On Jan. 5, Roberto Minuta packed up his “battle gear” — which included tactical gloves, ballistic goggles, bear spray and a radio with an earpiece, according to court records. He then jumped in his car, drove down from his Hackettstown home to Washington D.C. and checked into the Hilton Garden Inn in Vienna, Virginia, where he stayed with Stewart Rhodes, founder and leader of the notorious Oath Keepers militia group.
The next morning, Minuta and five fellow Oath Keepers would provide security for Roger Stone, the notorious political dirty trickster who had been agitating on behalf of former President Trump to overturn the election of President Biden in November. Later that day, Minuta and his fellow bodyguards would change into combat uniforms and storm the U.S. Capitol, where a joint session of Congress was underway to certify Biden’s election, according to the March federal indictment against Minuta.
Since the attack, the Oath Keepers have emerged as a major target of the massive FBI investigation into the Jan 6 violent assault on the Capitol. And Minuta appears to be central in that investigation. In two superseding indictments — filed on April 1 and May 30 — Minuta is now accused of participating in a wide-ranging conspiracy and execution of a tactical operation on Jan. 6.
The alleged conspiracy involved recruiting and coordinating with other Oath Keepers, training them in paramilitary combat tactics and loading up on paramilitary gear, supplies and weapons — including firearms, bulletproof vests and radio equipment, according to court filings.
What court filings allege
The number of Oath Keepers charged with conspiracy has grown from three to 16, and adds further potential exposure to Minuta, the 36-year-old tattoo artist, anti-vaxxer and dedicated Oath Keeper, who now resides in Texas. The court filings suggest he played a key role in the conspiracy, according to the indictments, which show him to have been in close contact with Rhodes during the Jan. 6 operation. Rhodes, who once worked as a congressional staffer for former libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, has not been charged, but is under investigation for his role in the assault.
An attorney for Minuta did not respond to a request for comment.
One of the defendants, Grayson Young of Florida, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to conspiracy and obstruction charges. As part of the plea deal, he has promised to cooperate with investigators. Young was one in a widely publicized “stack” of Oath Keepers, who marched single-file, hand-to-shoulder, up the Capitol steps to engage with police guarding the entrance.
Young is the second Oath Keeper to flip. In April, Jon Schaffer, 53, a heavy metal guitarist and lifetime founding member from Indiana, pleaded guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding, and entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon. He too promised to cooperate with federal authorities.
The Oath Keepers, founded by Rhodes in 2009, is considered the most high-profile self-styled militia group in the country, a loosely knit collection of local chapters that promote disinformation-fueled ideology about their belief in the inevitable collapse of the U.S. government. To that end, the group recruits military and law enforcement personnel to become “patriots” in their perceived civil war, which Rhodes predicted would erupt after last year’s election.
Charges against other New Jerseyans
Another Oath Keeper, James Breheny from Little Ferry, the Bergen County coordinator for the New Jersey chapter, was arrested last month and charged in a separate indictment with violent entry into the Capitol and several related crimes. At least 17 New Jersey residents have been indicted on various charges related to the events at the Capitol.
On Jan. 3, Breheny reportedly hosted a leadership meeting in Pennsylvania of “multiple patriot groups” to prepare for a rally three days later in Washington. “This will be the day we get our comms on point with multiple other patriot groups, share rally points etc.,” Breheny said, according to the criminal complaint. “This one is important and I believe this is our last chance to organize before the show. This meeting will be for leaders only.”
In 2016, the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security and Preparedness classified the Oath Keepers as an extremist militia group, “actively recruiting in New Jersey” since 2012. The New Jersey Oath Keepers’ website lists coordinators in six counties, including Burlington and Cape May.
Federal authorities have also targeted the Proud Boys, another violent, far-right group, and charged 20 members or associates in the Capitol attack, accusing them of coordinating the most aggressive attacks on police to break into the building.
