South Georgia man could testify in Oath Keepers trial

Brian Ulrich pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in April

The trial of five members of the Oath Keepers accused of planning an attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, may hinge on testimony of the militia group’s members who have pleaded guilty, including a Georgia man who plotted to bring firearms to the fight.

Brian Ulrich, a 44-year-old member of the Georgia chapter of the Oath Keepers, pleaded guilty in April to his involvement in the Jan. 6 attack and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The trial of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his codefendants, which began this week, is the highest-profile case in the U.S. Department of Justice’s sprawling investigation into Jan. 6.

Rhodes, who lives in Texas, and his co-defendants face some of the most serious charges of any of the nearly 900 people charged in the riot. Prosecutors allege the Oath Keepers planned their attack and came to Washington with the aim of overturning the 2020 presidential election.

The case may rest on whether the evidence, including insider testimony, convinces jurors of the intent of the group’s alleged plot. The prosecution has not published a witness list, but a motion filed last month indicated some insiders who have been working with the FBI may testify.

It’s likely one of those sources is Ulrich, who lives in Effingham County near Savannah.

Chat logs from the encrypted app Signal obtained as part of the FBI’s investigation portray Ulrich as an enthusiastic foot soldier, asking questions about weapons and making travel arrangements as the group planned to gather in Washington, D.C.

B.J. Pak, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said having the testimony of someone inside an alleged conspiracy is a valuable tool for a prosecutor.

“He may not have been the organizer or the leader of the organization,” Pak said. “But it’s always good to establish who was giving the orders, making the calls.”

The government’s case relies heavily on text from online chats, recordings of virtual meetings, and photos and video taken the day of the Jan. 6 attack. Pak said a cooperating witness can place that in context and clear up any confusing or obscure references, however some of Ulrich’s own messages seem fairly forthright.

“I seriously wonder what it would take just to get ever (sic) patriot marching around the capital (sic) armed! Just to show our government how powerless they are!” Ulrich wrote in a Dec. 5, 2020 message to the Signal chat called “Oath Keepers of Georgia.”

When another person on the chat mentioned that members had “too much to lose” to lead an armed resistance, Ulrich replied, “There’s nothing I own that’s destined to go with me into the next life.”

Later in the month, Ulrich wrote that “Civil War” may be needed to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president. “I made my peace with God before I joined,” he wrote. “And if there’s a Civil War then there’s a Civil War.”

Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor and a visiting law professor at Georgetown University, said testimony from Ulrich and other insiders may help prosecutors prove the conspiracy by showing how the Oath Keepers worked together toward a common goal.

“They have knowledge that you can’t necessarily get any other way,” she said. “Whether it’s a drug conspiracy or a white-collar conspiracy or a seditious conspiracy, the government is going to have to prove this agreement.”

An Arizona native, Ulrich moved to Georgia about seven years ago after spending more than a decade in the Wichita, Kan., area. Records indicate his rural home is outside of Guyton, a city of about 2,300 about 30 miles northwest of Savannah.

Despite having lived there for years, Ulrich didn’t come to the attention of local leaders until his August 2021 arrest made national news. He had never hit the radar of local authorities.

“We were like, ‘Well, we’ve got to know him,’” said Guyton Mayor Russ Dean. “And then it was like, ‘Who the heck is this guy?’”

A fundraising pitch on the conservative Christian site GiveSendGo written by Ulrich’s wife, Maria, describes him as “a proud father of 4 children” with no prior criminal convictions.

“We are a single income family with Brian being the sole provider for our entire marriage,” she wrote. “I have been a stay at home mom and have homeschooled our children.”

Unlike many fundraising pleas for Jan. 6 defendants, Maria Ulrich did not portray her husband as a “patriot” fighting against a shadow government. Instead, she wrote about the seriousness of the charges and the impact on her family.

“The prosecutors are looking to hit him with years in a federal prison knowing he didn’t hurt anyone or damage anything,” she wrote in a September 2021 post. “They want to portray him as a monster.”

In April, Ulrich pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding, both of which carry a possible 20-year prison sentence. His cooperation in the federal investigation should significantly shorten his sentence.

Court documents indicate Brian Ulrich had access to high-level planning conversations with Oath Keepers in Georgia and other states leading up to Jan. 6.

In online chats, the Oath Keepers allegedly used call signs like “Turmoil” and “Hydro” to identify themselves. According to court records, Ulrich used the call sign “Molon Labe,” an ancient Greek phrase meaning “come and take it” popular among many in the far right convinced the government wants to confiscate their weapons. Other times he was “Bilbo Baggins,” a reference to the hobbit in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels.

On Dec. 14, Rhodes, who was part of that same chat with Georgia Oath Keepers, warned of a “bloody revolution” if Biden was inaugurated.

Replying to Rhodes, Ulrich wrote about “uniting the clans,” an apparent reference to coordinating the loosely knit chapters of the Oath Keepers across the country. “Good topic for a phone call,” Rhodes replied.

As the year ended, Ulrich was ready to make good on his promise to bring weapons to the rally.

“Somebody 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,” he wrote. “I will be the guy running around with the ‘budget AR (assault rifle).’”

Credit: Effingham County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Effingham County Sheriff's Office

According to a statement accompanying the guilty plea of Joshua James, a 33-year-old military veteran and head of the Alabama chapter of the Oath Keepers, Ulrich reached out to James for guidance days before the riot.

“Hey we told (sic) to bring guns and maybe stage them in VA?” he wrote in a message to James on Jan. 1, 2021. “Are we to bring guns or no if so how will that work?”

Pak said the problem with cooperating witnesses like Ulrich is they are admitted criminals.

“You are using a conspirator as a witness, so their credibility is always going to be questioned,” he said. “If we could put priests and angels on the stand, we would.”

McCord said whether prosecutors decide to call Ulrich and other Oath Keepers who have already pleaded guilty will depend on a variety of factors, including whether they sound credible. Such testimony should complement the evidence and reinforce it in the minds of jurors, she said.

“You would never want to try a case like this just on cooperators,” she said.

One problem with proving conspiracy may lie in the structure of the Oath Keepers. Matt Kriner, a senior researcher at Middlebury College’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, said the Oath Keepers’ command structure is intentionally loose to foil attempts to charge them with racketeering or conspiracy.

“These groups understand that the federal government has the ability to roll up with either RICO or larger conspiracy charges against militia organizations,” Kriner said.

But for Jan. 6, Kriner said the evidence so far suggests Rhodes allegedly mobilized “a dedicated core of individuals” under his command. “And the factions stepped up and said, ‘We want to be involved too,’” he said.

That’s where Ulrich and several others appear to have come in. According to his guilty plea, on Jan. 6, Ulrich and others made their way to the Capitol from the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in golf carts, weaving around police vehicles and barricades. Once there, a group of Oath Keepers wearing army-style fatigues marched inside in a military “stack formation.” Ulrich entered the building later, meeting up with other Oath Keepers before leaving to meet Rhodes outside, according to court records.

Kriner said historically the government has struggled with charging domestic extremist groups with sedition.

“I think the case here is a little bit more clear cut,” he said. “We have a lot more evidence, we have technology on our side this time to show that there are some pretty clear conversations here.”

The trial began with opening statements Monday and is expected to last at least through the end of the month.


Our Reporting

AJC investigative reporter Chris Joyner has spent the past seven years reporting on extremists and fringe groups from across the political spectrum. Since Jan. 6, 2021, Joyner has followed the cases of the more than two dozen individuals charged with various crimes associated with the U.S. Capitol attack and their association with extreme ideologies and groups.