Welcome to Byron York’s Daily Memo newsletter.
Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to receive the newsletter.
THE LARP REBELLION. A grand jury looking into the events of Jan. 6 has returned a seditious conspiracy indictment against Stewart Rhodes, head of the militia group Oath Keepers, and 10 other members of his organization. Rhodes and the others, according to the indictment, “conspired … to oppose by force the lawful transfer of federal power.” The defendants are also charged with other Jan. 6 crimes, like obstruction of an official proceeding.
What the Oath Keepers did was serious. They were upset about Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election, which they viewed as rigged. They were constantly chatting about it with each other on various encrypted platforms. On Dec. 11, 2020, according to the indictment, Rhodes said that if Biden became president, “It will be a bloody and desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can’t be avoided.”
They made a plan to go to Washington to disrupt the congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory. The idea was to intimidate lawmakers into supporting Trump — a strategy Rhodes encouraged but did not think would actually work. “I think Congress will screw [Trump] over,” Rhodes wrote on Dec. 25, 2020. “The only chance we/he has is if we scare the s*** out of them and convince them it will be torches and pitchforks time if they don’t do the right thing. But I don’t think they will listen.”
Subscribe today to the Washington Examiner magazine that will keep you up to date with what’s going on in Washington. SUBSCRIBE NOW: Just $1.00 an issue!
The Oath Keepers made plans to take a small number of guns to Washington. Their thinking seems strange to an outsider. On the one hand, they were a militia group, so of course they had guns. On the other, they knew that possessing the firearms was illegal in the District of Columbia. They had a hotel room or two in D.C., and they did not take any guns there. They made a specific decision not to bring firearms into the city. Instead, they rented some rooms in suburban Virginia and brought an unspecified number of weapons to keep there.
The idea was that the guns would be part of a “QRF” — a quick reaction force — that would be ready in case the “SHTF” — s*** hit the fan — at the Capitol. Of course, the s*** did indeed hit the fan at the Capitol, but the Oath Keepers did not retrieve their weapons. Instead, they marched around in military-esque gear and sent messages to each other.
The group has become famous for using a “stack” formation to walk up the Capitol steps. But the indictment is fuzzy on whether they actually broke into the Capitol — it appears they did not but rather followed others who did. The indictment says this: “At 2:39 p.m., a member of Stack One joined the crowd in forcibly pushing against one of the Rotunda doors and the law enforcement officers guarding the door. The mob then breached the doors and the Stack One member entered the building.”
Early in the riot, Rhodes came to the conclusion that both Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump had abandoned them. Pence was no surprise — but had Trump wimped out on them, too? At about 1:30 p.m., Rhodes messaged his leadership group, saying, “Pence is doing nothing. As I predicted. All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’ve had enough.”
Some parts of the indictment verge on humor. For example, the group at the hotel in D.C., not far from the Capitol, was watching events unfold and did not decide to go to the Capitol until about 2:30 p.m. “Between 2:30 p.m. and 2:33 p.m., JAMES, MINUTA, LURICH, and others rode in golf carts toward the Capitol,” the indictment says, referring to three of the defendants, “at times swerving around law enforcement vehicles, with MINUTA live-streaming their conduct over Facebook.”
On Facebook, defendant Roberto Minuta said, “Patriots are storming the Capitol building; there’s violence against patriots by the D.C. Police; so we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now…it’s going down, guys; it’s literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building…f***ing war in the streets right now…word is they got in the building…let’s go.”
Call it the golf cart rebellion.
After it was all over, on the night of Jan. 6, the indictment says the Oath Keepers fantasized about keeping the rebellion going. They met at a restaurant in Vienna, Virginia, and “discussed the need to continue fighting to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power,” according to the indictment. One had the idea to go back to the Capitol at 6:00 a.m. on Jan. 7. Perhaps they had not seen that the Capitol was heavily protected by then. In any event, they said they would do “recon” in the morning.
The indictment is silent about what happened after that. Obviously, the Oath Keepers did not storm the Capitol on Jan. 7. Instead, the indictment skips ahead to Jan. 11, when one of the members discussed a long-term plan to go underground — literally. “We’ve been organizing a bugout plan if the usurper [Biden] is installed,” she wrote. “Something like 20+ Oath Keepers going to Kentucky mountains on hundreds of acres apparently…Be like the NVA and network tunnels.” (“NVA” is apparently a reference to the North Vietnamese Army fighting against the United States in the 1960s.) Of course, the plans came to nothing.
What to make of it all? First, the Oath Keepers really were a gang of idiots. What were they thinking? In what fantasy world did they, unarmed and careening in golf carts, plan to install the next President of the United States? Reading the indictment, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it all was an elaborate bit of LARPing — that is, live-action role-playing. The indictment is filled with page after page of fantasy talk.
But of course, the group did discuss interfering with the transfer of power. They talked about civil war. They brought guns to the Washington area, although, careful to observe local gun laws, they did not use them or even bring them into the District of Columbia. They were part of the mob that entered the Capitol, although it does not appear that any of them engaged in any violence. And now, for it all, they have been charged with seditious conspiracy.
The indictment raises questions about whether it is correct to refer to the Capitol riot as an “insurrection” or “sedition.” Obviously, the investigation has given rise to an indictment for seditious conspiracy. But can the actions of a group of 11 LARPers accurately describe the motives and actions of the hundreds of people at the Capitol, and thousands more in the area, who had no connection with the Oath Keepers? A recent poll showed that many Americans view the Capitol riot seriously, but as a protest that got out of hand. The new indictment will probably not change their minds.