Oath Keeper leader charged with conspiracy for role in Capitol siege

Oath Keeper leader charged with conspiracy for role in Capitol siege

A man the Justice Department says is a leader in the right-wing militia-type group known as the Oath Keepers was accused of “conspiracy” and other crimes in connection to the siege of Congress this month.

Thomas Edward Caldwell, a 65-year-old Virginian whom an FBI special agent said “appears to have a leadership role” within Oath Keepers, was arrested Tuesday. A Justice Department criminal affidavit said there was probable cause to believe he “knowingly and willfully entered into a conspiracy” to violate a number of federal laws, illegally entered the restricted Capitol grounds, sought to corruptly impede a congressional proceeding, engaged in disorderly conduct at the Capitol, and was “aiding and abetting the commission of these offenses against the United States.”

U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin, the top federal prosecutor in the nation’s capital, has said a specialized strike force was looking into possible sedition and conspiracy charges tied to the Capitol siege.

The FBI special agent noted that “members of a paramilitary organization known as the Oath Keepers were among the individuals and groups” who breached the Capitol, and he said the Oath Keepers “are a large but loosely organized collection of militia who believe that the federal government has been coopted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” The bureau agent noted that “what differentiates them from other anti-government groups is their explicit focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first responder personnel.”

The 15-page criminal affidavit against Caldwell noted video footage “shows 8 to 10 individuals in paramilitary equipment aggressively approaching an entrance to the Capitol building.” The FBI special agent said that “these individuals, who are wearing helmets, reinforced vests, and clothing with Oath Keeper paraphernalia, move in an organized and practiced fashion, and force their way to the front of the crowd gathered around a door to the U.S. Capitol.”

Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old Army veteran and a founding member of the Ohio State Regular Militia, was arrested Monday. The Justice Department said she entered the Capitol unlawfully, engaged in violent entry or disorderly conduct, and attempted to obstruct Congress. Donovan Crowl, 50, another member of the Ohio militia group who previously served as a Marine, was arrested along with Watkins and charged with the same crimes.

The criminal affidavit argued that “records obtained from Facebook indicate that Caldwell was involved in planning and coordinating the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol in which Watkins, Crowl, and other Oath Keeper military members participated.”

A Facebook message from Caldwell on Jan. 1 referenced a “Stewie” whom the FBI believes to be Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Caldwell provided recommendations on hotel rooms in the Northern Virginia area, saying Oath Keepers should show up the day before Jan. 6 and leave the day after, writing that “this time of year especially you will need to be indoors to set up” and that “this is a good location and would allow us to hunt at night if we wanted to.” He added that “we will link up with the North Carolina crew.” The FBI said a hotel room was rented under “Jessica Wagkins.”

The affidavit said Crowl sent a Facebook message to Caldwell on Jan. 1, stating, “Guess I’ll be seeing you soon. Will probably call you tomorrow … mainly because … I like to know wtf plan is. You are the man Commander.”

The bureau said on Jan. 6, Caldwell sent a Facebook message video taken from inside the Capitol building and a message stating, “Us storming the castle. Please share. Sharon was right with me! I am such an instigator!” He also said: “Proud Boys scuffled with cops and drove them inside to hide. Breached the doors. One guy made it all the way to the House floor, another to Pelosi’s office. A good time.” And Caldwell also argued, “We need to do this at the local level. Let’s storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”

The FBI special agent noted that Watkins’s Parler page said she is a “C.O. [commanding officer] of the Ohio State Regular Militia,” which the bureau agent said “is a dues-paying subset of the Oath Keepers.” Watkins posted a photo of herself captioned “me before forcing entry into the Capitol Building” and a video claiming, “We stormed the Capitol today. Teargassed, the whole 9. Pushed our way into the Routnda. Made it into the Senate even.” In another Parler post, she said others “forced” their way in “like rugby.”

The bureau agent wrote that “Watkins’ own description of her conduct — including that she ‘stormed’ the Capitol and ‘pushed’ her way into the Rotunda — as well as her use of the hashtags ‘#stopthesteal’ and ‘#stormthecapitol’ demonstrate Watkins’, as well as other known and unknown Oath Keeper conspirators’, intent to forcibly enter the U.S. Capitol to obstruct the proceedings there.”

The bureau affidavit noted that “among Watkins’ known conspirators” is Crowl. In an interview with the New Yorker last week, Crowl claimed he went to the nation’s capital to “do security” for unnamed “V.I.P.s” and said that “we protected the fucking Capitol Hill police.”

Dozens who participated in the chaos and violence at Capitol have been arrested and charged with federal crimes.

Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died on Jan. 7 “due to injuries sustained while on-duty” after he was “injured while physically engaging with protesters,” according to Capitol Police. Among the others who died amid the mayhem was Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran and Trump supporter who was fatally shot by an officer while trying to climb through a broken window as a crowd tried to break down a barricaded door in the Capitol.

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