First Capitol riot conspiracy charge filed against alleged Oath Keepers leader

The first conspiracy charge has been filed by authorities investigating the Capitol riots, against an apparent leader of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers.

Thomas Edward Caldwell, 65, from Clarke County, Va., faces four federal charges, including conspiracy to commit an offense and obstruction of an official proceeding at the Capitol, according to court documents signed by a judge on Sunday.

The charges related to Caldwell's alleged involvement in the Capitol riots on Jan. 6 and his suggestion to do the same at state capitols. 

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The FBI said Caldwell “appears to have a leadership role with the Oath Keepers,” a “large but loosely organized collection of militia” whose members think the federal government has been overtaken by a “shadow conspiracy,” according to a charging affidavit.

Law enforcement concluded Caldwell was an apparent Oath Keepers leader based on communications between him and “other known and unknown Oath Keepers members.”

The document accuses Caldwell of helping organize a group of eight to 10 people, who were seen on video footage wearing military gear and Oath Keeper paraphernalia “aggressively approaching” an entrance to the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

The FBI said Caldwell’s group included U.S. Army veteran Jessica Watkins of Ohio, who was arrested Sunday for storming the Capitol with others from the “Ohio State Regular Militia,” which she founded in 2019. 

Caldwell, according to the affidavit, sent a Jan. 1 Facebook message to Watkins in which he said he secured hotel rooms at a Comfort Inn in Ballston, Va., which he called a “good location” that “would allow us to hunt at night if we wanted to.”

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Referring to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, the Facebook message continued by saying, “I don’t know if Stewie has even gotten out his call to arms, but it’s a little friggin late. This is one we are doing on our own.”

On the day of the raid, the affidavit cites a Facebook video that Caldwell allegedly sent from inside the Capitol with the caption, “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.”

“Proud boys scuffled with cops and drove them inside to hide,” he said in a follow-up message, according to the FBI. “Breached the doors. One guy made it all the way to the house floor, another to Pelosi’s office. A good time,” the charging papers quote him as stating. 

Less than a minute later, he allegedly sent a message saying, “We need to do this at the local level. Lets storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”

In the days after the Capitol breach, the affidavit cites a witness identified as “W-1” informing the FBI that Watkins went to stay with a person she called “Commander T” or “Commander Tom,” and left a phone number that the bureau said is associated with Caldwell.

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Federal authorities have arrested more than 100 people in the two weeks after the deadly pro-President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE riots that resulted in the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer. Recent arrests this weekend involved people with alleged links to the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters.

Watkins was arrested along with former U.S. Marine Donovan Crowl after she posted a photo of “one of my guys” at the riots. The FBI said the Oath Keepers have an “explicit focus recruiting current and former military, law enforcement and first responder personnel,” according to the affidavit.

Trump was impeached last week after being accused of inciting the violence at the Capitol as Congress planned to certify President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenRand Paul calls for Fauci's firing over 'lack of judgment' Dems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Six big off-year elections you might be missing MORE’s election victory. Lawmakers, after fleeing to secure locations amid the breach, reconvened hours later and certified Biden’s win.