Posts tagged with "Oath Keepers"

Missing in action: The baffling disappearance of the go-to lawyer for Capitol riot defendants

September 1, 2021

The mysterious disappearance of the lawyer, John Pierce, began on last Tuesday, August 24, prosecutors say, when he missed a hearing for one of the many cases in which he is representing a defendant in the Capitol riot investigation. The young associate who took his place said that Pierce had a “conflict.” At the time, no one seemed to give it much mind, according to a report by The New York Times.

But in the days that followed, Pierce—who is defending more cases connected to the riot than any other lawyer nationwide—missed additional hearings, and the details of his decampment started changing.

On Wednesday, his associate told a judge in one case that Pierce had gotten COVID-19 and was in the hospital on a ventilator—but only after telling a prosecutor in another case that Pierce had been in a car accident. That same evening, a different associate told a reporter that Pierce had, in fact, been hospitalized, but was getting care for “dehydration and exhaustion.”

Finally, on Monday, August 30—after Pierce had still failed to reappear—the government got involved. Federal prosecutors issued letters to several judges in 17 Capitol riot cases, informing them that no one in the Justice Department had heard from Pierce in a week and that “multiple” phone numbers for his law firm appeared to have been disconnected.

His criminal cases had come to a “standstill,” the prosecutors said, endangering the rights of his clients. If Pierce did not surface soon, they added, somethin —although it was not clear what—would have to be done.

The New York Times tried to reach Mr. Pierce several times by text and phone in recent days, but he did not respond.

Pierce’s unexplained absence was the only latest twist in his outsized role in defending those accused of participating in the Capitol attack. His clients — among them members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers militia — have stood out not only for their number, but also for the scorched-earth battle that he has vowed to wage on their behalf.

A self-described pro-Trump populist, Pierce has promised, for example, to force the government to give him video footage of the Capitol for several days before and after January 6, and has said he will demand information about every police officer working at the building that day. He also has vowed to subpoena hostile witnesses such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi—ostensibly to learn what she may have known about security at the Capitol before the attack.

Without citing evidence, Pierce has said he intends to implicate the F.B.I. and the intelligence community by showing that the riot was something like a grand act of entrapment or an inside job. He has often talked about his cases with a conspiratorial zeal, painting himself as something like a lonely legal warrior out to save his clients from an overreaching government.

“I’m like Gerard Butler in ‘300,’” Pierce said in an interview before dropping out of sight, comparing himself to the action star who played a Spartan king. “I’m in the hot gates at Thermopylae, holding the pass against the million-man Persian army.”

While the government has not yet weighed in on the merits on his claims, prosecutors did express concern in their letters filed on Monday about the young associate, Ryan Joseph Marshall, who has been standing in for Pierce at the hearings he has missed.

For one thing, Marshall is not a licensed lawyer, prosecutors said, and has taken actions on behalf of clients “that he is not permitted” to take. Moreover, they went on, it remains unclear if and when Marshall will be able to get his law license—given that he is under indictment in two criminal cases accusing him of corruption, theft and fraud in Pennsylvania.

Pierce’s situation is not his first encounter with personal and professional setbacks. Last year, his law firm nearly collapsed in a swirl of debts and resignations. Then his most prominent client, Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man charged with murder at a racial justice protest in Wisconsin last year, fired him in a highly public spat that included allegations that a charity arranged for the defense had engaged in financial improprieties.

His work in the Capitol cases began just after the attack when he took several members of the far-right nationalist group, the Proud Boys, as clients. He also has been hired by L. Brent Bozell IV, the son of a prominent conservative commentator, as well as by a Florida pastor and a Minnesota pub worker.

In recent weeks, however, at least two clients have fired Pierce, complaining that he seemed unresponsive and appeared at times to be unversed in the details of their cases. Last week, the wife of yet another client, Kenneth Harrelson, a member of the Oath Keepers from Florida, sent a letter to her friends and associates, complaining that her husband was having “issues” getting Mr. Pierce “to do his job.”

