US says Oath Keepers leader was in direct contact with rioters during Capitol breach
Federal prosecutors are alleging that the founder of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing paramilitary group, was in direct contact throughout the Jan. 6 Capitol riot with members who now face charges in connection with the insurrection.
In a filing in a case against an Oath Keeper member, prosecutors write that Stewart Rhodes issued orders for members to “Come to South Side of Capitol on steps,” as well as several other directions to members before, during and after the deadly riot.
While prosecutors identified Rhodes only as “Person One” in Monday’s court filing, they previously named him in earlier court documents.
The filing stated that prosecutors had uncovered a Signal group chat titled “DC OP: Jan 6 21” that included Rhodes, Ohio group leader Jessica Marie Watkins, member Kelly Meggs and other “regional Oath Keeper leaders from multiple states across the country.”
Prosecutors noted that there is no evidence suggesting that the Oath Keepers member charged in the case related to the filing, Thomas Edward Caldwell, participated in the group chat, but added that the investigation remains ongoing.
Caldwell, Watkins and Donovan Crowl face conspiracy charges in connection with alleged plans to lead a coup ahead of the deadly pro-Trump mob attack. Prosecutors last month announced charges on six additional people affiliated with the Oath Keepers, including Meggs.
Rhodes has not been charged by federal prosecutors in connection with the riot, nor has he been named as a conspirator.
Monday’s court filing stated that members in the Signal group chat discussed “coming to Washington, D.C., for the events of January 5-6, 2021, to provide security to speakers and VIPs at the events.”
“There is no discussion of forcibly entering the Capitol until January 6, 2021. However, there is talk about being prepared for violence,” the prosecutors said.
In a text message to The Washington Post Tuesday morning, Rhodes called the allegations included in prosecutors’ filing on Monday “total nonsense.”
Rhodes in an interview with the Post last week denied having any prior knowledge of plans among Oath Keepers to enter the Capitol.
“Just so we’re clear on this: we had no plan to enter the Capitol, zero plan to do that, zero instructions to do that, and we also had zero knowledge that anyone had done that until after they had done that — afterwards,” Rhodes said.
Prosecutors in Monday’s filing also included as evidence a lengthy Signal message allegedly sent by Caldwell to “select friends” on Jan. 8. According to the court filing, Caldwell wrote, “I have been on the Oathkeepers intel net for months now,” adding that participants of the pro-Trump rally ahead of the riot were peaceful until they were provoked by police.
“We tore our way through and had to climb through the maze of scaffolding,” Caldwell allegedly wrote. “I went over to the steps which people were using to get inside but it was so packed I couldn’t get on the steps and there was no railing so that looked dangerous as hell.”
Authorities say he then concluded the Signal message with, “I am glad I was there and that I did what I did. I did not hurt anyone, I did not break anything and I did not know anyone who did or see anyone who did. did see cops hurting unarmed peaceful protestors just like the brown shirts and the gestapo used to do.”
“It was a hell of a day in d.c. God help us all as they tear down our country,” Caldwell allegedly added.
Another report from Business Insider says prosecutors found messages of Caldwell threatening to kill lawmakers.
“If we’d had guns I guarantee we would have killed 100 politicians,” Caldwell wrote, according to messages prosecutors obtained. “They ran off and were spirited away through their underground tunnels like the rats they were.”