The guilty plea entered Wednesday by one of the key players in the Jan. 6 seditionist conspiracy case against Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and 10 others—a 34-year-old Alabama man named Joshua James—more turn out to be momentous, even beyond being making it official that the attack on the Capitol was a seditionist insurrection, and that moreover, the case against Rhodes is a formidable one.
That’s because James not only helped lead one of the paramilitary “stack” formations that breached the Capitol’s east side on Jan. 6, but also because he had spent most of the day (and the day before) serving as head of the “security detail” assigned to longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone, who is believed to have spent that day hunkered down with other “Stop the Steal” schemers inside the “Trump War Room” at D.C.’s Willard Hotel, near the White House. He may, in fact, be the link between Trump and the seditionist conspiracy.
James’ guilty plea, both to seditionist conspiracy and obstruction of Congress, marks the Justice Department’s first conviction on the sedition charges in the Jan. 6 prosecutions and the first of its kind in 40 years. It also includes James’ cooperation with investigators—and if the new information contained in the Statement of Offense to which he agreed Wednesday in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta is any indication, Rhodes’ goose may be well and royally cooked.
James, a U.S. Army combat veteran who reportedly received the Purple Heart and owns a cleaning company called America Pro Hydro Services based in Arab, Alabama, was one of Rhodes’ most trusted lieutenants. He participated in the preplanning for the Capitol siege beginning in November 2020, worked closely with Rhodes in bringing their operations to Washington for Jan. 6, and then traveled with Rhodes afterward for a couple of weeks as a bodyguard.
According to the statement, well before Jan. 6, Rhodes directed “James and other coconspirators to be prepared, if called upon, to report to the White House grounds to secure the perimeter and use lethal force if necessary against anyone who tried to remove President Trump from the White House, including the National Guard or other government actors who might be sent to remove President Trump as a result of the Presidential Election.”
There are multiple other details that establish that Rhodes and his cohorts planned to besiege the Capitol and invade it, and that their intention was to prevent the certification of the Electoral College ballots that were interrupted by the mob that day. Afterward, Rhodes ordered all of his cohorts, including James, to delete all their texts and other messages related to that day from all their platforms. He also advised James to alter his physical appearance.
As Philip Bump at the Washington Post notes, however, that James’ guilty plea is also important in how it ties in with the Jan. 6 committee’s mounting pile of evidence that Trump may have broken the law that day as well:
That morning, before he breached the Capitol, he was part of a security detail that shuttled longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone around Washington, apparently including to the Willard Hotel, where Trump’s allies were trying to persuade members of Congress to block the counting of electors. In his opinion on the civil suits, Mehta noted that Stone’s involvement with the Oath Keepers “might prove … to be important.” James suggests one way that could be the case.
Indeed, six Oath Keepers had been assigned as the personal security detail for Stone, duties they had handled the day before. Stone was captured on video with the men outside the Willard that morning. He had promised his followers on social media that he would make a speech near the Capitol, but he never appeared and claimed he had remained at the hotel the entire time.
His security detail, however, did not. They remained with him during Trump’s speech, and up until the word got out that the Capitol was under siege. Around the time it was first breached by Proud Boys on its west side, Stone’s detail—which included fellow indictee, Robert Minuta—realized that they were missing out on the action. “Now we're talking, that's what I came up here for!” Minuta exclaimed. James directed the team to grab their gear to head to the Capitol. And they did so, at high speed—in golf carts.
They had been escorting Stone around in the carts, and now they became their high-speed transport from the Willard to the Capitol, careening down Pennsylvania, dodging pedestrians and police cars on the way. Minuta livestreamed the whole thing on Facebook, commenting as he did so:
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 golfcart to the Capitol building right now ... it's going down, guys; it's literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building ... fucking war in the streets right now ... word is they got in the building ... let's go.
Another team of Oath Keepers using a “stack” formation had proceeded up the east Capitol steps and breached the doors there a little before they arrived. The second team—“Stack Two”—led by Minuta and James arrived near the Capitol at about 2:30 on its western side, then moved through the mob in formation, hands on each others’ shoulders, until they reached the east-side entrances at about 3 p.m. They began menacing and taunting the remaining police. James spotted an entry point on the central steps and ordered the team: “They’re going in over there, let’s go!” They eventually forced their way in through the Rotunda doors and began scrumming with police who were trying to guard the adjacent lobby.
According to the new statement of offense, James and the others met up with Rhodes after they all had been pushed back out of the Capitol. Rhodes was waiting for them at the post he had kept throughout, on the building’s northeast corner, and “Rhodes told James he was glad James and others had gone inside the Capitol.”
Then, it says, they went out for dinner and to come up with new plans for what was to come next:
At Rhodes’s instruction, James, Vallejo, and others met Rhodes that evening at a restaurant in Vienna, Virginia. Rhodes discussed saving “the Republic” by stopping the transfer of presidential power and began to make plans to oppose the Inauguration on January 20, 2021, including by having people open-carry firearms at state capitols around the country.
Roger Stone, as it happens, first concocted the “Stop the Steal” scheme in 2016, claiming that the GOP and then Democrats were using fraud to steal votes from Trump back then, and he played a key role in the idea’s revival in 2020. He had worked assiduously to promote turnout for the Jan. 6 event. He appeared on Alex Jones’ Infowars program, pronouncing the Biden victory a “hoax”:
"I think our headline is Join the Patriots in Washington, D.C., this weekend to protest the hoax that is the theft of this election and demand that we Stop the Steal," he said, hastily adding a promotional note: "Hashtag Stop the Steal."
He appeared at the “Rally to Revival” event in Freedom Plaza on Jan. 5, telling the crowd that the president's enemies sought "nothing less than the heist of the 2020 election and we say, No way!" And "… we will win this fight or America will step off into a thousand years of darkness. We dare not fail. I will be with you tomorrow shoulder to shoulder." (Of course, as it turned out, he was not; according to his own account, he stayed at the Willard Hotel all day.)
As Marcy Wheeler adroitly observes, James’ plea presents all kinds of interesting questions about why the Oath Keepers remained with Stone at the Willard that day, particularly in light of Rhodes’ plan to post Oath Keepers at the nearby White House to prevent Trump’s removal:
That is, they may have remained close to the White House that day until Rhodes decided there were more immediate objectives. All of which makes me more interested in whether the Oath Keepers brought weapons into DC that day.
A week ago, Stone filed a lawsuit against the Jan. 6 Committee to prevent it from obtaining his cell phone records. It’s not hard to see why.