Alleged "Oath Keepers" militia members plotted ahead of Capitol attack, authorities say
Three suspected members of anti-government militia groups are facing conspiracy charges after federal prosecutors say they communicated with each other to plot how they would attack the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 riot, one sending messages that celebrated "storming the castle" and saying "We need to do this at the local level."
Thomas Edward Caldwell, Jessica Marie Watkins and Donovan Crowl were charged Tuesday with conspiracy, conspiracy to impede or injure an officer, destruction of government property, obstruction of an official proceeding, unlawful entry into a restricted building and violent entry or disorderly conduct.
CBS News was first to obtain the complaint, which marks the first conspiracy case brought against rioters linked to an extremist group. Though the three were initially charged individually, the new complaint says the three plotted together to obstruct the Electoral College vote.
Virginia resident Caldwell, 65, is believed to hold a leadership role within the "Oath Keepers," an extremist group which believes the government is infringing on citizens' rights and recruits heavily from military and law enforcement, the complaint says. Ohio residents Watkins, 38, and Crowl, 50, are believed to be members of the Ohio State Regular Militia, a local militia group authorities called "a dues-paying subset" of the Oath Keepers.
Federal investigators who charged the three reviewed a video showing 8-10 suspected Oath Keepers wearing tactical gear and moving "in an organized and practiced fashion" to force their way to the front of a crowd gathered around a door to the Capitol building. Identifying rioters who used military-style tactics is a tier one priority for a task force of senior prosecutors in D.C. investigating possible sedition and conspiracy charges, senior investigative producer Catherine Herridge reported.
The complaint outlines how Caldwell, Watkins, Crowl and unnamed others allegedly communicated both before and during the attack. Federal investigators say they have recorded communications between Watkins and other alleged Oath Keepers via the Zello walkie-talkie app on a channel called, "StoptheSteal J6." In the recording, a voice believed to be Watkins says, "We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan."
Later in the recording, which was detailed in the complaint, an unknown male voice says, "You are executing citizen's arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud." A voice believed to be Watkins responds, "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."
An unknown male voice responds, saying, "Get it, Jess. Do your f---- thing. This is what we f---- [unintelligible] up for. Everything we f--- trained for."
The complaint says the three planned and organized Oath Keeper activities to challenge the election results. Caldwell allegedly wrote about a "call to action" on Facebook on December 30, writing, "See you on the 6th in Washington, D.C., along with two million other like-minded patriots." Federal prosecutors say Caldwell sent a Facebook message from his account on January 1 directing unnamed other people to book a hotel for days including the siege in the Washington, D.C. area.
"Here is the direct number for Comfort Inn Ballston/Arlington… strongly recommend you guys get one or two rooms for a night or two. Arrive 5th, depart 7th will work," the message read. "She says there are five of you including a husband and wife new recruits."
Caldwell allegedly said the hotel was in a "good location" and "would allow us to hunt at night if we wanted to."
"I don't know if Stewie has even gotten out his call to arms but it's a little friggin late," the message continued. "This is one we are doing on our own. We will link up with the north Carolina [sic] crew." The complaint says "Stewie" is believed to be a reference to Elmer Stewart Rhodes, who is known as the leader of the Oath Keepers.
The complaint notes a room at the same hotel was later reserved under the name, "Jessica Wagkins," believed to be Watkins. A witness who told federal investigators Watkins stayed with Caldwell in the days after the siege said Caldwell was known as "Commander Tom."
Crowl, the other suspected Oath Keeper charged, allegedly wrote in a January 1 Facebook message to Caldwell: "Happy New year, to you Sir!! Guess I'll be seeing you soon. Will probably call you tomorrow… mainly because…I like to know wtf plan is. You are the man Commander."
On January 6, the day of the siege, the complaint says Caldwell sent a video from inside the Capitol via Facebook message and 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."
Two minutes later, according to the complaint, Caldwell wrote: "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."
Shortly afterward, he allegedly wrote: "We need to do this at the local level. Lets [sic] storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!"
Watkins said later on the social media site Parler that the group "forced" entry into the Capitol, "like Rugby." She allegedly posted an image of herself in tactical gear and an image of a man also dressed in military-style attire whom federal investigators identified as Crowl.
"One of my guys at the Stop the Steal Rally today. #stopthesteal #stormthecapitol #oathkeepers #ohiomilitia," the caption read.
The federal complaint says investigators reviewed video that showed Watkins and Crowl inside the Capitol rotunda together, as Crowl shouts, "We overran the Capitol!" The two then took a "video selfie."
Dozens of suspects are now facing federal and local charges in the January 6 assault that left five people dead. More charges are expected as federal investigators continue to comb through video, social media, communications, travel records, financial information and a plethora of tips. In a statement Tuesday, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the FBI has received nearly 200,000 digital tips as friends, family, co-workers and others report suspected rioters.
"The American people have demonstrated that they will not allow mob violence to go unanswered," said Rosen. "Violence and senseless criminal conduct are not the right way to resolve differences or promote change in our country.
Clare Hymes and Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.
for more features.