Federal Prosecutors File First Conspiracy Charges Over US Capitol Breach
Federal prosecutors have filed one of their first conspiracy cases against three people allegedly affiliated with the paramilitary organization known as the Oath Keepers over the breach of the U.S. Capitol earlier this month.
In a criminal complaint (pdf) filed on Tuesday, prosecutors allege Thomas Edward Caldwell, 65, of Clarke County, Virginia, had a leadership role in Oath Keepers and conspired with others to “forcibly storm” the Capitol building on Jan. 6. The complaint also names Donovan Crowl, 50, from Ohio, and Jessica Watkins, 38, from Ohio, as alleged co-conspirators in that plan. Crowl and Watkins were allegedly part of the paramilitary group.
The three individuals and others had communicated with one another in advance of the breach and planned their attack, FBI Special Agent Michael Palian alleged in his affidavit. Palian said he had reviewed footage of the Jan. 6 event and observed eight to 10 individuals wearing paramilitary equipment attempting to enter the Capitol building.
These individuals were wearing helmets, reinforced vests, and clothing with Oath Keeper paraphernalia, Palian said, and were operating in an “organized and practiced fashion” as they forced their way to the front of the crowd gathered around a door to the U.S. Capitol.
During the breach, Watkins kept communication with other members of the group in which she gave updates about the breach.
“We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan,” Watkins allegedly says, in an audio recording obtained by the FBI.
At another point of the recording, Watkins is claimed to have said, “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.”
The three individuals were identified by authorities using a combination of videos, photographs, media reports, and social media posts. Watkins and Crowl had given interviews with media following the breach where they confirmed their affiliation with Oath Keepers.
The group members were each charged with conspiracy, conspiracy to impede or injure officer without lawful authority, destruction of government property, obstruction of an official proceeding, restricted building or grounds violent entry, and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
If convicted, each individual faces a maximum penalty of six years in prison and fines.
The criminal complaint filed on Tuesday amends the charges separately filed against Caldwell, Crowl, and Watkins. Crowl and Watkins were arrested in Ohio on Jan. 18, while Caldwell was arrested in Virginia on Jan. 19, according to the Justice Department (DOJ) website.
So far, a large proportion of cases charged in connection to the Jan. 6 Capitol breach were opened on initial misdemeanor charges such as trespass, Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for Washington, said earlier this month.
He added that after the arrest, prosecutors have the ability to then indict these individuals on more serious offenses.
“After these criminal charges are filed via criminal complaints, that allows us that allows law enforcement across the United States to arrest people from Dallas to Arkansas, to Nashville, to Cleveland to Jacksonville. That’s what’s happened over the past several days,” Sherwin said. “After those charges are filed, then we have the ability to then indict these individuals on more significant charges. And that’s exactly what has happened.”
The top prosecutor for the district also said he had directed federal prosecutors to build “seditious and conspiracy charges” against some rioters and protesters related “related to the most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol.”
“These are significant charges that have felonies with a prison term of up to 20 years,” Sherwin added.
The FBI and DOJ have opened at least 200 cases in connection to the U.S. Capitol breach, where groups of rioters and some protesters stormed the Capitol building when lawmakers were counting electoral votes. Mayhem on the Capitol grounds left five people dead—three for medical reasons—and dozens of police officers injured.
President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden have both condemned the acts of violence, which has prompted officials and law enforcement to ramp up security for the upcoming inauguration.Source