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Inside the Indictment of a Trio of Oath Keepers: ‘Trump Wants All Able-Bodied Patriots to Come’


Court papers contain this image of Oath Keepers members Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl during the U.S. Capitol siege.

Two days before the new year began, then-outgoing President Donald Trump fired off a cryptic tweet about the day that would later become known as that of the U.S. Capitol insurrection: “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!”

Three Oath Keepers militia members—Thomas E. Caldwell, Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl—can now be seen appearing to pick up the signal immediately and springing into action, logistically, operationally and in public messaging. The top count of the grand jury’s indictment unsealed on Wednesday, a detailed window into their planning and communications, can send each member to prison for a maximum of 20 years.

On Dec. 30, the same day as that Trump tweet, Caldwell took to Facebook with an all-caps announcement: “THIS IS OUR CALL TO ACTION, FREINDS! [sic] SEE YOU ON THE 6TH IN WASHINGTON, D.C. ALONG WITH 2 MILLION OTHER LIKE-MINDED PATRIOTS.”

In private text messages with her accused co-conspirators that day, Watkins allegedly made clear that she perceived having a “greenlight” for action. Prosecutors quoted broad passages from that dialogue, shielding the name of their associates who have not yet been charged.

WATKINS: Looks like we are greenlight to come to DC on the 6th. The Rally Point still at your place?

CALDWELL, in part: Here’s the rub: [PERSON TWO] and I will be in a hotel within striking distance of the city starting on the 4th so we won’t even BE here. There will be some stuff going on during the 5th and we want to be a part of that whenever it shakes out. Also we want to be in D.C. very early on the 6th, hence closer/virtually no commute time.

Court papers made repeated reference to an Oath Keepers training camp in North Carolina, where members planned to take buses to attend.

WATKINS: We planned on arriving on the 5th. We want to be in DC by 9am on the 6th. I will reach out to [PERSON THREE], and see if NC boys are coming. If [PERSON ONE] isn’t making plans, I’ll take charge myself and get the ball rolling. I think the Metro is smarter than convoy/parking issues. Do you want us to stage ourselves vehicles elsewhere, seeing how you’re going to be gone? We can go to a KOA campground or something…

Two hours later that same day, Caldwell allegedly reported back to Watkins about his conversation with an as-yet-unidentified “PERSON THREE.”

CALDWELL: At least one full bus 40+ people coming from N.C. Another group (unclear if Mississippi guys) also a bus. Busses have their own lane on the 14th street bridge so they will be able to get in and out. [PERSON THREE] is driving plus 1 and arriving the nite before.

A day later on New Year’s Eve, Caldwell posted on Facebook: “It begins for real Jan 5 and 6 on Washington D.C. when we mobilize in the streets. Let them try to certify some crud on capitol hill with a million or more patriots in the streets. This kettle is about to boil.”

But the flame had been lit far earlier, once the 2020 election race had been called.

According to Wednesday’s indictment, preparations for some sort of Inauguration Day attack had been abuzz in Oath Keepers’ circles mere days after the major networks declared President Joe Biden the winner and Trump ratcheted up false stolen election conspiracy theories.

On Nov. 9, Watkins sent text messages to possible recruits for the group’s Ohio State Regular Militia, and prosecutors said that she told them about a week-long “Basic Training class coming up in the beginning of January.”

“I need you fighting fit by innaugeration,” she told one recruit in a misspelled message, according to prosecutors.

Watkins allegedly described the training regime as a “military style basic, here in Ohio, with a Marine Drill sergeant running it,” at a site an hour north of Columbus. She told that recruit to download Zello, an app emulating walkie-talkies over cell phones that became a regular point of contact on the day of the Capitol siege, prosecutors said.

Court papers showed plans appearing foggy in mid-November, with militants planning some sort of action the next year and seething with rage and paranoia at the nebulous “Deep State” of Trump’s imagination.

“I can’t predict,” Watkins was quoted telling a recruit. “I don’t underestimate the resolve of the Deep State. Biden may still yet be our president. If he is, our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.”

In her quoted conversations, Watkins can be seen depicting the fight as almost apocalyptic.

“[I]f Biden get the steal, none of us have a chance in my mind. We already have our neck in the noose. They just haven’t kicked the chair yet,” she allegedly told the unidentified recruit.

Dated Nov. 23, one message detailed in the indictment called explicitly for a violent response.

“I believe we will have to get violent to stop this, especially the antifa maggots who are sure to come out en masse even if we get the Prez for 4 more years,” Caldwell was seen telling Watkins on that day. “Stay sharp and we will meet again. You are my kinda person and we may have to fight next time. I have my own gear, I like to be ON TIME and go where the enemy is, especially after dark. Keep the faith! Spy.”

The indictment showed plans heating up in December, particularly after Trump’s inflammatory tweet on Dec. 19: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Ten days later on Dec. 29, Watkins and Crowl allegedly had the following exchange.

WATKINS: You still going to Illinois? We plan on going to DC on the 6th, weather permitting.
CROWL:No […] What’s going on on the 6th?
WATKINS: DC. Trump wants all able bodied Patriots to come. I’m sure Tom would love to sec us as well.
WATKINS:If Trump activates the lnsurrection Act, I’d hate to miss it[.]

The flurry of chatter in public and private Oath Keepers channels continued into 2021, on Facebook and the encrypted messaging app Signal.

Prosecutors claimed that Watkins tried to cover her tracks by checking into a Comfort Inn under the pseudonym “Jessica Wagkins,” carrying along battle gear like reinforced vests, camouflage helmets and goggles. The Oath Keepers were heard chatting on a Zello channel created for the occasion: “Stop the Steal J6,” where prosecutors heard the following chilling statement from an unknown male: “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.”

“We are in the mezzanine,” Watkins was quoted saying. “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.”

Taking turns celebrating, Crowl crowed: “We took on the Capitol! We overran the Capitol!”

“We’re in the fucking Capitol,” Watkins exclaimed in turn.

Each of the Oath Keepers faces four charges, including two counts of destroying government property, obstructing an official proceeding and entering a restricted building or grounds. Prosecutors initially arrested and charged them on Jan. 19, the day before Biden’s inauguration.

Read their indictment below:

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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."