Authorities charged a leader of the Oath Keepers and two members from Ohio for their role in planning and executing a breach of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 as Congress was voting to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Jessica Watkins, 38, and Donovan Crowl, 49, both of Champaign County, are facing six federal charges in connection with the raid. Thomas Caldwell, 65, who the feds say has a leadership role in the collective of unregulated “militia” groups that comprise the Oath Keepers, was charged as well.
The two Ohioans are dues-paying Oath Keeper members, according to an interview with Watkins, The New Yorker’s interview with Crowl, and the federal allegations.
On top of earlier reporting from The Ohio Capital Journal on how Watkins joined the Capitol invaders, prosecutors said in court filings unsealed Tuesday that investigators searched her Woodstock home Sunday and found what appeared to be directions on how to make explosives.
Oath Keepers are predominantly former armed forces members (including Crowl and Watkins) and law enforcement who believe the government is stripping freedoms away from Americans. Members have been convicted of several acts of violence and weapons charges, even before the Jan. 6 raid on Congress, which left five people dead including a U.S. Capitol Police officer and an insurrectionist shot by police.
On Tuesday, authorities arrested Caldwell, who the feds say has a “leadership role” with the Oath Keepers. Prosecutors say Caldwell and Crowl, via Facebook, planned “Oath Keeper activities to challenge the election results” as far back as Dec. 24, eventually organizing a trip to the “Stop the Steal” rally Jan. 6.
Prosecutors accused the three of planning to “forcibly storm the U.S. Capitol.” They cited, among other evidence, two media interviews and a long spread of social media posts from the accused.
“Nope. Forced. Like Rugby. We entered through the back door of the Capitol,” Watkins wrote in a comment on a Parler post.
Other footage apparently obtained by prosecutors depicts Caldwell pointing at the Capitol and shouting to onlookers.
“Every single [expletive beeped in original] in there is a traitor. Every single one!” he said.
In an affidavit, an FBI agent cited information from an “associate of Watkins” stating that on Jan. 14, the day the Ohio Capital Journal first identified Watkins at the raid, she left Ohio to stay with Caldwell in Berryville, Virginia — about an hour from Washington D.C.
Along with the directions for explosives, investigators found in her home cell phones, “numerous” firearms, a paintball gun with rubber-steel balls, pool cues cut down to baton size, “zip/cable ties” and others.
An officer with the Urbana Police Department, per prosecutors, said Crowl and Watkins turned themselves in Sunday after learning the FBI was looking for them.
Caldwell was involved in planning and coordinating the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol, the officials allege. Charging documents cite Facebook messages sent to an unidentified recipient of Caldwell boasting about being an “instigator” and how the doors were “breached.”
“We need to do this at the local level,” he allegedly said. “Lets [sic] storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”
Caldwell could not be reached for comment via a phone number contained in his charging documents.
At least 50 officers were injured during the course of events Jan. 6. Officials located pipe bombs at Republican and Democratic party headquarters near the Capitol, along with Molotov cocktails and other weapons on the Capitol grounds. Approximately 81 members of the U.S. Capitol Police and 58 members of the Metropolitan Police Department were assaulted, prosecutors said.
Watkins, in an interview before her arrest, acknowledged entering the Capitol amid the mob. She said she did not destroy any property inside or fight with any law enforcement officers.
“To me, it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw until we started hearing glass smash,” she said. “That’s when we knew things had gotten really bad.”
In a Jan. 1 Facebook comment cited by prosecutors, Crowl wrote dark remarks.
“I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic,” he wrote. “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.”
Footage of the Jan. 6 raid reported by this outlet and later cited by federal prosecutors shows a train of Oath Keepers, including Crowl and Watkins, slicing through a crowd and up the stairs to the U.S. Capitol, where Congress was convened.
Radio communications through the Zello walkie-talkie app, intercepted by reporters and published in The Guardian, captured Watkins and other militia members communicating in real time as they enter the building.
“We’ve got a good group, there’s about 30, 40 of us,” she said. “We’re sticking together and sticking to the plan.”
Her last communication, a recording of which prosecutors say they obtained as well, via Zello is candid.
“We are in the mezzanine, we are in the main building right now, we are rocking it,” she said. “They’re throwing grenades, they’re shooting people with paintballs, but we’re in here.”
An unknown male responds telling her to be safe, and states, “Get it, Jess. Do your f***ing thing. This is what we f***ing [unintelligible] up for. Everything we f***ing trained for,” according to a transcript of the recording within the charging documents.
Footage posted to Parler, an alternative social media site favored by conservatives, and obtained by ProPublica depicts Crowl and Watkins inside the building.
“Look who took over the Capitol, over ran the Capitol,” said Crowl, clad in a tactical vest, combat fatigues, and a helmet with goggles perched on top of it.
“We’re in the f***ing Capitol bro,” Watkins, similarly dressed, says to the camera.
Court records identifying attorneys for Watkins and Crowl were not available with federal court records as of Tuesday afternoon. The Dayton Daily News reports Watkins and Crowl did not enter pleas in a hearing Tuesday.
They face up to 40 years in prison if convicted.
All three face charges of conspiracy; conspiracy to impede or injure an officer without lawful authority; destruction of government property; obstruction of an official proceeding; entering a restricted building; and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
Watkins, Crowl and one other person appeared at the Ohio Statehouse in November the day networks first projected Joe Biden won the election. Watkins, who declined to identify herself at the time, said the three were there to “protect people.”
In an interview, she said the unit, known as the Ohio State Regular Militia, has patrolled a total of 12 protests in the last year in Louisville, Cleveland, Columbus and Pickerington as well as a “MAGA Caravan” in Champaign County.
Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine closed the Ohio Statehouse and deployed National Guard troops to the building, citing threats of potentially violent armed protests at all 50 U.S. statehouses. He declined to share specifics on the threats. On Tuesday, DeWine said he had been briefed on “credible threats” against the Ohio Statehouse but did not elaborate.
“We can’t discuss details about criminal intelligence,” said Jill Del Grecco, a DeWine spokeswoman.
Under a heavy military presence, roughly 25 heavily armed members of the Boogaloo Movement, a far-right, anti-government group appeared at the statehouse to demonstrate. There was no violence.
This story was updated at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday with information from federal court filings.