(New York Times) – Chilling new details emerged on Thursday about the plot by the Oath Keepers militia group to attack the Capitol as prosecutors said that members discussed a brazen plan to ferry “heavy weapons” in a boat across the Potomac River into Washington and began 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 came on the third day of former President Donald J. Trump’s impeachment trial and included allegations that a member of the militia group was “awaiting direction” from Mr. 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 Nov. 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 Ms. 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 Mr. 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. Ms. Watkins, a 38-year-old bar owner from Ohio, apparently rented a room at the hotel under an assumed name, the agents said.
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 Nov. 16, prosecutors say, Mr. Crowl told Mr. Caldwell, “War is on the horizon.” One week later, court papers say, Mr. Caldwell wrote Ms. 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 Nov. 10 that he had men stationed outside Washington prepared to act at Mr. Trump’s command. At a rally in the city on Dec. 12, Mr. Rhodes called on Mr. 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 Mr. 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, Mr. Caldwell sent a text to an associate just before Christmas saying he was “expecting a big turn out of the Proud Boys,” the far-right nationalist organization, in Washington on Jan. 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.
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. That case will also lay out how the Proud Boys arranged travel and funding for the trip to Washington, the official said.
Days before the riot, prosecutors say, Mr. Caldwell reached out to a contact associated with another group, the Three Percenters, an extremist gun rights militia that takes its name from the supposed three percent of the U.S. colonial population that fought the British Army. In a text message, Mr. 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.
Mr. Caldwell asked a federal judge to release him from custody this week, saying he was an injured Navy veteran with more than 30 years of experience with top-secret matters. He also noted that while he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, he was not part of the “stack” of Oath Keepers in tactical military gear that physically breached the building.
In the papers filed on Thursday, prosecutors countered that that hardly mattered given that Mr. Caldwell was “a key figure who put into motion the violence that overwhelmed the Capitol.” They noted that in his text messages he described killing and mutilating people who held views that opposed his and referred to political adversaries as “socialists,” “savages,” “maggots” and “cockroaches.”
When federal agents searched Mr. Caldwell’s house in Virginia last month, they discovered a document titled “Death List” that contained the name of an unidentified election official from another state, prosecutors said. The agents also found a pistol that was “intentionally built to look like a cellphone,” prosecutors say.
In a search of Ms. Watkins’s home, court papers say, agents discovered numerous firearms, a paintball gun, pool cues cut down to “baton size,” plastic zip ties and a recipe for making “a destructive device.”
Prosecutors say Ms. Watkins may have had this arsenal because she believed the prospect of Joseph R. Biden Jr. becoming president was “an existential threat.”
“Biden may still be our president,” she wrote in a text message on Nov. 17. “If he is, our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.”
By the end of December, prosecutors said, Ms. Watkins, a military veteran, was making plans to go to Washington on the day of the attack on the Capitol.
“We plan on going to DC on the 6th” because “Trump wants all able bodied Patriots to come,” she wrote to Mr. Crowl on Dec. 29.
“If Trump activates the Insurrection Act,” she added, “I’d hate to miss it.”