While more aggressive crackdowns won’t necessarily stop the 2021 breach, outlets like Facebook acknowledged that they could have done more to curb groups that spread and act on this misinformation.
All products recommended by Engadget are handpicked by our editorial team, independently of the parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.