The rebellious conspiracy charges against the leader of the Oath Keepers militia and 10 others related to the Capitol attack on January 6 have revealed an armed conspiracy against American democracy that involved tactical planning and a formidable arsenal of weapons.
Legal documents released on Thursday provide the most detailed report to date on the level of planning by the far-right militia in the attack on the Capitol, which aimed to eradicate the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
The documents describe the creation of rapid reaction teams of armed militia members, the deployment of tactical equipment and the storage of weapons in a deliberate attempt to overthrow the election of Democrat Joe Biden, who defeated Donald Trump.
On January 6, thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed the building, injuring police officers and sending lawmakers on the run. Five people died around the events, including a Capitol police officer and a Trump supporter shot by law enforcement. The attempt to prevent Biden from becoming president failed.
The federal indictment alleges that Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, an extreme right-wing extremist group, conspired with 10 other members to forcefully oppose the legal transfer of presidential power. The group stationed armed members on the outskirts of Washington to serve as so-called “quick response forces” teams.
The Oath Keepers even discussed a naval operation to ferry cannons to the militia. An Oath Keeper, Thomas Caldwell, asked his colleagues if anyone had a boat that could manage to cross the Potomac River. “If we had someone standing at a dock (one near the Pentagon for sure), we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing, quickly leave them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms,” the documents quoted him to say.
Rhodes went shopping in the days leading up to the attack and spent more than $ 20,000 on weapons and equipment for the attack. In December, Rhodes bought two pairs of night-vision goggles and a weapon sight for about $ 7,000 and shipped them to Virginia. In January, he spent an additional $ 5,000 on a shotgun, binoculars, magazine, sight, optics, a bipod, a holder, a box of ammunition and weapons cleaning equipment. Two days later, he spent $ 6,000 more, and saw about $ 4,500 the next day.
In group chat, the Oath Keepers discussed how their Rapid Response Force (QRF) team would establish itself at the Comfort Inn in Ballston Arlington, Virginia, to “use as its base for operations on January 6, 2021.” They reserved three rooms; one was occupied by the so-called North Carolina “QRF” team, while Arizona and Florida “QRF” teams remained in the other two. They used the hotel rooms to store firearms and ammunition.
“It’s easy to dismiss much of what’s in the indictment as fantasy, as a projection of what the Oath Keepers would like to see, but the events of January 6 remind us that these things can become reality very quickly,” said Devin Burghart. Executive Director of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, a group that oversees right-wing extremist groups.
“The dangers are there, regardless of their ability to bring all their fantasies to reality,” Burghart said.
The planning of some kind of operation seemed to begin right after the election last November, when Trump unjustifiably challenged the election results.Two days after the election, Rhodes invited some members of the Oath Keepers to a group chat on Signal, an encrypted messaging app titled “Leadership intel sharing secured.”
Rhodes texted the group: “We will not get through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body and spirit.”
On November 7, 2020, when Trump was finally expected to lose the election, Rhodes began planning and texting the group chat: “We must now do as the people of Serbia did when Milosevic stole their election. Refuse to accept it and march a lot against the Capitol of Nations. ” Rhodes then shared a video on Bitchute, an alt-tech video platform, of a step-by-step procedure on how to overthrow a government based on the Serbian example.
Two days later, Rhodes held an online conference with Oath Keepers members outlining a plan to overthrow the election. Two days later, a member of the group, Caldwell, reached out to Rhodes to share the results of a “recce” – a military recap of reconnaissance operations – to Washington and begin planning an upcoming “up” to the Capitol.
From there, the members began to work together. In late November, the Florida branch of the Oath Keepers held a “unconventional warfare” training. “It will be a bloody and desperate battle. We have to have a fight. It can not be avoided, “Rhodes wrote in a group chat with members in December.
On December 21, 2020, Oath Keepers mentioned January 6 for the first time. James Wakins, one of the 11 Oath Keepers charged in the case, sent a text message to the signal chat about a “national call for action for DC on January 6” and said that Oath Keepers from three states mobilized “Everyone in this channel should understand the extent of what I was just saying, “Wakins wrote.
Rhodes told a regional Oath Keeper leader that if Biden took over the presidency, “we’ll have to make a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them. That’s what’s going to happen.”
At 6:27 a.m. on January 6, Rhodes wrote an SMS to the group chat: “We want more well-equipped QRFs outside of DC.” At 8:30 a.m., Rhodes and other Oath Keepers left their hotel and drove to the Capitol in Washington DC.
The teams left behind at a hotel in Virginia discussed the possibility of “armed conflict” and “guerrilla warfare.”
At the Capitol, the Oath Keepers marched in formation wearing tactical gear including protective vests, helmets and eyeglasses while wearing radios, chemical sprays and gloves with hard knuckles. In the group chat, a member shared the rumor that it was left-wing groups that had broken the Capitol. “No, I’m right here, these are patriots,” Rhodes replied.
Rhodes never got into the Capitol, but so did other members of the Oath Keepers. Jessica Watkins wrote a text message in one of Oath Keeper’s group chats: “We’re in the main dome right now. We’re rocking it. They’re throwing grenades, they’re shooting people with paintballs. But we’re in here.” Another member replied with enthusiastic expressions that this was what they were “training for”.
The indictment reads that Watkins and other Oath Keepers in a formation joined a mob that pushed against a number of law enforcement officers in a hallway containing the Rotunda of the Senate Chamber, Watkins ordered them around her to “Push, push, push … get in there, get in there. “
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