Such complaints have come atop concerns that the sheer number of Pierce’s clients has exposed him to accusations of conflict of interest. He is, for example, representing both James Cusick Jr., the Florida pastor; as well as Cusick’s son Case. Both are charged with breaching the Capitol with another of his clients, David J. Lesperance, a member of the Cusicks’ church.

In a separate case, Mr. Pierce has been hired by another father-and-son pair, Kevin and Nathaniel Tuck, two former Florida police officers who have been charged in an indictment with a Florida Proud Boy he also represents.

However, all of that only can only come to pass if he returns to court—and the government seems worried that might never happen.

“Unfortunately, it seems that Mr. Pierce may be hospitalized and unable to communicate,” prosecutors wrote on Monday, “and it is unclear when Mr. Pierce will recover.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Study: Fears of ‘White people losing out’ permeate Capitol rioters’ towns

January 7, 2021

Most Americans take the Capitol rioters at their word—accepting that their motive for breaching the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was to stop the Congress from verifying the election of Democratic President Joe Biden.

However, The New York Times reports, when the political scientist Robert Pape of The University of Chicago began studying the issues that motivated the 380 or so people arrested in connection with the attack against the Capitol, he found something very different: Most of the people who took part in the assault came from places, his polling and demographic data showed, that—goaded by then-President Trump– were awash in fears that the rights of minorities and immigrants were crowding out the rights of white people in American politics and culture.

Indeed, if Pape’s initial conclusions— published on Tuesday in The Washington Post—hold true, they would appear to connect the January 6 insurrrection  to the once-fringe right-wing theory called the Great Replacement— that an indigenous European (e.g., White) population is being replaced by non-European immigrants.

What’s more Pape’s conclusions appear to link the January 6 riot to events like the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 where crowds of white men marched with torches chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”

“If you look back in history, there has always been a series of far-right extremist movements responding to new waves of immigration to the United States or to movements for civil rights by minority groups,” Pape told the Post, adding,  “You see a common pattern in the Capitol insurrectionists. They are mainly middle-class to upper-middle-class whites who are worried that, as social changes occur around them, they will see a decline in their status in the future.”

One fact stood out in Pape’s study, conducted with the help of researchers at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats—a think tank he runs at the University of Chicago. Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic white population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists. This finding held true, Pape determined, even when controlling for population size, distance to Washington, unemployment rate, and urban or rural location.

Law enforcement officials have said that between 800 and 1,000 people entered the Capitol on January 6—and prosecutors have spent the past three months tracking down many of them in what they have described as one of the largest criminal investigations in U.S. history. In recent court filings, the government has hinted that more than 400 people may ultimately face charges, including illegal entry, assault of police officers and the obstruction of the official business of Congress.

According to the report by the Times. Pape determined that only about 10% percent of those charged were members of established far-right organizations like the Oath Keepers militia or the nationalist extremist group the Proud Boys. But unlike other analysts who have made similar findings,

In an effort to determine why the mob that formed on January 6 turned violent, Pape compared events that day with two previous pro-Trump rallies in Washington, on November 14 and December 12. While police records show some indications of street fighting after the first two gatherings, Pape said, the number of arrests were fewer and the charges less serious than on January 6. The records also show that those arrested in November and December largely lived within an hour of Washington while most of those arrested in January came from considerably farther away.

The difference at the rallies was former President Donald Trump, Pape said—noting that Trump promoted the January 6 rally in advance, saying it would be “wild” and driving up attendance. He then encouraged the mob to march on the Capitol in an effort to “show strength

Pape said he worried that a similar mob could be summoned again by a leader like Trump. After all, he suggested, as the country continues moving toward becoming a majority-minority nation and right-wing media outlets continue to stoke fear about the Great Replacement, the racial and cultural anxieties that lay beneath the riot at the Capitol are not going away.

“If all of this is really rooted in the politics of social change, then we have to realize that it’s not going to be solved—or solved alone—by law enforcement agencies,” Pape said. “This is political violence, not just ordinary criminal violence, and it is going to require both additional information and a strategic approach.”

 “We really still are at the beginning stages,” he said.

Research contact: @nytimes

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