Skip to main content

‘2 If By Sea’: Oath Keepers Messages Shed New Light on Alleged Plot to Storm D.C. With Guns by Way of Potomac

Thomas Caldwell

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

Hours before Senate Republicans killed an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6th siege, federal prosecutors disclosed communications about how Oath Keepers allegedly plotted to storm Washington, D.C. with guns by boat by way of the Potomac River.

Those discussions became public in a filing seeking to maintain the strict pretrial release conditions of Oath Keepers member Thomas Caldwell, whom prosecutors allege organized a group of militia members on “standby with guns in a hotel across the river.” In the brief, prosecutors also alleged that a message from the militia’s leader described a “worst case scenario” where former President Donald Trump “calls us up as part of the militia to to assist him inside DC.”

Pulling a line from one of the immortal verses of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the extremist group’s Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs allegedly imagined the militia members as the modern day equivalent of their American colonial forebears.

“1 if by land,” Meggs allegedly wrote in an encrypted message on the group’s Signal channel, quoting Longfellow’s 1861 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

“North side of Lincoln Memorial,” Meggs’s message continued, according to the government. “2 if by sea[,] Corner of west basin and Ohio is a water transport landing !!”

The alleged Oath Keepers plot to ferry heavy weapons across the Potomac River on a boat was previously reported by the New York Times in February, but prosecutors first made new evidence supporting that claim public on the day Trump’s Republican Party blocked independent scrutiny into the attack.

According to the government’s eight-page brief, the 65-year-old Caldwell allegedly answered Meggs’s call by asking a member of another militia group about procuring a boat for their so-called “quick reaction force,” or QRF.

The lengthy message states:

Can’t believe I just thought of this: how many people either in the militia or not (who are still supportive of our efforts to save the Republic) have a boat on a trailer that could handle a Potomac crossing? If we had someone standing by at a dock ramp (one near the Pentagon for sure) we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms. I’m not talking about a bass boat. Anyone who would be interested in supporting the team this way? I will buy the fuel. More or less be hanging around sipping coffee and maybe scooting on the river a bit and pretending to fish, then if it all went to shit, our guy loads our weps AND Blue Ridge Militia weps and ferries them across. Dude! If we had 2 boats, we could ferry across and never drive into D.C. at all!!!! Then get picked up. Is there a way to PLEASE pass the word among folks you know and see if someone would jump in the middle of this to help. I am spreading the word, too. Genius if someone is willing and hasn’t put their boat away for the winter.

Prosecutors claim there is evidence that the quick reaction force members had guns.

“On January 4, Person One posted to the Oath Keepers website, ‘As we have done on all recent DC Ops, we will also have well armed and equipped QRF teams on standby, outside DC, in the event of a worst case scenario, where the President calls us up as part of the militia to to assist him inside DC,” the government’s memo states.

In prior briefings, prosecutors identified “Person One” as Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Rhodes allegedly wrote in the “DC OP: Jan 6 21” Signal chat: “We will have several well equipped QRFs outside DC. And there are many, many others, from other groups, who will be watching and waiting on the outside in case of worst case scenarios,” according to the filing.

A still-unidentified “Person Three” was allegedly in charge of the quick reaction force, and the filings suggests that prosecutors may be closing in on that individual.

“The investigation has shown that Person Three did, in fact, come to Washington, D.C., from January 5-7, 2021,” the filing states.

Like Caldwell and other Oath Keepers, this person stayed at the Comfort Inn Ballston. Prosecutors included stills from surveillance footage that they claim show the militia members with objects shaped like rifles.

Still of Thomas Caldwell on hotel surveillance

This still from hotel surveillance footage allegedly shows Oath Keepers member Thomas Caldwell “carrying a large and long object wrapped under a bed sheet” to the still-identified Person Three, whom prosecutors claim headed the militia’s “quick reaction force.” (Photo from DOJ filing)

At least five people died during and after the assault on the Capitol, and at least 139 law enforcement officers were injured, prosecutors say.

Caldwell, who has pleaded not guilty, has been charged with conspiring with more than a dozen people and is indicted with nine other Oath Keepers. Meggs, the Florida chapter leader, was previously quoted saying that Trump wanted his supporters to “make it wild” on the day of the Capitol siege.

(Photos via DOJ)

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

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."