Sarasota chiropractor charged with seditious conspiracy in Capitol attack
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWSB) - Sarasota chiropractor Joseph Hackett and 10 other members of the right-wing group Oath Keepers have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their alleged roles in the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., returned the indictment Wednesday. It was unsealed Thursday.
The new indictment charges 11 defendants with seditious conspiracy and other charges for crimes related to the Jan. 6 breach, which disrupted a joint session of Congress to certify electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election.
According to court documents, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 56, of Granbury, Texas, who is the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers; and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, are being charged for the first time in connection with events leading up to and including Jan. 6. Rhodes was arrested this morning in Little Elm, Texas, and Vallejo was arrested this morning in Phoenix.
Other Floridians named in yesterday’s indictment were Kenneth Harrelson, 41, of Titusville; Kelly Meggs, 52, of Dunnellon; and David Moerschel, 44, of Punta Gorda.
In addition to the earlier charges filed against them, they now face additional counts for seditious conspiracy and other offenses.
Hackett was indicted a year ago for his role in planning activity in Washington with other Oath Keepers. Charges included obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting; destruction of government property and aiding and abetting; entering a restricted building; and tampering with documents or proceedings.
The new indictments collectively charge 19 defendants with corruptly obstructing an official proceeding. Eighteen of the 19 defendants are charged with conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiring to prevent an officer of the United States from discharging a duty. Eleven of the 19 defendants are charged with seditious conspiracy. Some of the defendants are also facing other related charges.
Federal authorities describe Oath Keepers as a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias. They explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement and first-responder personnel.
The seditious conspiracy indictment alleges that, following the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election, Rhodes conspired with his co-defendants and others to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power by Jan. 20, 2021.
Beginning in late December 2020, via encrypted and private communications applications, Rhodes, Hackett and various co-conspirators coordinated and planned to travel to Washington, D.C., on or around Jan. 6, 2021, the date of the certification of the electoral college vote, the indictment alleges.
On Jan. 6, 2021, a large crowd began to gather outside the Capitol perimeter as the Joint Session of Congress got under way at 1 p.m. Crowd members eventually forced their way through, up and over U.S. Capitol Police barricades and advanced to the building’s exterior façade. Shortly after 2 p.m., crowd members forced entry into the Capitol by breaking windows, ramming open doors, and assaulting Capitol police and other law enforcement officers. At about this time, according to the indictment, Rhodes entered the restricted area of the Capitol grounds and directed his followers to meet him at the Capitol.
The original indictment revealed details of a Nov. 9, 2020, virtual meeting of members of Oath Keepers, a far-right antigovernment extremist group. The indictment alleges Hackett was on the call when another participant, identified only as Person One, told attendees, “We’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country.
“So our posture’s gonna be that we’re posted outside of DC, um, awaiting the President’s orders. ... We hope he will give us the orders. We want him to declare an insurrection, and to call us up as the militia.”
On Dec. 19, 2020, Hackett allegedly sent an email to Englewood resident Graydon Young which read, “I believe we only need to do this when important info is at hand like locations, identities, Ops planning.” The email had a photo attached; the photo showed cursive handwriting on a lined notepad that stated: “Secure Comms Test. Good talk tonight guys! Rally Point in Northern Port Charlotte at Grays if transportation is possible. All proton mails. May consider an RP8 that won’t burn anyone. Comms – work in progress. Messages in cursive to eliminate digital reads. Plans for recruitment and meetings.”
The indictment also laid out a timeline where Hackett paid for a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Washington, D.C., from January 5-7, 2021. It alleges Hackett, Young and several others “prepared themselves for battle before heading to the Capitol by equipping themselves with communication devices and donning reinforced vests, helmets, and goggles.”
At 2:28 p.m., the group unlawfully entered the restricted Capitol grounds.
At 2:35 p.m., they joined together with others “known and unknown to form a column or stack of individuals wearing Oath Keepers clothing, patches, insignia, and battle gear (the “Stack”). Together, the Stack maneuvered in an organized fashion up the steps on the east side of the Capitol—each member keeping at least one hand on the shoulder of the other in front of them,” the indictment charges.
Hackett allegedly left the Capitol at 2:54 p.m.
The charge of seditious conspiracy carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Hackett has been under house arrest. Under the term of imposed High Intensity Supervision Program, Hackett must wear a GPS tracking device and may only leave his home for medical necessities, court appearances or other activities specifically approved by the court.
Hackett was ordered to surrender any weapons in his possession. He may not have any contact with members of Oath Keepers, and is forbidden to participate in his spouse’s podcast. Any access to computers, smartphones, tablets or any device that would allow him to communicate through either encrypted or non-encrypted applications is also forbidden.
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