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An Alleged Leader In The Capitol Attacks Can Go Home As He Awaits Trial

Thomas Caldwell and eight members of the Oath Keepers are accused of conspiring in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Posted on March 12, 2021, at 7:41 p.m. ET

Department of Justice

Thomas Caldwell

A federal judge ruled Friday that Thomas Caldwell, who allegedly conspired with members of the Oath Keepers to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, can be released from jail and go home while his case is pending.

Caldwell, 66, who has back pain that he says is exacerbated by detention, was not among the members of the Oath Keepers who stormed the Capitol. US District Judge Amit Mehta said there is no direct evidence that he planned to enter the building. He also noted that Caldwell had cooperated with FBI agents when they came to interview him.

Speaking directly to the defendant, Mehta said: “Don’t take this, Mr. Caldwell, as a reflection of the seriousness of what you’ve been charged with, or of your conduct.”

Assistant US Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy said the government may appeal Mehta's decision. A federal grand jury in February indicted Caldwell and eight members of the Oath Keepers on charges of descending on the Capitol in “an organized and practiced fashion” to stop Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president.

Prosecutors have described the militant group as a “loosely organized collection of militia who believe that the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” Caldwell, a former naval intelligence officer, is not a card-carrying member of the group but is alleged to have explored plans to transport weapons into Washington, DC, at a critical moment via pickup trucks or boats across the Potomac River.

In sometimes colorful filings, Caldwell’s attorney has pushed back on the notion that his client was part of a conspiracy or that he had intended to cause violence. In a motion filed this week, attorney David Fischer argued that his client’s “‘locker room’ talk and male bravado … was not intended for public consumption, was likely done under the influence of prescription painkillers, and didn’t result in him committing one act of violence—on January 6th or before.” The filing said that Caldwell had “double-dog dared” the government to prove a conspiracy and it had failed to do so.

Also in court on Friday, Kelly Meggs, a member of the Oath Keepers from Florida, pleaded not guilty to similar charges.

And in another filing in the case this week, the government has asked for more time as it prepares to take the Oath Keepers' cases to trial, noting that they are part of a broad investigation that “will likely be one of the largest in American history.” They noted that more than 14 law enforcement agencies have been involved in the probe and have executed more than 900 search warrants.

Caldwell has been in detention since his arrest on Jan. 19. Last month, when Caldwell initially argued for pretrial release, Mehta concluded that he posed a “grave risk to the community.”

Men wearing camouflage military-style gear and outfits crowd a staircase
Jim Bourg / Reuters

Members of the Oath Keepers at the Capitol on Jan. 6

Mehta said Friday that given Caldwell’s medical condition and the fact that the government has so far failed to prove he planned to enter the Capitol as laid out in his charges, he now would allow him to go home. But Mehta ordered Caldwell to stay out of DC and off computers and smartphones. He also said Caldwell needs permission from his probation officer to cross state lines to visit his doctor in Maryland.

“Make no mistake, Mr. Caldwell,” the judge told him, “if you violate my conditions, you will be back in jail very quickly.”

The judge also expressed bafflement in court about the mindset of the Oath Keepers. “This is what I don’t get,” he said. “This notion that they are a roving band ready and waiting to step in just in case antifa shows up.”

It is, he said, “frankly fantastic.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.