Brian Ulrich, a member of the extremist Oath Keepers group, cried on Friday as U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta accepted his guilty plea for seditious conspiracy and obstruction of the peaceful transfer of power at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Ulrich’s voice wavered during his remote appearance as the maximum penalties were recited back to him—20 years for each charge.
“It’s not going to get any easier,” the 43-year-old told the court Friday.
Following Ulrich’s plea agreement hearing on Friday, Judge Mehta also vacated co-defendant and Oath Keeper Edward Vallejo’s hearing requesting pretrial release. Another hearing will be held at a later date and attorneys would be notified, he ordered.
Vallejo, 63, has made multiple attempts to be released but in a filing 24 hours before Friday’s hearing, prosecutors urged that he remain in prison in light of new, concerning evidence uncovered since his arrest.
They allege Vallejo received a phone call before his first pretrial detention hearing this January and was informed then about evidence the Justice Department had in its possession including a picture of Vallejo allegedly transporting two large black bins with yellow lids containing weapons.
The person who called him was not identified in Friday’s court records.
After he was alerted, prosecutors say Vallejo promptly called his wife and asked her to search a bin in his Arizona home matching the description of those he was photographed using in Virginia on Jan. 6.
He asked her to remove whatever she would find.
Using vague, cryptic language to make the request, his defense attorney argued in a filing Friday that Vallejo only spoke that way to her because he did not wish to disclose medication he was taking to any prying ears.
Vallejo said he was distrustful of the medical establishment.
In his push to be released, Vallejo threw out as many defenses as he could muster.
He argued there was no evidence among the 3,900-text messages the government has so far produced tied to the seditious conspiracy case that would indicate he or other defendants planned an advance assault on the Capitol.
It was provable, he contends because a keyword search of the messages would show there was no mention of words like “capitol” or “QRF,” the acronym used by prosecutors in his indictment to describe the quick reaction force team the government alleges he helped coordinate to help those on the ground at the Capitol.
Vallejo went on to claim the only time he was part of a quick reaction force team during his time with the Oath Keepers was when he and other members were “employed as a defensive measure” against “antifa” and in case “shit hit the fan” during the protests in 2020.
Ulrich, of Guyton, Georgia, is the second Oath Keeper to now break ranks with the slew of defendants from the extremist network facing seditious conspiracy charges. The Alabama Oath Keeper chapter leader who provided Roger Stone with a security detail on Jan. 6, Joshua James, was the first to fold last month.
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As the terms of his cooperation were reviewed, Ulrich made his position against Oath Keeper ringleader Elmer Stewart Rhodes clear, admitting explicitly to Judge Mehta that he conspired with Rhodes to develop a plan to stop the lawful transfer of power and was prepared to do so by force.
In a Dec. 31, 2020 text message uncovered in a group chat the Oath Keepers operated in the run-up to the attack, Ulrich told the group he would carry two backpacks, one for regular use.
“And then a separate backpack with my ammo load out with some basics that I can just switch too if shit truly [hits] the fan blades… I will be the guy running around with the budget AR,” he wrote.
He also admitted that the plan not only obstructed congressional proceedings but that the conspiracy they orchestrated intimidated members of Congress, law enforcement, staff, and others.
Rhodes has pleaded not guilty and is facing trial later this summer.
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Ulrich was initially charged alongside co-defendants and Oath Keepers Thomas Caldwell, Donovan Crowl, Jessica Watkins, Sandra Parker, Bennie Parker, Laura Steele, Kelly Meggs, Connie Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Roberto Minuta, Jonathan Walden, Joseph Hackett, Jason Doland, William Isaacs, David Moerschel, and Joshua James.
All but James and Ulrich have pleaded not guilty.
By entering his guilty plea Friday, Ulrich has agreed to testify on behalf of the federal government at their beck and call and that includes testifying against Rhodes or other members of the Oath Keepers at trial if it is demanded.
Should prosecutors find his cooperation helpful, they can recommend that his sentence be downshifted. Ulrich could potentially see the respective 20-year max terms dropped to somewhere closer to five or six-year terms for each sentence.
But so much of that is dependent on what is to come, and the government is not bound to actually go through with a recommended reduction even if he cooperates.
As Ulrich took in a sharp breath in at this pronouncement Friday, and could be heard audibly crying over the remote teleconference line, Judge Mehta reminded him that in the end, it is ultimately up to him, as judge, to decide whether or not his sentence will be as lengthy or short as whatever is recommended.
Each charge he pleaded guilty to Friday also brings with it a $250,000 fine. He will also be expected to pay a separate restitution amount towards the $1.4 million in damages he and others wrought on the Capitol building during the rampage.
Cooperation from James and Ulrich is significant in light of the Justice Department’s discovery of text messages appearing to confirm the long-suspected working relationship between the Oath Keepers and their neofascist compatriots, the Proud Boys.
Text messages from December 2020 right through the insurrection were added as part of the record when Oath Keeper Edward Vallejo filed a pretrial release motion this month.
The texts showed defendant Kelly Meggs telling others that he would call Proud Boy leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio when he learned that Tarrio had been arrested in Washington on Jan. 4.
RELATED STORY: Oath Keepers texts expose talk of security details for Trump world figures, more Proud Boys ties
This story is developing.