This story updated to add most recent plea and new details, Jan. 25, 2022.
Brian Ulrich, a 44-year-old Effingham County man, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of seditious conspiracy along with ten other alleged members of the militia group for their roles in the failed armed rebellion to overthrow the government on Jan. 6, 2021.
The charges, the most serious of the more than 700 indictments handed down since last year’s invasion of the Capitol building, allege that the leader of the Oath Keepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, and 10 other people plotted over an encrypted phone app to bring arms and, if necessary, use force to interrupt and delay the normal working of Congress, which was scheduled that day to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
Appearing before U.S. Federal Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., via virtual link-ups, 10 of the 11 people named in the alleged conspiracy, including Ulrich, pleaded not guilty.
Although several members of the alleged conspiracy have been jailed awaiting trial. Ulrich remains free on an unsecured bond of $25,000. That was approved last summer by a Savannah-based federal judge when the Guyton resident was arraigned on a separate set of charges related to his actions on Jan. 6.
The newest indictment against him details over 48 pages how the group of 11 men and women conspired “to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power” through a planned attack on the U.S. Capitol building.
“They coordinated travel across the country to enter Washington, D.C., equipped themselves with a variety of weapons, donned combat and tactical gear, and were prepared to answer Rhodes’s call to take up arms at Rhodes’s direction,” the indictment charges.
Ulrich’s lawyer, A.J. Balbo whose law firm is based in Richmond Hill, did not immediately respond to questions about his client. Ahead of his arraignment Tuesday, attempts to reach Ulrich at his ranch-style home, which is located about four miles from the Effingham Sheriff’s Department, were unsuccessful. A family member who lives nearby declined comment.
Judge Mehta set a tentative trial date for the group in July. Each defendant faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for the sedition charge, and dozens of years in prison for the other 16 charges in the indictment, which include conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging his duties.
The United States has no crime of domestic terrorism, and the seditious conspiracy charge is one of dozens of crimes that fall under federal terrorism enhancement statutes. Federal prosecutors last tried to pursue such charges in a 2010 indictment involving members of a Michigan- and Ohio-based militant group. Although prosecutors described the group as dedicated to the armed overthrow of the U.S. government, a judge ended up acquitting the defendants of the sedition count two years later.
Several Oath Keepers, including Ulrich, have previously been charged with conspiracy to obstruct Congress’s attempts to certify the Electoral College.
Prosecutors heading up the case work in the Department of Justice’s Counterterrorism section. They claim the defendants, including Ulrich, took part in planning meetings in late December on Signal, an encrypted chat app favored by Islamist terrorists and other radical organizations. It was in these invite-only chat groups that the defendants allegedly discussed bringing firearms to the D.C. area and their military-style tactical plans to invade the Capitol while Congress was in session.
Ulrich was in communication with at least some of the other 11 defendants as early as Dec. 31, 2020, via a Signal group chat titled “DC OP: Jan. 6 21,” according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an August statement detailing his involvement with the Oath Keepers.
Chat messages detailed in his August indictment allege that Ulrich was direct with his intent to bear arms at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Someone can tell me if I’m crazy but I’m planning on having a backpack for regular use and then a separate backpack with my ammo load out with some basics that I can [just] switch to is shit truly the fan blades…” He also wrote: “I will be the guy running around with the budget AR,” an apparent reference to the assault rifle model AR-15.
In Thursday’s sedition indictment, prosecutors laid out in more detail the careful and chilling military planning that was behind the insurrection.
Prosecutors allege that Rhodes, motivated by former President Donald Trump’s election defeat, began conspiring in December 2020 to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power. Rhodes and other Oath Keepers organized into paramilitary teams to ensure they could enter the Capitol building and disrupt Congress during the certification of state Electoral College results.
According to the FBI, Ulrich traveled to Washington on Jan. 4 and stayed at the Mayflower Hotel. His co-conspirators also arrived in Washington ahead of the rally planned by former President Trump, according to prosecutors.
On January 6, after Trump’s rally, the indicted co-conspirators, including Ulrich, mobilized into two separate paramilitary units, according to prosecutors. One group, wearing Oath Keeper insignia and logos, marched in “stack” formation and infiltrated the Capitol from the east steps. A separate unit of Oath Keepers, including Ulrich, formed a second stack to breach the Capitol from the west, according to the indictment.
The indictment also says some members of the alleged conspiracy waited with firearms outside the city for a call to enter as a “quick reaction force” to stop the counting of electoral ballots and prevent Joe Biden from becoming president.
The indictment reveals some of the ways the seditionists referred to themselves within the group. Ulrich used a nickname “Molon Labe,” an Ancient Greek phrase that means “come and take [them].” The words are attributed to King Leonidas of Sparta in reply to demands he lay down his arms when defeated in battle.
The phrase is found across the spectrum of the pro-Trump faction of Republicans, from the face masks worn by Marjorie Taylor Greene, to tattoos sported by North Georgia militia members, and engraved on pistols favored by their compatriots. One gunmaker, the Swiss-German firm Sig Sauer, markets a handgun with molon labe inlaid in 24-karat gold, as part of its “Spartan” line of personal-carry weapons.