Court documents also allege Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys worked together in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection. On Dec. 19, for example, as cited in the court documents, one of Minuta’s co-defendants, Kelly Meggs of Florida posted this on Facebook: “This week I organized an alliance between Oath Keepers, Florida 3%ers and Proud Boys. We have decided to work together and shut this (expletive) down.” Prosecutors allege even more Facebook conversations in which Meggs discusses tactical planning between Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
The escalating criminal investigation provides an extremely limited substitute for a bipartisan investigation, a la the 9/11 Commission, into the causes and lessons of Jan. 6, which has been pushed by congressional Democrats and scuttled by their Republican counterparts.
Defied pandemic restrictions
Minuta’s relationship with the Oath Keepers and Stewart dates to at least last spring, when Minuta became a cause celebre when he reopened his Newburgh, New York tattoo shop in defiance of pandemic restrictions. That prompted Rhodes to name him “a lifetime Oath Keeper,” prosecutors said. Later, Minuta would personally etch a tattoo on Stewart’s wrist with the words, “We the People.”
On Jan. 4, Stewart issued a call to arms, posting on the Oath Keepers’ website, according to court documents:
“It is CRITICAL that all patriots who can be in DC get to DC to stand tall in support of President Trump’s fight to defeat the enemies foreign and domestic who are attempting a coup, through the massive vote fraud and related attacks on our Republic…
“As we have done on all recent DC Ops, we will also have well armed and equipped (Quick Reaction Force) teams on standby, outside DC, in the event of a worst case scenario, where the President calls us up as part of the militia to assist him inside DC…
“We’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country. Because if you don’t guys, you’re going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody — you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or fight…
“We want him to declare an insurrection, and to call us up as the militia.”
More details of that day
This is how the Jan. 6 insurrection played out for Minuta, according to the May 31 indictment:
After his executive protection assignment with Roger Stone, Minuta changed into his paramilitary gear, which included bear spray. As a crowd of Trump supporters first surged through police barricades onto Capitol grounds, he placed a call to Rhodes at 12:58 p.m., which lasted a little over a minute. At 1:02 p.m., Rhodes returned Minuta’s call, which lasted approximately one minute 48 seconds. Then, around 1:40 p.m. Rhodes sent a message to the Leadership Signal Chat, saying, “All I see is Trump complaining. I don’t see him doing anything. So the Patriots are taking it into their own hands they’ve had enough.”
Between 2:30 p.m. and 2:33 p.m., Minuta, alleged fellow conspirator Joshua James and others sped to the Capitol in a pair of golf carts, “at times swerving around law enforcement vehicles, with Minuta stating ‘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 golf cart to the Capitol building right now… it’s going down, guys; its literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building… f—-ing war in the streets right now… word is they got in the building … let’s go.’”
Once they arrived, Minuta berated and taunted law enforcement officers guarding the perimeter of the Capitol. The two men entered the Capitol at 3:15 p.m. Once inside, Minuta and James pushed their way toward the Rotunda past Capitol police officers. At 3:17 p.m., when the two men reached the Rotunda, Minuta recorded the events with a camera, and yelled, “This is what’s bound to happen, just get out! Get out! Get these cops out! It’s our f–ing building! Get ‘em out, get out!” At 3:19 p.m., while exiting the building, Minuta held up two fingers and yelled at a law enforcement officer, among other things, “All that’s left is the Second Amendment!”
At 4 p.m., Minuta and Rhodes exchanged phone calls.
Security for right-wing VIPS
According to the new court filings, Minuta and James, from Alabama, had met before, and Minuta had a history of providing security for high-profile right-wing VIPs.
The two men, in fact, had been in contact throughout November and December. For example, they exchanged approximately eight phone calls on Nov. 13 and 14, 2020. On Nov. 14, Minuta operated as a personal security detail for Alex Jones, the incendiary right-wing radio host, at a MAGA rally in Washington.
On Nov. 20 and Dec. 11, Minuta and James exchanged two phone calls. On Dec. 12, Minuta marched alongside former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn when he attended a similar march in Washington.
Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that the Department of Justice and FBI had launched a probe into whether high-profile right-wing figures like Jones and Stone played a role in the Capitol breach on Jan. 6.
Minuta was released on bail in March. On April 15, he visited his tattoo parlor in New York, which had been vandalized. There he filmed a Facebook video in which he said, “I’m praying for all of you that have such hate in your hearts that you find it necessary to try and destroy an already broken man.”