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Oath Keepers awaited ‘direction’ from Trump before engaging in Capital insurrection, prosecutors say

Febraury 15, 2021

Chilling new details emerged on February 11—the third day of the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump—about a plot by the Oath Keepers far-right militia group for an organized, weaponized, and adroit attack on the U.S. Capitol, The New York Times reports.

On Thursday, prosecutors outlined a brazen plan by group members to ferry “heavy weapons” in a boat across the Potomac River into Washington and to begin training sessions “for urban warfare, riot control and rescue operations” well before Election Day.

The new accounts about the Oath Keepers’ role in the Capitol assault included allegations that a member of the militia group was “awaiting direction” from Trump about how to handle the results of the vote in the days that followed the election. “POTUS has the right to activate units too,” the Oath Keepers member, Jessica M. Watkins, wrote in a text message to an associate on November 9, according to court papers. “If Trump asks me to come, I will.”

The Justice Department has brought charges against more than 200 people in the attack on the Capitol last month, but the case against Watkins and her two co-defendants, Thomas E. Caldwell and Donovan Crowl, is among the most serious to have emerged from the vast investigation.

Prosecutors say that the three Oath Keepers, who are facing conspiracy charges, appear to have worked with other far-right extremist groups and “began plotting to undo” the results of the election only days after it occurred.

Shortly after the three militia members were arrested last month, prosecutors said that they were some of the first rioters to have planned their part in the attack on the Capitol instead of merely storming the building spontaneously. Federal agents said that Caldwell, a 66-year-old former Navy officer, had advised his fellow militia members to stay at a particular Comfort Inn in the Washington suburbs, noting that it offered a good base to “hunt at night” — an apparent reference to chasing left-wing activists. Watkins, a 38-year-old bar owner from Ohio, apparently rented

In a pair of court papers filed on Thursday, prosecutors offered further evidence that the three Oath Keepers planned the attack, citing text messages reaching back to November. In one message from November 16, prosecutors say, Crowl told Caldwell, “War is on the horizon.” One week later, court papers say, Caldwell wrote Watkins saying he was “worried about the future of our country,” adding, “I believe we will have to get violent to stop this.”

Similar themes were also being struck around the same time by the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, who told the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on November 10 that he had men stationed outside Washington prepared to act at Trump’s command. At a rally in the city on December 12, Rhodes called on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, suggesting that a failure to do so would result in a “much more bloody war.”

Both court papers filed on Thursday referred to Rhodes’s role in stoking the rampage, suggesting that he too may be a focus of the federal investigation.

The Oath Keepers, who largely draw their membership from former law enforcement and military personnel, appear to have coordinated before the Capitol attack with other extremist groups, prosecutors say. According to the court papers, Caldwell sent a text to an associate just before Christmas, saying he was “expecting a big turnout of the Proud Boys,” the far-right nationalist organization, in Washington on January 6. More than a dozen members of the Proud Boys have been charged in connection with the riot at the Capitol, including a group from Kansas City charged on Thursday with breaching the building.

According to the Times report, five separate major cases have been filed against members of the Proud Boys in the past few weeks, but investigators are working toward putting together an overarching case that shows how several members of the group worked together in the days and weeks before the riot to plan to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College vote, according to an official familiar with the investigation.

Days before the riot, prosecutors say, Caldwell also reached out to a contact associated with another group, the Three Percenters, an extremist gun rights militia that takes its name from the supposed 3% of the U.S. colonial population that fought the British Army. In a text message, Caldwell suggested finding a boat that “could handle a Potomac crossing” and could carry a “Quick Response Team” with “heavy weapons” to militia members already at the Capitol.

Research contact: @nytimes