A new federal criminal indictment against three alleged insurrectionists who plotted their trip to Washington, DC, reveals more about their preparations than was previously known, including their discussing or attending training camps.
The Justice Department indicted Thomas Caldwell of Virginia and Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl of Ohio on Wednesday, alleging that the three are affiliated with the Oath Keepers, a right-wing extremist group, and that Watkins discussed a basic training camp in Ohio and Crowl attended training in North Carolina before January 6.
The Oath Keepers generally believe the federal government has been corrupted and that former military and police can defend the Constitution as a self-styled militia, according to court records.
Paramilitary groups have become a major focus of investigators as they work toward understanding why attendees of the Trump rally were armed and wore body armor, and how groups of extremists may have coordinated before the siege. And the mentions of training camps have dotted some of the early court records charging paramilitary-linked rioters with federal crimes.
This is at least the second case related to the Capitol riots where defendants are alleged to have ties to military-style training. In the other case, against Robert Gieswein of Colorado, federal law enforcement say he wore to the Capitol a patch on his tactical vest representing a group called the Woodland Wild Dogs, a private paramilitary training organization that he allegedly runs.
Geiswein also was indicted on Wednesday by the grand jury in DC on six counts, including using an irritant spray and a baseball bat against US Capitol Police.
Paramilitary training had also been a feature of the case against right-wing extremists in Michigan who had plotted to kidnap the Democratic governor and took part in tactical training.
At a news conference this week, the US attorney in Washington, DC — Michael Sherwin — described the Caldwell case as one that showed active planning among militia groups, and said law enforcement was working toward building sedition conspiracy cases.
The indictment filed on Wednesday against the alleged Oath Keepers does not include a sedition count, though it accuses Caldwell, Crowl and Watkins of speaking to one another and others about ways they could hamper Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote confirming Joe Biden as the 46th president.
The three allegedly communicated for almost two months before January 6 about how they would prepare, including by talking about training.
‘Basic training class’
In early November, nearly a week after the presidential election, Watkins texted people who were interested in her paramilitary group in Ohio about a week-long “Basic Training class” run by a drill sergeant near Columbus to become “fighting fit” for the inauguration, prosecutors revealed on Wednesday.
Prosecutors also highlighted that Crowl attended a training camp in North Carolina in December.
Watkins also responded to an invitation to a “leadership” conference call about a “DC op” on the encrypted messaging app Signal.
Caldwell and Crowl also allegedly messaged about meeting up with a “North Carolina crew,” the indictment says.
Prosecutors say that in addition to the Oath Keepers, Watkins and Crowl also are part of a group called the Ohio State Regular Militia, which has some members who pay dues to the Oath Keepers.
The indictment approved by the grand jury in DC Wednesday formalizes four charges that prosecutors had previously leveled against the three, including conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, destroying government property and unlawfully entering the restricted grounds of the US Capitol.
When they were first charged, the case was the first significant conspiracy allegations related to the Capitol attack. The Justice Department alleges that the three extremists planned and coordinated ahead of the January 6 assault, beginning in November of last year as they discussed lodging and meet-ups in Washington.
The indictment filed on Wednesday added details about the Oath Keepers’ use of the walkie-talkie-like app Zello to communicate and their intentions for January 6.
Watkins, for instance, allegedly said on a channel called “Stop the Steal J6,” “We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan,” the Justice Department said.
In other messages via text and Facebook leading up to January 6, Caldwell wrote about a need to “get violent” and a “call to action” in Washington.
They discussed buses of people coming from around the country, including North Carolina, and three unnamed people they were in communication with, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors say Watkins and Crowl left Ohio to stay with Caldwell in Virginia after the siege, before their arrests.
The three have not yet responded to the indictment formally in federal court in Washington.