Joshua James, one of the 11 Oath Keepers militia affiliates indicted earlier this year on a charge of seditious conspiracy alongside the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, on Wednesday became the first person to plead guilty to the sedition-related charge in connection with the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Under a plea deal revealed at a hearing on Wednesday evening, James has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, who appear to view him as an important witness against Rhodes.
During the hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta, James confirmed that he and Rhodes had agreed to use any means necessary — including deadly force — to interfere with the transfer of power from President Donald Trump to then-President-elect Joe Biden.
One particularly alarming statement at the hearing came as Mehta read from a statement of facts in the case saying James and Rhodes vowed “to use lethal force against anyone who tried to remove President Trump from the White House.” James concurred that he had reached such an agreement.
There were a few hitches during the hearing, held via video and telephone, over exactly what James was agreeing to as part of the plea deal. Some language said James was trying to “prevent, hinder and delay” the transfer of power when he entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 and in other activities, but James said he was not trying to prevent the electoral certification, only to hinder or delay. James also admitted that he tussled with a police officer at the Capitol, but the Oath Keeper leader said he did not intend to use violence at the time he went inside.
Mehta ultimately accepted the plea with those reservations. In addition to the seditious conspiracy charge, James admitted to obstructing an official proceeding. Each charge carries a potential 20-year prison sentence, but sentencing guidelines the two sides agreed to are likely to call for a sentence of between about seven and nine years in prison. The judge isn’t obligated to follow those guidelines, and James could get a substantially more lenient sentence for cooperating with prosecutors.
James was a member of the Oath Keepers’ leadership who repeatedly messaged with other members about planning for Jan. 6. Prosecutors say he breached the Capitol’s rotunda doors along with other Oath Keepers in the early part of the mob assault on the building.
The indictment returned against Rhodes, James and nine others in January 2022 indicated that James described a massive arsenal of weaponry that the group had “on standby” in case violence escalated. Prosecutors have accused the Oath Keepers of stockpiling weapons at a Comfort Inn in Arlington, Va., though they never ultimately deployed it.
James was one of the Oath Keepers who was seen riding in golf carts from the group’s D.C. hotel to the Capitol, breaching the building about 30 minutes after a first wave of Oath Keepers also charged in the attack.
“While entering the Capitol building, JAMES and [Oath Keeper Roberto] MINUTA pushed past Capitol Police officers who placed their hands on JAMES and MINUTA in unsuccessful attempts to stop them from advancing toward the Rotunda,” prosecutors alleged in the indictment.
In addition to the 11 charged with seditious conspiracy, another nine Oath Keepers are facing obstruction charges for breaching the building along with their associates. The charges facing the group are the most serious to emerge from the attack on the Capitol.