WASHINGTON - U.S. prosecutors alleged Monday that Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was in direct contact before, during and immediately after the Jan. 6 Capitol breach with members since charged with plotting to prevent Congress from confirming the results of the 2020 presidential election.
In a late-night court filing, prosecutors alleged Rhodes directed Oath Keepers to rally during the riot to the southeast steps of the Capitol, after which several members forcibly entered the east side of the building.
Prosecutors said they had recovered a chat called "DC OP: Jan 6 21" on the encrypted Signal messaging app that "shows that individuals, including those alleged to have conspired with [others], were actively planning to use force and violence."
Prosecutors said chat participants included Rhodes - identified only as "Person One" in the filing but whom prosecutors named in earlier court papers - and two charged Oath Keepers members, Jessica Watkins, 38, an Ohio leader; and Kelly Meggs, 52, of Florida.
U.S. authorities have charged Watkins, Meggs and seven other individuals who appear to be members or associates of the right-wing anti-government group, alleging a wider conspiracy to obstruct Congress amid rioting that led to five deaths and assaults on about 140 police officers. Charges have been brought against more than 300 defendants, but to date prosecutors led by the U.S. attorney's office for Washington have not publicly charged anyone other than alleged rioters themselves.
In the court filing, prosecutors said Rhodes, Watkins, Meggs and "regional Oath Keeper leaders from multiple states across the country" discussed plans in the chat for members and affiliates to come to Washington for events on Jan. 5 and 6 to "provide security to speakers and VIPs."
Prosecutors said they found "no discussion of forcibly entering the Capitol until January 6."
But they said the chat messages, combined with Rhodes's previous statements, "all show that the co-conspirators joined together to stop Congress's certification of the Electoral College vote, and they were prepared to use violence, if necessary, to effect this purpose. . . . They were plotting to use violence to support the unlawful obstruction of a Congressional proceeding."
Rhodes - who has not been charged and whom prosecutors did not name as a conspirator - could not immediately be reached for comment late Monday. In previous interviews, Rhodes has said that he gave no direction or signals to members to storm the Capitol.
In Monday's court filing, prosecutors quoted Rhodes messaging the group in advance about preparations for "worst-case scenarios," writing, "We will have several well equipped QRFs [quick reaction forces] outside DC."
Rhodes also recommended helmets, hard gloves, eye protection and weapons, according to prosecutors, writing: "Collapsible Batons are a grey area in the law. I bring one. But I'm willing to take that risk because I love em."
During the Jan. 6 event itself, the chat showed the group "was activating a plan to use force," prosecutors said.
As then-President Donald Trump was finishing his speech near the White House, Rhodes, according to prosecutors, wrote the group at 1:38 p.m.: "All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They've had enough."
At 2:14 p.m., an unnamed person who prosecutors said was leading the coordination of the security details run by the Oath Keepers stated, "The have taken ground at the capital[.] We need to regroup any members who are not on mission."
Rhodes reposted that message, prosecutors said, with instructions to gather on the southeast side of the Capitol, followed at 2:41 p.m. by a photograph captioned: "South side of US Capitol. Patriots pounding on doors."
Two minutes later, Meggs and Watkins led a line of Oath Keepers who "forcibly entered the Capitol through the Rotunda door in the center of the east side of the building," prosecutors alleged.
"We are surging forward. Doors breached," another charged defendant, Thomas Edward Caldwell, wrote his Facebook contacts at 2:48 p.m. from the other side of the Capitol, the government said.
Meggs has denied that anyone in particular made the decision or gave the command to enter, prosecutors said, and another charged defendant denied knowing that Rhodes was present on Capitol grounds.
Nevertheless, prosecutors wrote, at about 4 p.m., Meggs and three other charged defendants who had exited the building gathered around Rhodes, where they were photographed and recorded.
Prosecutors submitted the filing to argue for the continued detention of Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Va. Prosecutors said Caldwell, a career Navy intelligence officer, was not on the chat but responded after Rhodes called on members to "get to DC to stand tall in support of President Trump," against what Rhodes called an attempted coup.
Caldwell attorney David Fischer did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday. Prosecutors said they planned to disclose the communications to Fischer this week, before a Friday detention hearing.
Fischer has asked a court to release Caldwell pending trial, arguing that prosecutors have provided incomplete and inaccurate information and that the Capitol breach was not a "pre-planned, premeditated scheme" to obstruct Congress but an "unplanned, spontaneous event fueled by a variety of factors on the ground."
Prosecutors in Monday's filing included what they said was a lengthy Signal message sent by Caldwell to "select friends" on Jan. 8 in which he allegedly said, "I have been on the Oathkeepers intel net for months now," and explained that rallygoers were peaceful until provoked by police. "We tore our way through and had to climb through the maze of scaffolding," Caldwell allegedly wrote, before adding, "I went over to the steps which people were using to get inside but it was so packed I couldn't get on the steps." The note concluded: "I am glad I was there and that I did what I did. I did not hurt anyone, I did not break anything and I did not know anyone who did or see anyone who did. did see cops hurting unarmed peaceful protestors just like the brown shirts and the gestapo used to do. It was a hell of a day in d.c. God help us all as they tear down our country."
In interviews, Rhodes has said that he did not know Caldwell to be taking any action Jan. 6 on behalf of Oath Keepers, and denied that Caldwell was a dues-paying member.
Rhodes said in January that Caldwell "helped" host Oath Keepers before a November pro-Trump rally in Washington because "he's a local," but is "not a leader of any kind."
Separately Monday, prosecutors arrested Roberto Minuta, 36, who prosecutors alleged was an Oath Keepers associate who illegally entered the Capitol after appearing to provide security for Republican strategist Roger Stone outside a Washington hotel on the morning of Jan. 6.
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The Washington Post's Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.