Multiple affiliates of the Oath Keepers, and multiple cases that appeared to contain firearms, made the trip to a Virginia hotel in advance of the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday.
And these people, and suspected weapons, were ready to swoop into D.C. “at a moment’s notice” during the attack on the Capitol, he said.
The details about the purported “quick reaction force” set up in a hotel in Arlington, Virginia were the most extensive that federal prosecutors have revealed to date about their knowledge of an alleged force ready and waiting to join the Capitol attack.
The description came during a hearing for one Oath Keeper, Kenneth Harrelson, who’s been indicted alongside several others with conspiring to interrupt Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, among other charges. In a court filing earlier this week, the government noted that surveillance footage from the Comfort Inn in Ballston showed Harrelson picking up what appeared to be a rifle case from a hotel room there on Jan. 7.
On Wednesday, assistant U.S. attorney Jeffrey Nestler said “additional surveillance video from the Comfort Inn shows not just Mr. Harrelson, but other individuals who were affiliated with the Oath Keepers, including Person Three and others, carrying up and down from the lobby and back, multiple different items that look similar to this — large carrying cases that appear to be consistent with rifle cases.”
Person Three is the label that prosecutors have used for someone who allegedly booked a room in the Comfort Inn, and, according to an alleged Dec. 30 message from co-defendant Thomas Caldwell, was “committed to being the quick reaction force anf [sic] bringing the tools if something goes to hell.”
Also on the surveillance footage, Nesler said, was an individual who appeared to carry a rifle draped under a sheet, or a piece of linen.
Most notably, Nestler alleged that “Mr. Harrelson and others had stashed a large among of weapons there, and that people who were affiliated with this group were at the Comfort inn in Ballston on Jan. 6, monitoring what was happening at the Capitol, communicating with other members of the team, including Mr. Harrelson on the Signal chats, and prepared to come into DC and ferry these weapons in to the ground team, which Mr. Harrelson was running, at a moment’s notice if anyone said the word.”
Harrelson’s lawyer on Wednesday attempted to distance himself from the other Oath Keepers involved in the attack, saying there was no evidence that he was a leader in the group, despite his place near the front of a “stack” formation that breached the Capitol.
And in a filing entered prior to Wednesday’s hearing, Harrelson’s attorneys asserted that “there is no evidence that an actual ‘Quick Reaction Force’ even existed, or that Mr. Harrelson (or any of his co-defendants) ever possessed a firearm while in Washington, D,C., [sic] and no evidence that this supposed ‘QRF’ was ever called to provide backup or bring guns into the District.”
But Judge Amit P. Mehta, who ultimately decided that Harrelson would stay behind bars pending trial, cited the government’s details about the QRF among other reasons that he didn’t think it was possible to release the defendant from jail. He said prosecutors had presented a “strong inference” that Harrelson brought weapons to the QRF location at the Ballston hotel.
“This is the strongest evidence the government has presented that there in fact was a quick reaction force set up outside the District of Columbia, a location of the Quick Reaction Force, and that members of this conspiracy actually contributed weapons to this Quick Reaction Force,” Mehta added later, referring to his time hearing several different cases involving the alleged Oath Keepers conspiracy.
“That is a sign and evidence — strong evidence — of future dangerousness. It indicates a willingness to join with others to bring weapons into the mix in the event that they become necessary.”
“For reasons that are unclear, thankfully, they were not used on Jan. 6,” Mehta said. “But they nevertheless show the degree of planning, preparation and sophistication of having these Quick Reaction Forces available in the event that there is violence. It’s something that projects into the future.”