Oath Keepers Repeatedly Spoke Of An Armed Backup Force For Capitol Attack, Feds Allege

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 05: A member of the right-wing group Oath Keepers stands guard during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building on January 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. Today's rally kicks off two day... WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 05: A member of the right-wing group Oath Keepers stands guard during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building on January 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. Today's rally kicks off two days of pro-Trump events fueled by President Trump's continued claims of election fraud and a last-ditch effort to overturn the results before Congress finalizes them on January 6. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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March 1, 2021 5:26 p.m.

As hundreds of Trump supporters attacked the nation’s legislature on Jan. 6, an armed “quick reaction force” was purportedly waiting nearby, ready for an order to join the fight, a federal prosecutor told a judge Friday.

Murmurs of a quick reaction force, or QRF, have come up in the court records of several members of the Oath Keepers militia that now face a federal indictment for allegedly conspiring to attack the Capitol.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta called allegations regarding the force “perhaps the most disturbing aspect” of the case before him. He ruled in those proceedings that Jessica Watkins, an Oath Keeper and one of the indicted alleged conspirators, be detained pending trial.

We don’t know much detail regarding the alleged QRF. During Watkins’ detention hearing Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ahmed Baset discussed the situation further with Judge Mehta in a private virtual conference.

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Most of what we do know comes from court documents pertaining to the multiple alleged Oath Keepers who participated in the events of Jan. 6. Repeatedly in those documents, prosecutors have quoted communications from the alleged Capitol attackers discussing a QRF amongst themselves.

‘Paul Will Have The Goodies’

According to prosecutors, alleged Capitol conspirator Tom Caldwell wrote about a QRF participant in a text message to Watkins on Dec. 30. The message was subsequently quoted in the federal indictment against several Oath Keepers.

“As we speak he is trying to book a room at Comfort Inn Ballston/Arlington because of its close-in location and easy access to downtown because he feels 1) he’s too broken down to be on the ground all day and 2) he is committed to being the quick reaction force anf [sic] bringing the tools if something goes to hell,” Caldwell allegedly wrote.

“That way the boys don’t have to try and schlep weps on the bus. He’ll bring them in his truck the day before,” Caldwell allegedly added, seemingly referring to weapons.

In an alleged Jan. 2 message to another indicted conspirator, Donovan Crowl, Caldwell referred to someone named “Paul” getting a room at the same hotel. “He will be the quick reaction force,” Caldwell allegedly wrote, adding later: “Paul will have the goodies in case things go bad and we need to get heavy.”

The following day, Jan. 3, Caldwell allegedly speculated to a contact in another militia movement about the possibility of having “a boat on a trailer that could handle a Potomac crossing?”

“If we had someone standing by at a dock ramp (one near the Pentagon for sure) we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms,” he allegedly wrote. “I’m not talking about a bass boat.”

Sam Jackson, an assistant professor at the University of Albany who recently published a book on the Oath Keepers, told TPM that Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes has long encouraged Oath Keepers to form local QRF teams.

“But the fact that there was talk of a QRF from people who showed up in person suggests to me that they knew that violence was possible, if not likely, and that they should have a plan for it,” Jackson said.

‘Heavy QRF 10 Min Out’

Watkins, the Oath Keeper who was ordered detained Friday, also made multiple references to QRFs, prosecutors have alleged.

On Jan. 3, for example, she allegedly wrote to fellow alleged indictee Bennie Parker about directives she’d received. “We are not bringing firearms,” Watkins wrote, according to court documents. “QRF will be our Law Enforcement members of Oathkeepers.” (Later, Watkins allegedly reversed course slightly: “Weapons are ok now as well,” she said. “Sorry for the confusion.”)

Yet another alleged conspirator, Kelly Meggs, wrote to another person on Facebook on Dec. 31, asking “You guys Gonna carry?” and then stating “Ok we aren’t either, we have heavy QRF 10 Min out though,” according to court records.

Watkins and Caldwell have both entered “not guilty” pleas, and both have unsuccessfully requested release from detention ahead of trial and submitted motions downplaying their actions before and on Jan. 6. Neither Meggs, Parker nor Crowl has entered a plea.

But the discussion of the QRF isn’t limited to alleged Capitol attackers.

On Jan. 4, an email from a man the feds identify as “Person One” allegedly informed recipients of the militia group’s plans for Jan. 5-6. (“Person One” has been widely identified as Rhodes, the Oath Keepers leader.)

“As we have done on all recent DC Ops, we will also have well armed and equipped QRF teams on standby, outside DC, in the event of a worst case scenario, where the President calls us up as part of the militia to to [sic] assist him inside DC,” Person One wrote, according to an FBI agents’ affidavit in a court filing for several alleged Oath Keepers conspirators.

Rhodes has a well-documented history of inflammatory messaging and puffery, and prosecutors have yet to show concrete evidence of the QRF they’ve discussed in court and in court filings. That ambiguity could prove an important factor in determining the extent of the alleged conspirators’ planning ahead of the Jan. 6 attack.

“As always,” Person 1 added in their Jan. 4 email, “while conducting security operations, we will have some of our men out in ‘grey man’ mode, without identifiable Oath Keepers gear on. For every Oath Keepers you see, there are at least two you don’t see.”

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