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Oath Keepers Member Asks to Judge to Consider Moving Seditious Conspiracy Trial to Military Bases in Virginia

Thomas Caldwell

Prosecutors quote Oath Keepers member shouting this in a YouTube video, where he gestures toward the Capitol.

One of the Oath Keepers allegedly involved in an abandoned plan to ferry weapons across the Potomac River at former President Donald Trump’s command asked a federal judge to consider moving his seditious conspiracy trial to military bases in Virginia.

“The Eastern District of Virginia, courthouse in Alexandria has a massive ceremonial courtroom that can accommodate large trials,” attorneys for Thomas Caldwell wrote in a 21-page motion to change venue. “Additionally, the Eastern District of Virgnia [sic] has multiple military bases that could be used for trials, including Ft. Belvoir (Fairfax, Va.), Ft. Myer (Arlington, Va.), and Ft. A.P. Hill (Bowling Green, Va.), which have large buildings and are outfitted with ‘brigs’ that can house detained defendants during recesses in trial.”

Founded by Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers extremist group’s name derives from the vow members of the military and law enforcement take to defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Its members—current and retired police, soldiers, sailors and airmen—follow their own views of what that oath means, even if it contradicts those of lawmakers, judges, and the institutions they serve.

Caldwell, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, was quoted on Jan. 6 declaring: “Every single b**** in there is a traitor,” gesturing toward Congress during the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. Prosecutors say that Caldwell helped plan a so-called “quick reaction force,” or QRF, initially meant to stand by a Virginia hotel with guns. In a “worst case scenario,” the Oath Keepers believed Trump would call them up as his private militia to assist him in Washington, D.C., prosecutors say.

Like numerous other Jan. 6 defendants, Caldwell wants to move his upcoming trial outside the District of D.C., an overwhelmingly blue jurisdiction that resoundingly voted against Trump. Such efforts have failed in the past. Prosecutors have cited Watergate for the proposition that the largely Democratic electorate of the nation’s capital is no reason Republican defendants can’t get a fair trial.

Multiple Oath Keepers defendants remain undeterred, claiming Biden’s statements have tainted the jury pool.

“Just this week, President Biden accused the ‘MAGA crowd’ of being the ‘most extreme political organization that’s existed,'” Caldwell’s attorney David W. Fischer wrote in the brief. “The President previously called J6 ‘[t]he worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.'”

Prosecutors indicted Rhodes and 10 of his fellow Oath Keepers in the seditious conspiracy case, and several other members faces lesser charges in a related case. Most want to avoid a D.C. jury, citing public polling as compelling evidence of their uphill climb at trial.

“Even more compelling: 16 defendants have joined the instant motion, and others who have now pleaded guilty had previously joined a prior request to transfer venue,” the motion states.

Several Oath Keepers members have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government as trial looms. One of the cooperators, William Todd Wilson, told prosecutors that Rhodes gathered a group of Oath Keepers inside the Phoenix Hotel on Jan. 6 and called an unidentified individual from inside the suite.

“Wilson heard Rhodes repeatedly implore the individual to tell President Trump to call upon groups like the Oath Keepers to forcibly oppose the transfer of power,” Wilson’s statement of offense reads. “This individual denied Rhodes’s request to speak directly with President Trump. After the call ended, Rhodes stated to the group, ‘I just want to fight.'”

Joshua James, 34, and Brian Ulrich, 44, previously pleaded guilty.

Read the brief, below:

(Photo via DOJ)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."