DOJ: Oath Keepers members waited on Trump signal before Capitol siege

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An alleged member of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia group, was waiting for a signal from former President Donald Trump to attack the U.S. Capitol last month, according to the Justice Department.

Prosecutors explored the motivations of Jessica Watkins, Thomas Edward Caldwell, and Donovan Crowl, who were arrested and charged in connection to the Jan. 6 riot, as lawmakers sought to affirm President Biden’s victory, making the case that the trio should remain in jail as they await trial. A filing Thursday by Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the nation’s capital, zeroed in on Watkins, an Ohio bartender and leader of the anti-government militia group.

“As the inauguration grew nearer, Watkins indicated that she was awaiting direction from President Trump,” the Justice Department said, adding, “her concern about taking action without his backing was evident.” She sent a Nov. 9 text, saying, “I am concerned this is an elaborate trap. Unless the POTUS himself activates us, it’s not legit. The POTUS has the right to activate units too. If Trump asks me to come, I will.” Prosecutors said Watkins “had perceived her desired signal by the end of December” and pointed to a text where she said, “We plan on going to DC on the 6th … Trump wants all able bodied Patriots to come … If Trump activates the Insurrection Act, I’d hate to miss it.”

The filing echoes the argument being made by House impeachment managers in trying to convince the Senate to convict Trump on a single article of impeachment of incitement of insurrection in connection to the siege of Congress. Democrats say the Capitol invaders were acting on “the president’s orders” to stop Biden from becoming president. Trump has called the impeachment a “hoax,” and his defense lawyers are expected to present their case on Friday.

Watkins, a 38-year-old Army veteran and a founding member of the Ohio State Regular Militia, was charged with entering the Capitol unlawfully, engaging in violent entry or disorderly conduct, and attempting to obstruct Congress. Caldwell, a 65-year-old Virginian and leader within Oath Keepers, was charged with a “conspiracy” to violate a number of federal laws, entering restricted Capitol grounds, impeding a congressional proceeding, disorderly conduct, and “aiding and abetting the commission of these offenses.” Crowl, 50, another member of the Ohio militia group who previously served as a Marine, was arrested with Watkins and charged with the same crimes.

The Justice Department noted the head of the Oath Keepers issued a Jan. 4 call for action, saying, “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… We Oath Keepers are both honor-bound and eager to be there in strength to do our part.” This national leader is known as “Person One” but is identifiable as founder Stewart Rhodes. The FBI noted 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.”

Prosecutors said Caldwell helped organize an Oath Keepers presence at the “Million MAGA March” on Nov. 14. Crowl sent Caldwell a text on Nov. 16, saying, “War is on the Horizon.” Caldwell responded the next day, saying, “I think there will be real violence for all of us next time.” “I’m sure you have seen enough to know I am already working on the next D.C. op,” he said, adding, “we either WILL have a country and we’ll be battling antifa-like bugs to keep it.”

Shortly before the day of the Capitol riot, Caldwell referenced “a quick reaction force bringing the tools if something goes to hell” in a message to Watkins, who prosecutors said explained the purpose of a “QRF” in November. “If it gets bad, they QRF to us with weapons for us … Be prepared to fight hand to hand… Guys outside DC with guns, await orders to enter DC under permission from Trump, not a minute sooner,” Caldwell said.

DOJ filings explain the role played by Oath Keepers such as Watkins and Crowl in the Capitol siege, saying that “a troop of camouflaged-clad individuals, many of whom were also wearing combat boots, military grade helmets, and tactical vests emblazoned with Oath Keepers patches, began to assertively and methodically make their way through the crowd and up the steps” of the Capitol. “The crowd engaged in several rounds of tug of war with law enforcement, yanking open the doors, only to have law enforcement pull them shut again, until finally breaking through,” the Justice Department said.

An FBI search of Watkins’s home “located protective equipment and battle gear,” along with firearms, zip/cable ties, and “a recipe for making a destructive device.” A search of Caldwell’s home unearthed a document entitled “Death List,” which prosecutors said had the name of an election official from another state handwritten on it. Investigators also said they found “what appears to be a concealed firearm intentionally built to look like a cell phone.”

Caldwell texted someone saved in his phone as “Oath” on Dec. 5, stating, “Ranger made me think … that maybe I should be planning a MUCH bigger op, for like when we have to roll into town to actually save the Republic.” Caldwell wrote on Facebook on Dec. 30, “THIS IS OUR CALL TO ACTION, FREINDS!” The next day he wrote, “Let them try to certify some crud on capitol hill with a million or more patriots in the streets.” Caldwell wrote on New Year’s Day that enemies had “morphed into pure evil even blatantly rigging an election,” and so “we must smite them now and drive them down.”

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

U.S. 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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