Attack on Capitol was planned days beforehand, court documents say
Official cites ‘some type of concerted conspiracy’
WASHINGTON — Self-styled militia members from Virginia, Ohio and other states planned to storm the U.S. Capitol days before the Jan. 6 attack, then communicated as they breached the building and talked about hunting for lawmakers, according to new court documents filed Tuesday.
While authorities have charged more than 100 individuals in the riots, details in the new allegations against three U.S. military veterans show what they allegedly said to each other before, during and after the attack — statements that indicate a degree of preparation and determination to rush into Congress to make “citizens’ arrests” of elected officials.
U.S. authorities charged an Oath Keeper leader, Thomas Edward Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Virginia, in the attack, saying the U.S. Navy veteran helped organize dozens of people who coordinated as they “stormed the castle” to disrupt the electoral vote confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
“We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan,” co-defendant Jessica Watkins, 38, a U.S. Army veteran, said while the breach was underway, according to court documents.
“You are executing citizens’ arrests. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud,” a man replied, according to audio recordings of communications between Watkins and others during the incursion.
“We are in the main dome right now. … They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here,” a woman believed to be Watkins said, according to court documents.
A man then responds, “Get it, Jess,” adding, “This is … everything we f----trained for!”
The FBI said it recovered the exchange from Zello, a push-to-talk, two-way radio phone app.
FBI charging papers against Caldwell, Watkins and former U.S. Marine Donovan Crowl, 50, say Caldwell and others coordinated to disrupt Congress, scouted for lodging, and recruited Oath Keepers members from North Carolina and like-minded groups from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The group claims thousands of members who assert the right to defy government orders they deem improper. The people anticipated violence and continued to act in concert after the break-in, investigators said in court documents. FBI papers say Caldwell suggested a similar event at the local level after the attack, saying in a message, “Lets storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”
Attempts to reach attorneys of Caldwell, Watkins and Crowl have been unsuccessful.
Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio, told the Ohio Capital Journal last week that she formed the “Ohio State Regular Militia” in 2019, and that it had patrolled 12 protests to “protect people” on both sides. She said she had served a tour in Afghanistan while in the Army and was a member of the Oath Keepers.
“I didn’t commit a crime. I didn’t destroy anything,” Watkins told the Ohio newspaper, adding that the siege was a peaceful protest that turned violent.
Crowl’s mother, Teresa Rowe, said she was appalled to see pictures of him in the Capitol. She said he had become radicalized after leaving the Marine Corps. “I wish I could tell people what happened to him, but I don’t know,” Rowe said.
The arrests this weekend of several people with alleged ties to extremist groups, including the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters, have suggested the riot was not an impulsive outburst of violence, but an event instigated or exploited by organized groups. Hours of video posted on social media and pored over by investigators have focused on individuals in military-style gear moving together.
“This is the first step toward … understanding that there was some type of concerted conspiracy here,” said a senior official with the U.S. Atttorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is leading the investigation.