Members of a far-right militia group used Facebook messages to plan and coordinate an attack on the US Capitol days in advance of the Jan. 6 deadly coup attempt, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors have accused three members of the Oath Keepers — an extremist anti-government group — of conspiring together to forcibly storm the Capitol and obstruct Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden's victory, as well as communicating with each other to plan the attack days before the pro-Trump riot.
Thomas Caldwell, 65, Jessica Watkins, 38, and Donovan Crowl, 50, are facing several federal charges, including conspiracy to injure officers, destruction of government property, obstruction of an official building, violent entry, and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
The amended complaint against them illustrates that among the hundreds of disorganized and frenzied pro-Trump rioters, there were members of extremist groups who moved in "an organized and practiced fashion" to storm the Capitol during the attempted coup that left five people dead.
Their Facebook messages revealed that Caldwell was involved in leading an "organized group" of at least 30 to 40 self-styled militia members dressed in tactical, military-style gear, some of whom were prepared to carry out citizen's arrests for "acts of treason" and "election fraud."
Videos reviewed by investigators showed 8 to 10 members of the Oath Keepers wearing helmets, reinforced vests, and clothing with the group's paraphernalia "aggressively approaching an entrance to the Capitol building."
They "can be seen moving in an organized and practiced fashion and forcing their way to the front of the crowd gathered around a door to the U.S. Capitol," the complaint said.
"We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan," Watkins, a US Army veteran and Ohio bartender, told others on a walkie-talkie app called Zello while she was inside the Capitol, according to an audio recording obtained by federal investigators.
The Zello channel that Watkins used to communicate with others was called "Stop the Steal J6."
In the audio recording, an unidentified man said, "You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.”
Watkins responded, "We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here.”
A man told Watkins to be safe, replying, "Get it, Jess. Do your fucking thing. This is what we fucking [unintelligible] up for. Everything we fucking trained for."
Prosecutors described the Oath Keepers as a "large but loosely organized collection of militia who believe that the federal government has been coopted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights."
The extremist group focuses on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first responder personnel, and the name is a reference to the oath sworn by the military to defend the US Constitution “from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
A search of Watkins' Ohio home on Sunday revealed instructions for making explosives using bleach, as well as "protective and battle gear" including numerous firearms, zip/cable ties, a paintball gun with rubber-steel balls and a cylinder, pool cues cut down to baton size, camouflage clothes, a black tactical kit with medical supplies, a radio, a mini drone, pepper spray, and bags containing helmets, respirators, and cellphones, according to the complaint.
Facebook messages between Crowl and Caldwell, who was referred to as "Commander" or "Commander Tom" by other militia members, showed that they had been planning activities for Oath Keepers members to challenge the election results in DC since the last week of December, according to the complaint.
"THIS IS OUR CALL TO ACTION, FREINDS! SEE YOU ON THE 6TH IN WASHINGTON, D.C. ALONG WITH 2 MILLION OTHER LIKE-MINDED PATRIOTS.” Caldwell wrote in a Facebook post on Dec. 30.
The next day, Caldwell replied to a Facebook comment, writing, "It begins for real Jan 5 and 6 on Washington D.C. when we mobilize in the streets. Let them try to certify some crud on capitol hill with a million or more patriots in the streets. This kettle is set to boil…”
On Jan. 1, he replied to another Facebook comment, saying, "I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. I did the former, I have done the latter peacefully but they have morphed into pure evil even blatantly rigging an election and paying off the political caste. We must smite them now and drive them down.”
On the same day, Caldwell allegedly sent Facebook messages about hotel arrangements at the Comfort Inn in Virginia for members of the Oath Keepers from Jan. 5 to Jan. 7.
"This is a good location and would allow us to hunt at night if we wanted to," Caldwell said in the message, according to the complaint.
Records showed that a room at the Comfort Inn was rented from Jan. 5 to Jan. 7 under the name "Jessica Wagkins," referring to Jessica Watkins.
Caldwell also mentioned doing a "pre-strike" and "night hunting" on Jan. 5 and referred to Oath Keeper "friends" coming in commercial buses from North Carolina on the morning of Jan. 6.
"Paul will have the goodies in case things go bad and we need to get heavy," Caldwell said in one Facebook message.
A day before the Capitol siege, a person messaged Crowl on Facebook, asking him to "keep eyes on people with Red MAGA hats worn backwards" referring to false claims that Antifa members had planned to "infiltrate" the pro-Trump supporters on Jan. 6.
Crowl replied: “Thanks Brother, but we are WAY ahead on that. We have infiltrators in Their ranks. We are doing the W.H. in the am and early afternoon, rest up at the Hotel, then headed back out tomorrow night ‘tifa’ hunt’in [referring to Antifa]. We expect good hunting."
The three militia members also shared photos and videos of themselves storming the Capitol and communicated from inside the building.
On Jan. 6, Caldwell sent a video message on Facebook that appears to be taken from inside the Capitol. In a following message, he allegedly wrote, "Us storming the castle. Please share. Sharon was right with me! I am such an instigator! She was ready for it man. Didn’t even mind the tear gas." (Sharon is his wife, per court documents.)
Two minutes later, he sent a message saying, "Proud boys scuffled with cops and drove them inside to hide. Breached the doors. One guy made it all the way to the house floor, another to Pelosi’s office. A good time."
He then sent another message that said, "We need to do this at a local level. Lets storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”
Three days after the riot, Caldwell sent a Facebook message sharing a YouTube video in which he is seen motioning toward the Capitol building and shouting, "Every single [expletive beeped in original] in there is a traitor. Every single one!”
Watkins posted a photo of herself in the Oath Keepers uniform on Parler, saying, "Me before forcing entry into the Capitol Building. #stopthesteal2 #stormthecapitol #oathkeepers #ohiomilitia."
She posted another video from the Capitol riot on Parler, writing, "Yeah. We stormed the Capitol today. Teargassed, the whole, 9. Pushed our way into the Rotunda. Made it into the Senate even. The news is lying (even Fox) about the Historical Events we created today.”
In another Parler post, Watkins commented that they had "forced" their way into the back door of the Capitol "like Rugby."
On Jan. 8, Crowl sent a message to Caldwell, saying, "Love the hell outta you Tom."
Caldwell replied, "You too, my dear friend! We stormed the gates of corruption together (although on opposite sides of the building) so between that and our first meeting and getting to know you since I can say we will always be brothers!”
Prosecutors said last week they were expecting to charge some individuals with conspiracy or sedition.
Lawyers for Caldwell, Crowl, and Watkins could not immediately be identified.