Capitol-Riot Plot Case Widens With More Oath Keepers Charged

Prosecutors are pursuing a wider conspiracy case against the Oath Keepers, charging six more people with links to the far-right group for their alleged roles in last month’s deadly breach of the U.S. Capitol.

A new indictment filed on Friday added to growing evidence that members of extreme right-wing organizations planned and coordinated the Jan. 6 assault in Washington, gathering battle supplies beforehand and communicating as they moved through the building.

The charges built on an indictment the U.S. filed against members of the Oath Keepers last month and amounted to the largest conspiracy case over the riot that the U.S. has brought so far, expanding the number of alleged participants from three to nine. Some of the defendants arranged themselves in a martial “stack formation,” each with a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them, as they conspired to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory over Donald Trump, prosecutors said.

The U.S. has charged more than 200 people with a range of crimes since the riot, from trespassing to assault. But recently the investigation has shifted to focus on members of right-wing groups who allegedly plotted the act. The probe is broadening even as the U.S. House of Representatives, many of whose members ran for their lives in the chaos, prepares its own inquiry into the attack.

‘Make it WILD’

The original indictment, filed last month, named three people with links to the Oath Keepers: Thomas Caldwell of Virginia and Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl of Ohio. A superseding indictment filed on Friday added Sandra Parker and her husband Bennie Parker of Ohio, Kelly Meggs and her husband Connie Meggs of Florida, and Graydon Young of Florida and his sister Laura Steele of North Carolina.

Lawyers for the six new defendants couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. A lawyer for Caldwell has argued that the three original defendants were made into scapegoats for the riot.

The U.S. accuses the nine of gathering paramilitary gear used during the riot, including camouflaged combat uniforms, tactical vests with plates, helmets and radio equipment. One of them, Kelly Meggs, sent a series of Facebook messages in the run-up to the siege, saying “it’s gonna to be wild!!!” and that then-president Trump “wants us to make it WILD,” according to the indictment. The language echoed a December tweet by Trump, who was impeached for incitement to insurrection and acquitted on Feb. 13.

The anti-government Oath Keepers counts tens of thousands of military veterans and former law enforcement officials among its members. Along with the Proud Boys, it has been heavily implicated in the attack. In a text exchange included in the indictment, Watkins told Bennie Parker to pack tan or khaki pants, adding that he could bring weapons as well.

‘Bring My Gun?’

“So I can bring my gun?” Parker replied, according to the government.

In the weeks since the siege, evidence has steadily emerged of ominous preparations for the day’s events by pro-Trump extremists. Prosecutors previously accused Watkins of arranging military training sessions for fellow Oath Keepers. And members of the Proud Boys solicited donations to finance their travel to Washington and pay for “safety/protective gear” and “communications equipment,” according to court records.

That evidence has raised the prospect of more-serious charges as the investigation progresses, possibly including sedition or racketeering.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who with former vice president Mike Pence was stalked on Jan. 6 as a high-value target of the mob, has said Congress will put together a bipartisan commission to investigate the assault, one modeled on the panel that probed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Even Republicans are on board with forming a commission, although some of them also want it to focus on failures of planning by congressional leaders, including Pelosi.

Democrats passed up one chance to look deeper into the riot when they reached a deal with Trump’s defense to avoid calling witnesses during the impeachment trial. Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin, the House’s lead impeachment manager, said no number of witnesses would have won over the 17 Republicans needed to find Trump guilty.

The case is U.S. v. Caldwell et al., 21-cr-28, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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