Distraught about President Donald Trump’s loss in the November 2020 elections, a 44-year-old Effingham County man plotted with members of his extremist militia to ensure, as he put in in an encrypted chat message, that “traitors” who voted for Joe Biden and congressmen who wanted to certify the election results wouldn’t win.
“We must defeat these radicals … there’s treason at work here. When someone committed treason it used to mean something. You used to pay with your life!” wrote Brian Ulrich to members of an Oath Keepers of Georgia chat group in mid December 2020.
On Friday, Ulrich himself pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, a charge akin to treason, for trying to impede the peaceful transfer of presidential power on Jan. 6, 2021. He’s the the second man associated with the Oath Keepers convicted of this charge for their roles in the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
The plea deal between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Guyton resident reveals a granular timeline of how he and other members of the Oath Keepers along with the group’s founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes agreed to take up arms to keep President Donald Trump in power after he lost the 2020 Elections.
Rhodes is one of 13 people who have been charged with seditious conspiracy, the most serious charge brought by the Department of Justice against the more than 800 people indicted for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021, violence at the Capitol. Rhodes has pleaded not guilty, as have eleven others facing this charge.
Ulrich, who was first arrested in August 2021, originally pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, A.J. Balbo of Richmond Hill, did not respond to messages seeking comment about what made Ulrich change his mind about the charge, which has a possible prison sentence of 20 years.
While Ulrich was initially considered a minor player in the planned insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, his statement to the court shows that he was in close contact with Rhodes, the man that federal intelligence officials believe was the ringleader for most of the violence that day.
The 14-page plea agreement shows detailed conversations between Ulrich, Rhodes and around a dozen Oath Keepers from November 2020 until mid January 2021 contemplating the need for violence in support of a continued Trump presidency. The men had no qualms about arming themselves to reach that goal, according to the plea deal.
On Dec. 11, the Guyton resident communicated with members of the encrypted chat group Oath Keepers of Georgia about boldly using force to reach their political goals. “If there’s a civil war then there’s a civil war,” he wrote.
Rare prosecution could bring 20-year term
Yet as he appeared in front of a judge on Friday, Ulrich allegedly broke down in tears while he accepted responsibility for two separate charges: seditious conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding. Ulrich also agreed to give evidence against Rhodes, which was a key part of the deal.
In the 15 months since Jan. 6, 2021, nearly 800 individuals have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol, including over 250 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.
Seditious conspiracy is the most serious charge against those implicated in that violent day. As Ulrich’s plea deal notes in the sentencing guidelines, the crime is similar to treason. It is also rarely prosecuted.
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.
Yet prosecutors appear confident of making the charges stick in the Jan. 6 case. Ulrich’s plea reveals that the Oath Keepers had a sophisticated plan in place to keep President Trump in power, a plot that they began in mid-November 2020, shortly after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election.
“Ulrich conspired to use force and did in fact use force to prevent, hinder and delay the execution of the laws governing the transfer of power,” the U.S. Attorney’s office wrote in a press release announcing the plea deal. “Ulrich corruptly obstructed, influenced and impeded an official proceeding, that is, a proceeding before Congress, specifically, Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote as set out in the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”
Plea agreement details planning
According to Ulrich’s plea deal, Rhodes began disseminating messages on invitation-only encrypted group chats on an application called “Signal” in November 2020 to encourage and discuss how to prevent the transfer of presidential power. Ulrich joined these discussions as a member of a group chat involving members of the Oath Keepers of Georgia.
Throughout December 2020, the Oath Keepers revved each other up for violent action, with Ulrich participating with full-throated approval.
On Dec. 5, Ulrich texted the Oath Keepers of Georgia group about the need for an armed uprising: “I seriously wonder what it would take just to get ever [sic] patriot marching around the capital armed! Just to show our government how powerless they are!,” he wrote. “That if they continue to rape our constitution — these are the folks who they will be dealing with…”
In mid-December, Ulrich went on an online buying spree, purchasing tactical equipment from online retailers that specialize in paramilitary gear.
On Dec. 14, he took part in a group chat on Signal with Rhodes about the need to fight to prevent the presidential handover of power from Trump to Biden.
Rhodes exhorted the Oath Keepers of Georgia group about the necessity of a “bloody revolution/civil war to defeat the traitors.” Ulrich wrote in reply: “Sadly, it’s almost American to do it the hard way.”
Ulrich’s apparent enthusiasm for preventing Biden from taking office garnered him an invite on Dec. 28 to join a smaller, more elite encrypted group chat titled “DC:OP Jan. 6 21” along with Rhodes.
The title suggests the start of a plan – an operation – in Washington on the day that the 2020 Election results were scheduled to be certified by Congress. The photo used for the group chat was a picture of the U.S. Capitol.
Chats between members indicate that supporting Trump was paramount to the group.
In response to an Ulrich message about planned road closures in Washington on Jan. 6, another man indicted for seditious conspiracy wrote to him on Dec. 29 that “This ain’t a rah rah Trump crowd coming.”
On Dec. 31, Ulrich makes clear that he’s planning to be armed when he arrives in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. In a message to the “DC:OP” group he wrote: “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.” “I will be the guy running around with the ‘budget AR,’ ” he continued.
Ulrich drove to Washington on Jan. 4 as part of a two-car convoy with other members of the Oath Keepers. One of the vehicles had a stash of weapons, according to the plea deal. The weapons were stored at a Virginia hotel, while Ulrich and several other Oath Keepers stayed at the downtown Washington Mayflower Hotel.
On Jan. 6, 2021, Ulrich and his group were at the Mayflower shortly after 2 p.m. when they saw on television the growing ruckus at the U.S. Capitol. The group grabbed their gear and decided to take part in the melee, according to the plea deal. Ulrich wore a tactical vest, radio equipment, a body camera, goggles, a camouflage tactical backpack, a black neck gaiter and an Oath Keepers hat, according to the plea agreement.
He and several other Oath Keepers moved in military formation to breach the Capitol, even as outnumbered law enforcement officers were attempting to stop the breach of the building and force the angry mob of protesters away from the halls of Congress.
“In taking such actions, Ulrich intended to influence or affect the conduct of the United States government and to retaliate against the U.S. government. He accomplished this by intimidating and coercing government personnel who were participating in or supporting the Congressional proceeding,” the U.S. District Attorney’s office said.