New federal charges against three militia members shed some light on the role that the Oath Keepers and other organized anti-government groups played in the attack on the Capitol earlier this month.
In this case, the group’s alleged planning played out before a camera lens. Footage of the group operating as a squad, cited separately in FBI agents’ affidavits regarding Oath Keepers members Thomas Edward Caldwell, Jessica Marie Watkins and Donovan Ray Crowl, shows them snaking their way to the Capitol doors.
According to an amended criminal complaint filed Monday, the trio now faces charges of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to impede or injure officers of the United States from discharging their duties, destruction of government property, obstruction of an official proceeding, entry into a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. All three were in government custody as of Tuesday.
“These individuals, who are wearing helmets, reinforced vests, and clothing with Oath Keepers 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,” an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit in support of Caldwell’s charges, describing the video.
According to an affidavit in support of the amended complaint, a search of Watkins’ home Saturday turned up what “appears to be direction for making explosives” with bleach.
Watkins and Crowl were all members of a local “dues-paying subset of the Oath Keepers” called the Ohio State Regular Militia, according to the FBI affidavits, and Caldwell, a Virginia resident who allegedly worked closely with them, “appears to have a leadership role within the Oath Keepers,” the FBI alleged.
The crew didn’t try very hard to keep this information a secret: Watkins’ boasts on the social media site Parler about “forcing entry into the Capitol Building” are cited in court documents, and both she and Crowl acknowledged to media outlets that they were in the Capitol. During the attack, Watkins’ and other militia members’ chatter on the walkie talkie app Zello was open for the public to hear if they could find the feed — and two reporters did.
Nevertheless, the court documents reveal troubling new details. Caldwell, for example, sent information on a potential hotel reservation ahead of the attack in a Facebook message that was quoted by the FBI. In it, he notes: “This is a good location and would allow us to hunt at night if we wanted to.”
In another Facebook message after the Capitol had been breached, Caldwell allegedly celebrated the attack and mused about bringing the fun home.
“Us storming the castle. Please share. Sharon was right with me! I am such an instigator! She was ready for it man! Didn’t even mind the tear gas,” he allegedly said after sharing what appeared to be video of the attack, adding: “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.”
“We need to do this at the local level,” he then wrote, according to the affidavit. “Lets [sic] storm the Capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”
As a national organization, the Oath Keepers’ actions are diffuse and difficult to forecast. Members frequently affiliate with local organizations, and the proclamations of founder Stewart Rhodes are often little more than empty talk. That was the prevailing sentiment in late October, when Rhodes appeared on the conspiracy theory network InfoWars and said Oath Keepers forces were ready to protect the President against those disloyal to him. He compared the situation to the Civil War, in which sitting politicians “are part of the enemy’s ranks.”
By midday Jan. 1, as he allegedly prepared for the Capitol attack, Caldwell was unsatisfied with Rhodes’ orders.
“I don’t know if Stewie has even gotten out his call to arms but it’s a little friggin late,” he allegedly wrote in a Facebook message. “This is one we are doing on our own.”
Crowl wrote back a few hours later to wish Caldwell a happy new year.
“Guess I’ll be seeing you soon,” he allegedly wrote. “Will probably call you tomorrow…mainly because…I like to know wtf plan is. You are the man Commander.”
This post has been updated to reflect the amended criminal complaint against Caldwell, Crowl and Watkins.